Posts Tagged ‘Olympic’

The Olympics and the Muslims

July 28th, 2012 Comments off

The Olympic Games are rooted in an ancient Greek custom, but they were revived in the 1890s very much in the framework of the emergence of a world of nation-states. Athletes are envisioned as representing their nation, and the abstraction, that everyone now has a nation-state, covers up a lot of cultural conflict that besets the games. The first revived games were all-male. Women were gradually allowed to compete, at first in ‘gentle’ sports such as croquet. Just as the games have gradually accommodated women (except in the Decathlon), so they have gradually opened up to more multi-culturalism.

In the 1890s, there were few independent modern Muslim nation-states. Most of the Muslims in the world lived under European colonial rule. The Dutch had Indonesia, the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. The British had the Indian subcontinent and much of Africa, ruling over hundreds of millions of Muslims. The French empire included places like Algeria and Senegal.

Some 50 of the world’s nations are now Muslim-majority, and they compete in the Olympics, with less controversy than might be imagined. (Muslims may well make up 1/3 of humankind by the end of the 21st century.)

This year, the Olympic games fall in the fasting month of Ramadan. During that month, observant Muslims refrain from drinking or eating during the daylight hours (which are long in London during the summer). Since the Muslim calendar is lunar, it advances about 11 days a year through the solar calendar.

So is holding the summer Olympics during Ramadan controversial? I think a case could be made for not holding them during Ramadan, a case that will be strengthened if Muslims do achieve the kind of demographic weight in world affairs some population scientists suggest.

But, it doesn’t seem to matter to most Muslims. Those who demonize sharia, or the Muslim interpretation of their religious law, may be surprised to discover that it is a flexible and pragmatic, living tradition. The muftis, or official Muslim jurisconsults, of most Muslim nations have given their athletes permission not to fast while they are competing at the games. It is a principle of Islamic jurisprudence that you don’t have to face on long journeys, and since most athletes will journey to London for the games, they can be considered exempt from fasting during them. Muslims exempted from fasting in Ramadan often make up the fast later. Other jurists consider that having a particularly grueling form of work to do can exempt the toiler from fasting. By analogy, Olympic athletes can be exempted. Malaysian religious authorities are encouraging some categories athlete to fast nevertheless (i.e. if neither their travel nor their sport is particularly taxing, why invoke the exemption?).

A small group of Salafis or hard line Muslim fundamentalists had threatened to protest the Olympics in London, in part because they are being held in Ramadan, in part because they’re being held near a neighborhood of London that is heavily Muslim, in part because of a ruling that a Saudi female athlete competing in judo could not wear a headscarf. But they have now decided not to hold the rally, apparently because they fear arrest. (I’m not clear why; they appear to have been given permission to hold a stand-only rally).

There have also been women’s issues. These 2012 Olympics are the first in which all 200 nations participating have sent women athletes. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are sending at least some women athletes. Saudi Arabia tried to get out of it, but the Olympics committee rightly threatened not to all their men to compete if their women were kept home. In the end, Saudi Arabia is sending just two women. One, Wojdan Shahrkhani, a competitor in judo, has been told that she cannot wear a headscarf for safety reasons. Those negotiations are still going on, but if the decision holds, it could prevent Shahrkhani from competing. Muslim women competing in Tae Kwon Do are allowed to wear headscarfs.

Women soccer (football) players had been told the same thing (no headscarfs), causing the Iranian women’s soccer team to pull out. But now that rule has been changed, and headscarves are allowed in soccer. Judo is a contact sport with a lot of pulling involved, and you could genuinely understand some of the committee’s concerns. But still, they may be exaggerated.

The modern history of Muslims and the Olympics shows two processes. Most Muslim jurisprudents have been tolerant and pragmatic in accommodating the international and universal framework of the games. And, Olympics officials have also been forthcoming, at least over time. The sticking points have come from the Wahhabi and Neo-Salafi traditions, i.e. from hard line fundamentalists. They are a small minority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Saudi Arabia’s gender Apartheid is unacceptable, and here is one area where world opinion needs to challenge local custom. No other Muslim nation puts obstacles in the way of women competing in sports the way Saudi Arabia does. It needs to abandon some of its sectarianism if it is to flourish in the contemporary world.

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Romney in the Land of the Anglo-Saxon Uncertain Olympics: Not Ready for Prime Time

July 27th, 2012 Comments off

Mitt Romney, astonishingly, managed to turn what should have been an easy set of photo-ops and feel-good platitudes into a diplomatic comedy of errors that raise strong questions about his readiness for the presidency.

First, an adviser to the Romney campaign referred to “our” common Anglo-Saxon heritage with the United Kingdom, and said that President Obama doesn’t share that sentiment (apparently because one drop of African blood not only makes one African, it wipes out empathy for all other racial groups). Romney said that he did not agree with whoever the official in his campaign was, who made that observation. Note that Romney appeared to acknowledge that some official close to him did say it.

Then, Romney said, in an interview with Brian Williams, of London’s Olympic games,

“”You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because there are three parts that makes Games successful.”

Why would you use language like “disconcerting” and “not… encouraging” about the London Olympics on a diplomatic tour? Is Romney so competitive that his Salt Lake City Olympics has the be the best ever? Is he also running for Prime Minister of the UK against his host David Cameron? Is he just better than everybody else?

The government of Prime Minister David Cameron was furious at Romney’s slam at London. A senior British foreign ministry official told the Guardian: “What a total shocker. We are speechless.”

Cameron had been put in a difficult position by Romney’s visit, because protocol does not allow the British government to treat him as it would an elected head of state. But Cameron bent over backwards to accommodate Romney, only to be blindsided.

Then David Cameron was, like, “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.” He was having fun with Romney’s boasts about his role in the Salt Lake City Olympics, in Utah.

Then a spokesperson for the mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker, said: “(David Cameron) can stop by any time. We’d love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn’t run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere.”

Then Romney met secretly with the head of MI6 (British overseas intelligence), which was supposed to be a secret meeting. He casually announced that he had met with the official. That sort of thing is supposed to be kept confidential in the UK.

Imagine that you were hiring a consultancy firm to go in and make good relations with a foreign concern. And imagine that the guy you sent in starts a shouting match between that company and your own because of his incompetence.

Would you later on hire the same consultant to prepare the way for an even bigger deal with multiple companies?

While it is all in good fun, there is some real annoyance being generated here.

If Romney couldn’t get the UK right, you wouldn’t want him leading the free world.

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Munich survivor joins NY minute’s silence

July 27th, 2012 Comments off

London Mayor Boris Johnson (C) , London Olympics chief organiser Sebastian Coe (R) and others hold a minute's silenceA survivor of the Israeli Olympic team massacred at the 1972 Munich games will join officials in New York for a moment of silence Friday.

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Egypt Olympians get ‘fake’ gear

July 26th, 2012 Comments off

Members of the Egyptian Olympic team have been given fake Nike gear, a synchronised swimmer alleges, leaving officials shocked and embarrassed.
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Egypt hope Aboutrika can bring Olympic football glory

July 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Mohamed AboutrikaEgypt are long overdue a good run at the Olympics football tournament and hope Mohamed Aboutrika can be the catalyst for a medal-winning showing in London.

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Saudi women to compete in Games

July 12th, 2012 Comments off

Saudi Arabia is sending two female athletes to compete in the London 2012 Games, the International Olympic Committee says.
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UAE president grants $2.7 mn for Olympic soccer team

December 12th, 2010 Comments off

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered a grant of 10 million dirhams (about $2.7 million) for the players in the national Olympic soccer team and its technical and administrative staff in recognition of their achievements in the international sports arena.
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Parabéns, Brazil!

October 3rd, 2009 Comments off

Fabulous news that Brazil “won” the 2016 Olympic Games!

I am really sorry Obama put his international status so visible into the ring for Chicago– and then lost. (But I always thought him going after it so intently was a big mstake, as I explained earlier this morning.

At IPS, Mario Osava reported (happily) that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that Brazil has “the happiest and most creative” people in the world, and deserved this opportunity.

At Daily Finance, Ryan Blitstein noted the sizeable movement amongst Chicago’s citizens who had opposed the Olympic bid. He also reported that big US corporations had spent $72.8 million just on the campaign to get Chicago as far as the Copenhagen run-off.

He concluded,

    That’s more than the budget of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago [the city’s major non-governmental social-service agency], and it doesn’t count the untold millions worth of in-kind contributions from major law firms and other consultants.

    In a city with well over 500,000 people living below the poverty line, that’s serious cash. The best that locals here can say is that, with the city losing its bid, at least they know another $250 million or more won’t be wasted to gear up for 2016.

At, Eduardo Gomez wrote,

    For those familiar with Brazil’s athletic history, today’s decision seems only natural. The country breathes sports — everything from Nascar racing, to volleyball, to soccer, to martial arts. And more importantly, perhaps, to the International Olympic Committee, the country has a long history of hosting international sporting events. In 1963, for example, Brazil hosted the Fourth Pan American games in São Paulo, drawing in thousands of competitors and spectators. The Pan American Games were once again hosted in 2007 in Rio, providing even more recent evidence of Brazil’s commitment and ability to host international games.

    Wisely, however, Lula did not rely on this culture and history alone to propel his bid. In recent years, the president seems to have been taking notes on how other countries have increased their odds. Among the lessons he garnered was the importance of physically attending the presentation and vote to stake his claim. He noted then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts in 2007, for example, when Blair traveled to Copenhagen, made a strong case for London, and came home with the 2012 summer games. In 2005, then President Vladimir Putin showed up before the Olympic Committee in Guatemala to lobby for Russia’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Games, which he won. Following in their footsteps, Lula made it very clear early on that he was planning to travel to Copenhagen to fight for Brazil’s right to the Olympics. In sharp contrast, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would attend only at the last minute. Loving soccer as he does, Lula no doubt saw this as a competitive challenge — one that he clearly gamed masterfully.

    While in Copenhagen, Lula was also very strategic in his country’s presentation before the committee. He brushed aside concerns of violence and crime in Rio, and to the president’s credit, the Olympic Committee praised Brazil for recent security improvements. Lula also claimed that the Olympics would help build Brazil, and especially the city of Rio de Janeiro, by providing jobs for the poor, integrating civil society, and building a spirit of peace and cooperation through sport. Such a prospect no doubt appealed to the committee as this goal was one of the original touted benefits of the modern Olympics Games, dating back to their genesis at the end of the 19th century.

    Most important, though, was Lula’s argument that Brazil deserved and needed the Olympics. Richer countries had had their turn, Lula said, and now it was Brazil’s chance. Brazil ranks 10th among the world’s wealthiest countries, but it is the only one of them never to have hosted the games. It will be the first South American country to do so.

    International sports tend to mirror politics. Today’s decision will reveal, yet again, that Brazil is an emerging power, and that it has the talent, infrastructural capacity, and political commitment needed to play competitively in global political (and athletic) games.

Go, Brazil!

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Qatar Airways signs maintenance deal

August 30th, 2009 Comments off

Alafco leases A320s to Olympic Qatar Airways signs maintenance deal Jazeera Airways adds Abu Dhabi route Boeing 787 Dreamliner first flight expected this … New Etihad Airways first class sui…
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