Friday, March 21, 2008

To Boycott or Not

An Olympic Boycott
to protest the Tibetan Cause- it's the possibility  raised by the EU president
Hans-Gert Poetterin. Remote as the chance anyone would take up the challenge and what effect it would have on China - the government has zero tolerance for interference in its domestic affairs- it did  appeal to me. Could there be a better way to protest China's treatment of the Tibetans than to refuse an invitation to the coming out party of the Beijing Games in . Nothing would hurt Chinese national sentiments more, but what it would achieve other than wounding national pride. More good might come of participation and the publicity for the Tibetans' plight.
The subject's not an easy one.The mix of politics and sport would have once struck me as a cardinal sin. A one time Olympics buff I knew every statistic of every Olympics athletics results by rote, times, places names, the small aside stories dating from the first modern Olympics in 1859 to 2004. Its knowledge I kept to myself knowing  how low on the cool register public recitals of arcane sports statistics leave you.

Today, stories of interest depend on how they are told which means the political overtones. For example, consider the tale of one of the great middle distance runners of all time, two time Olympic champion Lord Sebastian Coe ( the title bestowed at a later date) who I  recently learned is of one quarter Indian descent, from his maternal grandfather. Coe was the winner of Olympic golds in two successive games in the 1500m, the only man to have achieved this feat. It's probable he would have won a third in the 1988 Olympics 1500m had  selectors not snubbed him. Denied an opportunity to compete he was offered a chance to represent India, an offer he declined. The story gains dimensions; there's political edge and an unintentional historical resonance. Coe the Indian over achiever held back by the intrigues of an old boys British network akin to IAS of colonial India.

The spin, while more dramatic would be a lie ; Coe today is a reigning big wig of the IOC, he's the individual most responsible for London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics. The Indian heritage is a genetic artifact that's made a significant contribution to the athletic ability but little to the cultural disposition of the former Tory MP. But the connection touches a chord with a large audience, and that is the point. Everything is political these days
it. The old distinction sport and politics one pure, the other corrupted is a thing of the past. Athletics' pristine image has fallen in successive waves of performance drug scandals. Sport is about money, nationalism, and propaganda as much as the ideals of the original Olympic motto, citius , altius, fortius (faster, higher.stronger)

Still, the number of Athletes with the talent to compete at the Olympics are few, their ability on short loan and the window of opportunity small. Timing is everything, one missed Olympics can mean the difference between Olympic glory or being an also ran. And its not all about victory, to make it to the Olympics is a distinction in itself. The Olympic A qualifying standards are based on the top ten times in the world, the B on the top 100. These are standards to compete. Most athletes go through intense contests in their own national championships and only a few advance to the next stage.  All challenges considered most athletes would cherish being part of that august group.

There are also  surprises. A favorite moment was Liu Xiang's win in the 110 meter hurdles in 2004 in Athens. He crossed the finish line in a world record, leaving a world class field in his wake. The shock it sent through some commentators and observers was raw. Some were stunned into silence that an Asian man could win the event, you could hear the exclamation in their thoughts. I hope for people like Liu Xiang and for the Tibetans that this thing can work out for everyone, but that may just be me dreaming.

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