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Archive | Sports

Rising from Ashes: The Rwandan Genocide and Conflict Resolution through Sports

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Team Rwanda. Source: Rising from Ashes Foundation

“Sport has the power to change the world…It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” – Nelson Mandela

Team Rwanda. Source: Rising from Ashes Foundation

It has been twenty years since the genocide that devastated Rwanda. Over 800,000 people lost their lives—for no other reason than belonging to the wrong tribe. The slaughter by the Hutus of the minority Tutsis took place in 1994. The Clinton administration stood by not wanting to admit that genocide was taking place. It was one of our darkest chapters in history. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, special assistant to President Bill Clinton on African affairs at the time, advised him not to become involved. It was a political decision not to call the slaughter of ethnic Rwandans genocide. “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election,” Rice had stated.

Rising from Ashes is an internationally acclaimed documentary, about hope for the future, for a generation of young men who went through the Rwandan genocide–survived and overcame adversity—but lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins, and other family members. The conflict was about hatred, killing neighbors and friends, and destroying entire communities. The documentary tells the story about the first Rwandan National Cycling Team– composed of both Hutu and Tutsi riders–making history representing Rwanda internationally, and qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics.

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Are Politics Fair Game at the Sochi Olympics? Google Seems to Thinks So

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A German protester wears a mask of Vladimir Putin – one of thousands protesting Russia’s stance on gay rights ahead of the Sochi Winter Games. Axel Heimken/EPA

This week, the largest, coolest and most promising Australian Winter Olympics team to ever leave these shores landed in Sochi.

A German protester wears a mask of Vladimir Putin – one of thousands protesting Russia’s stance on gay rights ahead of the Sochi Winter Games. Axel Heimken/EPA

But there’s more than gold on their minds – they want their presence to mean something. With the endearing nonchalance so typical of the extreme sports star, snowboarder Belle Brockhoff told reporters that she’d considered whether or not to address the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights during the games and concluded that, “screw it,” she would.

Her stand isn’t surprising; she stated this intention back in December, and her Twitter account carries a “No to H8” logo.

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The Olympics go Downtown for Tokyo 2020

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Hands up if you love synchronised swimming. Christopher Jue/EPA

It is Tokyo, after all. It was nearly 6am when a few thousand supporters gathered at Komazawa stadium, one of the key venues for Tokyo’s 1964 games, exploded in celebration as International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge held up the winning envelope marked “Tokyo 2020.”

Hands up if you love synchronised swimming. Christopher Jue/EPA

With Madrid ousted at the first round, the Tokyo-Istanbul competition boosted the hopes of the Japanese bidders that eventually took the final vote by a large margin: 60 to 36. Tokyo had been seen as the favorite in the race for a while. As the situation in Istanbul and neighboring Syria deteriorated, the Japanese case surged in confidence despite the concerns over the Fukushima disaster.

The media response, as well as most of the official questioning at the IOC, was focused on the challenges brought about by these security concerns. News reports on the Olympic bids echoed with the government’s crackdown on protesters in the streets of Istanbul, the stalling Syrian crisis in the Middle East, the growing concern about radioactive waters and health safety caused by the never-ending Japanese saga with the nuclear power plant. These themes will no doubt remain part of the “Tokyo 2020” reports for the weeks to come. Yet it might, amid all of the discussion, be worth taking a quick step into what the games mean for the city and for the world of spectators and visitors that will be engaging with the Japanese capital.

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When it is More than a Game: Football Violence in Egypt

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Egyptian riot police stand guard in Cairo Stadium during the first half of a match between Zamalek and Ismaili clubs in Cairo on February 1, 2012. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

It is frenzied and continuing, but the riots in Egypt have become so regular as to suggest that the Arab Spring never stopped.

Egyptian riot police stand guard in Cairo Stadium during the first half of a match between Zamalek and Ismaili clubs in Cairo on February 1, 2012. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

The country, even post-Mubarak, is seething with insurrection. And the outlets of dissatisfaction, expressed via social media and the more physical aspect of sport, are everywhere. The violence during the week in Egypt might be termed “football violence”, but the term is deceptive. Protests have taken place in Cairo near Tahrir Square and in Port Said, while demonstrators have attempted to block the Suez Canal. But initial accounts that they were all linked to football have become unreliable. What is certain is that a good portion of it has left a police station in flames, the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Federation in ruins and two people dead, being a response, in turn, to the violence that took place in February 2012 in Port Said stadium.

The trigger came in a Cairo court’s decision to uphold the death sentences of 21 fans accused of sparking riots that left 74 people, mostly Al-Ahly supporters, dead. Two senior policemen – former head of police security General Essam Samak and Brigadier General Mohammed Saaed – were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Saaed’s claim to infamy was his refusal to open the stadium gates as the riots broke. He was the man who stood idle with the keys. Witnesses also claimed that the entire police force stood like mute sentinels, passive in the face of the violence. The implication here was the football fans were to be punished for their own unruliness – they had been instrumental, went one argument, in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak.

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Prejudice, Race and Football: Why we are all Monkeys Now

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England’s Danny Rose. Source: Sky News

“Behind the liberal veneer, those outbursts against uncouth fans are only a slightly more erudite version of throwing bananas against people you fear and loathe.” – Brendan O’Neill, “An Acceptable Hatred,” The Spectator

England’s Danny Rose. Source: Sky News

The scene was an ugly one. It was an Under 21 football match between Serbia and England in the Stadion Mladost in the town of Kruševac. An England victory was registered – at some cost. Primate calls and chants from the stand made to a black player in England colours, Danny Rose. Supporters of the Serbian side, ecstatic to see a player sent off who had kicked the football into the crowd in disgust in response to the racial tide. Flying projectiles directed against the England visitors. Bedlam and calls for Serbia’s sporting censure.

Such logic, in its own contorted way, reaffirms itself in violence – a man, derided for his skin colour, retaliates and simply confirms the primate premise he is saddled with. Having scored a victorious goal, he feels a justification and reacts accordingly. Prejudice, in other words, is self-contained, immune to reason. It only makes all concerned with it ugly, and, frankly, primate in disposition.

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The Abramovich Victory: The Oligarch Machine in Action

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Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Source: Daily Record

Neither oligarch came out spruced and cleansed, but there is little doubt that Boris Berezovksy emerged the poorer, both in terms of the time spent and effort to target Roman Abramovich. Abramovich, in contrast, won what is probably the biggest private court case in history, a bruising $6.5 billion battle that rumbled through the British legal establishment.

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Source: Daily Record

Berezovsky’s claim that the owner of Chelsea FC had bullied him into parting with shares in Sibneft, an oil and aluminium joint stock company he helped found, was dismissed by Mrs Justice Gloster as a contention born of delusion. The huge claim was laughed out of court. “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”

Justice Gloster was not particularly impressed by responses in court that turned out to be long winded speeches and assertions about meetings that supposedly took place. In the end, as if describing a patient suffering from corrosive dementia, the justice felt that Berezovsky had not been “deliberately dishonest, but had deluded himself into believing his own version of events.” Berezovksy, in turn, concluded that the justice was “rewriting” Russian history. Abramovich himself was not to be bettered, claiming that Berezovsky had leached money for reasons of political influence while also receiving $1.3 billion to flee to Britannic freedom when President Vladimir Putin was getting hot under the collar.

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Purging Sports and Humbling Men: The Lance Armstrong Affair

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American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Photo: Eliel Johnson

“The entire decade was one big bluff.” – Filippo Simeoni

American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Photo: Eliel Johnson

He was the superman of the sport, the untouchable product of well honed athleticism. Precisely because he seemed to hum into cycling history, to purr onto the podium with feline ease, the critics grew in number, as did the questions. Was Lance Armstrong taking something? “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1997.”

The statement by Armstrong released in response to the charges of the US Anti-doping Agency is striking for its resignation, the white flag, the tone of surrender. But should this be taken as a confession? A further reading on of the statement suggests otherwise. For Armstrong, withdrawing from the process of confronting the USADA has been a conscious decision based on what he sees as a “one-sided” process of character defamation. “Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims.” The suggestion by Armstrong, made more than once, is that they – the stuffed shirts, the paranoids, the governing class of the sport – are out to get him. “I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine.”

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The Question of the Salute: Rehabilitating Peter Norman

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Peter Norman during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City

“I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way.” – Peter Norman, Australian sprinter, The Independent

Peter Norman during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City

Rehabilitation was the term used to restore the reputations – often posthumously – of those who were wrongly accused, condemned and executed by various regimes during the Cold War. Ideology has a habit of filling the morgues with its followers. In notional democracies, persecution has tended to be of a milder sort, though victims still abound. In 2006, the Australian runner and athlete Peter Norman died, having been, it has been argued, a victim of ideological mania – at least at the hands of the sporting establishment.

Norman still holds the Australian Olympic record for the 200 metres – for which he won silver at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. But that is less known than the role he played alongside fellow athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze respectively in that race. History, vague as it is, records the men in sombre salute in a year when the Vietnam War was eating away at the American conscience in league with the civil rights push.

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When the 2012 London Olympics made Iran Proud

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Iran’s Reza Ghasemi running in the London Olympic Games. Marc/Flickr

For the Iranian people, the 2012 Olympic Games in London which wrapped up earlier on August 12 was thoroughly different from the previous editions of the summer Olympics.

Iran’s Reza Ghasemi running in the London Olympic Games. Marc/Flickr

This year’s games came on the heels of a set of biting sanctions by the United States and European Union against Iran’s banking, insurance, transportation and oil sector which have dramatically crippled Iran’s economy and severely affected innocent civilians. While Israel, Iran’s traditional arch foe, has been intensively lobbying to convince the U.S. Congress to adopt more backbreaking economic sanctions on Iran and further isolate it over its nuclear program, the successful and unprecedented performance of Iranian athletes in London effectively appeased the country’s innumerable excruciating wounds.

The Iranian delegation to the 2012 Olympics snatched medals in weightlifting, wrestling and taekwondo and ranked 17th at the medal table among some 204 participating nations, recording Iran’s best performance in any Olympic Games. For Iranians, every medal in such an important and defining event like the Olympics means a hoisting of the country’s flag before the eyes of millions of international viewers and most importantly, every gold medal means that the people around the world will respectfully listen to your national anthem.  At a time when Western diplomats avoid hosting their Iranian counterparts and shun them in meetings and spare no efforts to make sure that Iran is an isolated nation, it was the Iranian athletes who bear the burden of promoting the name of their country, and making their people proud and cheerful.

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Medal Madness and Sporting Myopia: Australia’s Misery Continues

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Australian women’s basketball team during a match against Russia. &DC/Flickr

A certain disease has taken hold of the sporting consciousness in Australia. Some might argue that it was jaundiced to begin with, obsessive, narcissistic, and, in spates, self-loathing. But the recent ‘silver’ performance of the Australian athletes, most conspicuously in such sports as swimming and rowing, has triggered a sentiment that needs not only reining in, but culling.

Australian women’s basketball team during a match against Russia. &DC/Flickr

Consider, for instance, the remarks by John Coates, Australia’s Olympic poo bah. In May 2010, the Australian Olympic Committee was told that the government would increase funding to elite sports, with an Olympic focus in mind. “It would’ve helped if the government had moved quicker and the funding been available at the commencement of this Olympiad”. Cash for gold medals is evidently the AOC’s motto. Not only is this a besmirching of the athletes who did win silver, but it ignores the disproportionate emphasis that is being placed on the Olympics. (The Australian contingent is already bloated – at least in terms of numbers.) Other insidious symptoms of this silvered show are also revealing themselves.

Australian broadcasters (read, broadcaster) are simply not showing the standing of the national team on the medal tally anymore – such displays are simply considered shaming acts. (Surely, the other way is to see them as affirming acts of humility in recognition that there are, god forbid, decent, competitive and dare one say it, better teams out there.)

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The Greatest Show on Earth

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Olympics opening ceremonies in London. Source: NBC Sports

To sum up the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in one word: kitsch. To sum up the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in two words: wonderful kitsch.

Olympics opening ceremonies in London. Source: NBC Sports

Honest disclosure: I am an Anglophile. At the age of 15 I started working for an Oxford-educated lawyer. At the office only English was spoken. So I had to learn it, and immediately fell hopelessly in love with the English language and British culture in general. Some may wonder at this, since at the same time I joined a terrorist organization whose aim was to fight the British and drive them out of Palestine. Soon after my 15th birthday I faced the admission panel of the Irgun. I was asked if I hated the British. Facing the beam of a powerful projector, I answered: no. Sensing the consternation on the other side of the blinding light, I added that I wanted to liberate our country, and did not need to hate the British to do that.

Actually, I think that most Irgun fighters felt like that. The nominal Commander in Chief, Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, was an ardent anglophile and once wrote that the Englishman in the colonies was a brutal oppressor, but that the Englishman at home was a decent and likeable fellow. When Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Jabotinsky ordered the immediate cessation of all Irgun actions. The Irgun’s military commander, David Raziel, was killed by a Nazi bomb while assisting the British in Iraq.

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Let the Muddle Begin: Opening the London Olympics

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Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings. Katharine Hunter/Flickr

It has begun. Oscar-winning Danny Boyle is one of the artistic gatekeepers who was commissioned to deal with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and was given £27m to do it. There was Mary Poppins, the Red Arrows, there was the Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, decked in yellow jersey in front of the Olympic bell.

Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings. Katharine Hunter/Flickr

There was historical context thrown in, idiosyncratic twists and turns. If people find hope and happiness in such saccharine nonsense, well and good. There was certainly some bafflement to be had. The occasion provides a stupefacient, annulling the senses. If the fireworks show is good, then everything else will go swimmingly. “What the Olympics have, in their formal, cyclical way,” wrote a clearly moved James Lawton, “is renewal, a wiping-away of the past and a huge investment not so much in the future but the moment.”

Criticism is muted, even neutered – one “had to be a brave and resilient polemicist last night” to ignore being caught up in that moment. Then come the almost moronic comparisons – the pissing contest is all de rigueur when it comes to Olympic openings. Did, for instance, Beijing do it better? “Watching these open ceremonies,” tweeted Slate’s Matt Yglesias, “fairly confident that China will bury the west.” Police states must have all the fun at sporting ceremonies.

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Missiles in the Metropolis: Militarizing the London Olympics

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Olympic rings passing Tower Bridge in London. Geoff Caddick/EPA

“We’ve been universally very much impressed with everything we’ve seen. As far as I can see they [London’s police] have done an excellent job preparing all their forces.” – Raymond Kelly, NY Police Chief

Olympic rings passing Tower Bridge in London. Geoff Caddick/EPA

Let this Orwellian madness commence. As the Olympics approaches, London is facing the spectacle not merely of travelling chaos in the city’s Tube system but that of militarist mania. Weapons and heavily armed personnel are being placed across the city in anticipation of potential attacks from any number of unspecified candidates. In early April, Jules Boykoff argued that security officials have been “exploiting the Olympics as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to multiply and militarise their weapons stocks, laminating another layer on to the surveillance state.” As he rightly points out, the Olympic Charter itself prohibits any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” which hardly prevents a security state from demonstrating its pathological tendencies.

Indeed, there is much to suggest that London is leaving Beijing behind in terms of its use of dastardly devices in monitoring its populace, something already being accomplished well with an extensive network of CCTV cameras. Numbers of those involved in the security business have ballooned – 12,500 police officers with 13,500 soldiers are participating in the Olympic exercise (Afghan deployments, it seems, can sod off), though there is much to suggest that these numbers veer towards the conservative.

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