Category Archives: Olympic Games

Will the virus finish the five-ring circus off?

One positive outcome of the false pandemic panic: it may cost Tokyo this summer’s Olympic Games.

The event, previously planned for the summer of 2020, was postponed for a year amid the Covid-19 fears, but now, an overwhelming majority of Japanese population prefers either another delay, or scrapping the games altogether. The latest figures are conclusive: four out of five (80 per cent, if you wish) of Japanese people polled on the subject said they need Olympic Games like a dead man needs a winter coat (or words to that effect).

Needless to say their views sound rather logical. And not only because of the artificial worldwide pandemic pandemonium. That, as a reason in and of itself, would be obvious: oh yes, we are going to spend another untold billions to prepare for the event, and then some Big Pharma accountant will say the vaccine profits haven’t met expectations yet, let’s announce yet another wave of the disease, and who’s going to guarantee we’d get our money back?

The Japan Press Research Institute asked about 3,000 people aged at least 18 for their views. Of course, as a sample it’s not really too convincing: as of Saturday, January 23, 2021, Japan had 126,257,867 citizens. But still, it seems the Japanese don’t like being robbed out of their minds for causes as nebulous like Olympic Games.

Shifting views

An interesting trend: in recent past, more respondents wanted the Olympics delayed rather than cancelled. Now, the ratio has changed. Those seeking cancellation have grown into a majority. Not yet an overwhelming majority, really, but that can change in a jiffy. As soon as the Japanese see more of the figures, such as the amount spent so far on sporting venues and infrastructure: $25 billion (three quarters of it out of their wallets). That happens to be $25 billion of which most has gone down the drain (and would have even if the Olympics were held on time). The claim that new facilities will remain as Olympic heritage (whatever that is supposed to mean) has been proven false again and again in the aftermath of previous Olympic Games anywhere in the world.

Economic case studies are unanimous in their conclusions: international sports bodies demand that potential hosts build new facilities whenever they are awarded the hosting duty. Governments (read: taxpayers) pay for the extravagant spending sprees ten times out of ten, private corporations that own the land and/or do the actual building get rewarded, and if an ordinary Mary or Joe Public wants to use, for example, the new speed-skating oval once the Games have ended, tough luck. Only accredited (professional, that is) speed skaters are allowed in.

Some of the Japanese feel that another delay or cancellation would mean all of the money spent thus far was an utter waste of time and resources. A point well taken. But it equals crying over spilt milk. They should have stopped their sporting events promoters (and their government) much earlier. They should have been outraged when these promoters began pushing to be awarded the hosting duties.

Of course, the government of Japan has denied it ever thought of cancelling the games, contrary to rumours that the only thing they were looking for was a “face-saving” way of doing it. Considering that no rumours are believable until and unless they had been denied officially, this denial sounds ominous.

Of course, another set of rumours became rampant soon after the denial had been made public: Japan would be a front-runner to host the Olympic Games in 2032, the first available slot on the agenda (the 2024 games have been awarded to Paris, and the 2028 event should take place in Los Angeles). Tokyo is hoping to be awarded the 2032 games “out of sympathy.”

Abstain

Here’s what the Japanese (and everybody else who wants to host Olympic Games) should do: forget about it.

Put bluntly and openly: Olympic Games, just as any other top sports events, haven’t got much to do with sports as such. They are, and always have been, a business.

When the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin restored the movement in 1896, his claim to fame included such unsubstantiated statements as he would be bringing the fame of the ancient Greek Olympiads back to their deserved fame.

Except: the reason was much more trivial. French aristocrats were bored stiff during their leisurely summers, spent mostly at Côte d’Azur (French Riviera). Jet travel didn’t exist then, so, there were no jet sets. And, besides, how can you not become bored with your days when your nights are filled with debauchery again and again, giving you tough hangovers next mornings? Unrestrained merrymaking only takes you so far. And then what?

The traditional lack of brotherly love and mutual respect between the French and the English notwithstanding, Baron de Coubertin summoned British blue-bloods to take part: if anyone knew how make rules that would look perfectly fair and frightfully sporting, it would be them.

That’s what caused the original demand for amateur status, too. A professional athlete ranked as a Prince? Fi donc (equals yikes in everyday English). A Prince employed as a professional athlete? Another fi donc for you.

A couple of four-year Olympic cycles, masses of the unwashed took note and decided to join the fun. That’s when the amateurism rule would come in handy.

Then came the year 1936 and the games in German capital, Berlin, with German Chancellor, Adolf Schickelgruber, a.k.a. Hitler, presiding. That’s when nationalistic propaganda value of this event became a central focus.

It would be also the first occasion for the so-called Olympic torch relay. No such drivel existed in ancient Greece. Yes, there may have been torches in the many areas athletes used for post-competition entertainment, such as orgies, but running with torches all over the world, that’s a typically Teutonic tradition (just check out some of the Wagner operas). The new German ceremony included the charade with the last runner’s identity remaining a closely guarded secret. The first final runner was an activist with Hitlerjugend, as sporting an organisation as any.

There’s not much need to analyse the august Olympic movement much deeper. Suffice it to say that it has become a highly politicised sinecure that helps the rich become richer by being a leech that sucks taxpayer money like there’s no tomorrow.

To sum it all up: the Japanese would save themselves a ton of concern and huge loads of money if they bid the Olympic overlords their hearty arigatou gozaimasu (thank you), and wave their arms in their typical sayonara (fare thee well) gesture.

Should that happen, the rest of the world would owe the Covid-19 scaremongers one huge vote of gratitude, combined with a sense of great relief.

Americans demand politicization of Olympic Games

The so-called modern-era Olympic Games have been a perfect nonsense since the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin created them in 1896.

But now, they seem to be stepping into a brand new level of scandal: the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) is demanding that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) change its rules aimed against using the Games as a propaganda vehicle.

The rules, as they exist now, forbid any political, religious and race propaganda. According to the U.S. Olympic crowd, that’s unacceptable. The IOC should adjust the rules in the (now wait for it) “correct direction,” and it should permit “peaceful and decent demonstrations in support of racial and social justice.”

Who decides whether those demonstrations are peaceful and decent, and whether what they are demanding is racial and social justice has been left unanswered.

Obviously, based on what we’ve seen thus far, the decision would remain in the hands of those peaceful looters, arsonists, thieves, and, generally speaking, racist bullies.

Given the phrasing of the American Olympian demand, it would be based on race. That is, it would be racist.

Selective, that is.

True, two American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were expelled from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City for an openly political statement: while standing on the winners’ podium, with their country’s anthem playing in their honour, they raised their fists in a clear gesture of protest against what they thought were racial inequalities in the U.S.

Of course, some naïve observers from all over the world would look at their open protest in amazement: what oppression? they would ask. You must have had ample opportunities to train to become world-class athletes, you have just won on the world’s greatest stage, so, what’s your problem?

The politically correct crowd in the U.S. seems to be rather selective in picking what (or whom) to object to.

Yes, the conditions for some of the black Americans may be quite dire. This topic really is not new, and it happens to be too involved. Still facts would prove beyond any doubt that black Americans are not as much victims of oppression by others as they are victims of their own lacking will to apply themselves in order to get ahead.

The proof is in the pudding: just look at the many black Americans who have succeeded in whichever field they decided to succeed. Not only in sports, and not only in entertainment.

In any case, one is left wondering: why don’t the American Olympic poohbahs say that the Israeli athletes killed by members of the Black September at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972 were victims of a crime?

Yes, it would have meant taking sides, and it would have been a political statement.

Or: would the American Olympian chiefs agree that, for example, Serbs in the territory known as Kosovo face something too close for comfort to genocide?

How about supporting the Christian Armenians against attacks by Muslim-oriented Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh?

Getting back to 1968 and Mexico City: Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská achieved the almost impossible at the time: she broke through the Soviet dominance in her sport.

As she stood on the winners’ rostrum, she bowed slightly. She did so to remind the world that Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact armies had just a couple of months earlier invaded her country.

She would later admit she was afraid the IOC would kick her out because it would recognize her gesture as a political protest.

Come to think of it, while Tommie Smith and John Carlos were protesting against what they perceived had been injustices, Věra Čáslavská protested against a very real military invasion of her country.

The modern-era Olympic Games were originally supposed to provide entertainment for French aristocrats who were bored stiff, spending their summers at Côte d’Azur, along the French Riviera. Debauchery has its limits after all.

And, since the Baron knew that the English were good at inventing rules, he asked them for help. The English blue-blood, facing the same boring summers (how many foxes can you hunt before killing them all?) obliged.

That, and nothing else, was the reason for declaring the Olympic Games a strictly amateur affair. It definitely had nothing to do with the ancient Greek Olympiads where doping and outright cheating were quite openly admitted as the proper ways to conduct the business of winning. No amateurs in ancient Greece, either.

After the masses of the unwashed invaded the modern-era Olympic Games, the demand for pure amateur status would remain. But, as time progressed, participation and, especially, Olympic success would become matters of public pride. Starting with Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Games, the Olympiads would become an ideological tool to prove one system’s superiority over all others.

It was also Hitler’s Imperial Office (Reichskanzlei) that would introduce the torch relay. The idea included the demand that the final runner’s name remain secret until he accepts the torch. Interestingly, too, the first final runner would be an activist (ein Funktionär) with the Hitler youth organization (Hitlerjugend), as sporting a group as can be.

After the Second World War, as communist countries would decide that Hitler wasn’t that wrong, after all, and that success in the Olympic sports stadia could be linked directly to boasting their system’s advantages, Olympic Games would become precisely that: an ideological tool. Western countries didn’t catch up fast enough. That made their governments uneasy. The fact that most athletes from the communist countries were, in fact, professionals, didn’t help matters much, either.

Oh no, they all had other jobs listed in their resumes. Their clubs would be attached to all kinds of corporations. Those corporations, of course, were state-owned. The athletes would be, on paper, working as this or that, but in reality, they would only show up to collect their salaries.

In any case, all this would erode the idea of amateurism in the Olympic movement and, eventually, professionals would be allowed in.

To sum up: the modern-era Olympic movement has been based on hypocrisy since its inception in 1896.

The American Olympic Committee is only continuing in the trend. Whether the world governing body accepts it remains to be seen. But we shouldn’t keep our hopes high: given the IOC’s infamous history of perfectly cynical underhanded skulduggery, it’s going to be only a question of time until we see signs such as: We compete for black lives.

The NHL did it to open the closing part of its shortened season 2019-2020, so why not the Olympians?

It’s all about bread and games

Professional sports is an industry that has arcane rules not many from the outside world would understand.

Such as: on one hand, athletes are supposed to perform at levels above what all other (so-called normal) people are capable of. On the other hand, they are supposed to do so without any outside help.

What kind of outside help?

Drugs. It’s called performance enhancing medication. This professional sports sub-sector employs many: creators of these paraphernalia on one side, and those who make sure nobody gets away with using them on the other. Cops and robbers in real life.

From the outside, looking in, seems like a pretty successful job-creation project.

Why is it all happening? Money, of course, no need to ask. Except: it’s money that would have been much more useful if spent elsewhere. Such as: in schools, building sports grounds for children.

Yes, this is called dreaming in Technicolor.

Nothing but noble reasons

And here’s the reality of where all this hypocrisy has come to.

The former chief of the world’s track-and-field ruling body told the court in Paris, France, the other day that he had known of systemic doping by Russian athletes for years (if not decades), but turned a blind eye on the issue so as not to lose potential sponsors.

Why it has to be a French court to take up this issue in the first place has never been made clear. Perhaps because the guy in question is from Senegal, and Senegal used to be France’s colony.

Still, one thing is undeniable: Lamine Diack, former president of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations, now known as World Athletics), said that yes, indeed, he would do everything and anything in his power to at least delay the investigations into widespread allegations that Russian athletes used banned drugs to enhance their chances of winning. He claimed in all seriousness that he did so in the interest of the body he had been presiding over.

Not only that. He wasn’t joking. He meant it.

At the same time, Lamine Diack (who is now 87, and who used to run the IAAF like his own fiefdom for 16 years, until being forced out in 2015) heatedly denied accusations he had helped launder dirty money. It remains to be seen what the court will find.

According to one allegation made in the French court, official Russian authorities were so happy about Diack’s help, they even provided some $1.5 million (U.S., why do you ask?) for his participation in presidential elections in Senegal. Diack, as could have been expected, denied it.

What he didn’t (and couldn’t) deny was his son Papa Massata Diack’s participation in laundering the money from Russian sponsors. Diack Jr. stands before a court in his home country, accused precisely of that. His father, while not denying his son’s involvement, made sure the French court was none the wiser when it wanted to know the details.

Diack justified his actions by telling the French court that, even with the fabulous Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt making headlines all over the sporting universe, the world track-and-field body was so close to bankruptcy it needed every cent from any sponsor wishing to pony up. And since Russian sponsors made it an indispensable condition (conditio sine qua non) that they would pay provided their country’s athletes continue competing (and earning money both for themselves and for their sponsors), what else could have good old Diack done but agree?

He did so in the interest of his sport, he kept repeating in his court testimony.

Which brings us to an interesting question: does it seem that top sports can’t do without doping? And that raises another question: does the world really, but really, really, really need professional sports in order to survive?

The answer to the first question is simple and unambiguous: yes.

The answer to the second question is just as simple and unambiguous: no.

What is it all about?

Here’s a dose of simple realism: once a sport, any sport, turns its official competition into a professional endeavour, it becomes part of entertainment industry. Right then and there. To survive, it will need money. Not only to pay the athletes. The sites have to be attractive for the paying public. That’s not cheap, either. At the same time, the organizers have to use any space available to promote all kinds of goods and services by companies that hope their advertising presence will turn the attendees into their paying customers.

This, as a minor aside, leads to some outrageously and tragically funny moments. McDonald’s or Coca-Cola have been official Olympic Games sponsors. Yes, there used to be times when some people thought Coca-Cola was a medical product. But we now know enough to appreciate that the claim that these two companies are prime examples of healthy eating habits, lifestyles, even, is stretching it beyond breaking point.

Money does not stink, no matter whence it comes, and when sponsors promise they would continue sponsoring, it would be foolish for the organizers not to meet their demands. Such as: keep their mouths shut about athletes’ behaviour that they (publicly and officially, at least) consider illegal.

Let’s leave aside such questions whether sporting competitions, even the most amateur-rank ones, are good for humanity. George Orwell, yes, THAT George Orwell, of 1984 and Animal Farm fame, answered this question better than many. He wrote a brilliant essay, The Sporting Spirit (it first appeared in newspaper form in 1945, and it would become part of Orwell’s book, Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, in 1950).

To sum up: yes, sports can be good for your body, but sporting competition is not. For reasons, read Orwell’s essay: nobody has ever put it better.

Research that has thus far remained generally unknown to the general public, indicates that professional sporting competitions are dying a slow and painful death.

Even before the outrageous hoax a.k.a. coronavirus pandemic could make its entrance, figures for the last few decades had begun to indicate that general public’s interest in all kinds of professional sporting events is not what it used to be.

The decline has been quite slow, in hundredths of percentage points each year, but it has been constant and persistent.

Radio and television ratings for live broadcasts haven’t been too healthy, either. And new media eyeball counts have not inspired overall enthusiasm, too.

It is too early in the game to start attempting to define the reasons for this decline. There may be way too many of them, from changing lifestyles, to preferring active sports, to liking video games more than Stanley Cup finals, and the list can go on and on.

At the same time, individual national Olympic Committees live off their nations’ taxpayers’ support, making sure all and sundry are aware that their national pride depends solely upon their athletes’ prowess on the world stage.

Way too many swallow this nonsense line, hook and sinker, going so far as to enthusiastically agree that their governments build new sites to host international events. (And never mind the blackmail by professional sports teams’ owners when they demand that taxpayers foot the bill to build their club a new playground.)

It seems most citizens do not realize that governments have no money of their own. Governments only have what their taxpayers are forced to share with them.

Coming back full circle

Here’s the issue: fans would not attend professional sporting events just for the fun of it. Don’t give them gracious movements of a discus thrower releasing his apparatus, or elegant steeple-chase runners hurdling over the water jumps. They want to see something out of the ordinary. Weight-lifters lifting barbells heavier than fully loaded trucks, sprinters running faster than Formula 1 cars, gymnasts soaring close to gymnasia ceilings, and making elegant poses while flying through the air.

Sports organizations would like to have the same thing, provided nobody uses performance-enhancing drugs to achieve them. That they ignore reality is one thing. The other is that when they summon the alleged legacy of ancient Greeks, they are lying through their teeth. The good old Olympiads allowed quite open cheating because the good old ancient Greeks were sincere about the whole thing.

Sponsors would not part with their hard-earned cash until and unless they see crowds huge enough to justify their investment. And if the crowds have gathered to witness results that are beyond normal, let’s give them results that are beyond normal. Who cares how the athletes achieve them. So long as they attract paying crowds.

After all, athletes are mostly adult enough to know whether this or that performance-enhancing medication is good for their health or not. Besides, and this is not much of a secret, many of them are quite cynical about the whole thing. Years ago, a sample of top athletes were asked: if you knew that this drug will help you win an Olympic gold medal, but it would also kill you within the next five years, would you still take it? An overwhelming number (in the 90-per-cent scope) said yes.

Asked to elaborate, some said that what if a cure was found before they died. Others said they would provide for their families for decades with the Olympic gold medal-generated income, and that would suffice even if they were to die doing it.

Did you notice none of them mentioned entering the history of sports with their achievement?

What does it tell you about the morality of professional sports?

Most Canadians remember the name (and complete life story) of the greatest hockey player of all times. (Wayne Gretzky, if you needed a reminder.)

The Great One at least gave us a few things to ponder. Such as: you miss one hundred per cent of the shots you don’t take. Meaning: you won’t succeed if you don’t try.

But: how many Canadians remember the name (and life story) of one of the greatest Canadian scientists, the guy who discovered insulin and its role in treating diabetes? Don’t use any search engines: do you know his name? You didn’t remember? Here’s a hint: it was Dr. Fredrick Banting (with the help of research student Charles Best).

What does it tell you about the social usefulness of professional sports?

Thank you very much.

Russian doping case just won’t go away

Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, step aside. Your doping scandals have been thrashed through the media left, right and centre. Yet, they can’t even begin to compare to what Russian sports authorities have done to show what can happen when winning (at all cost) is everything.

Russian athletes have been accused of doping on a scale unheard of before. What has happened since?

Not much.

Following the alleagtions published some time ago in various European media, representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have gone to Moscow and left the Russian capital a few days later with more than 3,000 samples. They took all of it to a specialized laboratory in Köln am Rhein in Germany. Considering Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutka told the Reuters news agency on the occasion that his country will provide WADA with everything, it raises a few uncomfortable questions. Such as: who guarantees that the samples WADA has loaded on the plane have never been tampered with? Not that one is paranoid but: the Russians have a history rich on disinformation (bluntly put: lies and obfuscation).

So, here’s the question again: who is making the guarantees everything’s above board and nobody’s trying to make any deals under the table?

It’s not a rhetorical question. And here’s the answer: nobody.

In case you’re wondering: remember, for example, the Chernobyl nuclear station meltdown? The one where everybody all over the world knew there was an unexpected release or radioactive material into the air in the Soviet terrirory (most reports went so far as to pinpoint the location within a few centimetres), and yet, the Soviets kept denying it all for days on end?

Or, to remain within recent memory, remember the Kursk submarine that went down in the Arctic, all and sundry aware of the tragedy and offering a number of helping hands, with the Soviets first denying there even was such a submarine, then, denying that it had some kind of technical malfunction, then, denying that they can’t save it by themselves, and, then, letting the entire crew die while help was just around the corner?

So, one more time: nobody can guarantee that everything’s going to be above board, with no under-the-table deals, so help us Nature. Not with the Russians in on it. Not with their president (a former KGB spy) in on it. Not with his KGB cronies helping him run the country any way they felt was useful – to them.

Here’s what happened

Originally, this scandal involved only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It would spread across the sporting spectrum as a forest fire in no time. Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters face charges of doping. Russian sports bodies’ chiefs stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that.

IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too. Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah. This gives nepotism a brand new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charged recently that young Diack had personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

The French newspaper, l’Equippe, found more documentation. Some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months earlier, these same officials had banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

The entire operation was easy enough. The athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Most of the tests require collection of urine samples. Still, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

How perfectly honourable!

The German TV ARD and French paper l’Equippe’s probes found many more details. Not that they had any sporting ideals in mind when they went public with them. Titillating scandals such as these help enhance ratings. Better ratings help enhance advertising. Better advertising helps enhance the health of the bottom line.

Running concern

Sir Sebastian Coe, the legendary British middle-distance runner, boss of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the man expected to become the IAAF chief in the not-so-distant future says track-and-field is facing its worst crisis in the last four decades.

Depends on how you view it.

Canada’s own Ben Johnson had to return his gold at the Olympics at Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He won it in the crowning track-and-field race, 100 metres dash.

America’s own Marion Jones was involved in the doping lab BALCO scandal, and, sportingly enough, was economical with the truth when speaking to U.S. federal investigators. That landed her behind bars.

Johnson’s gold would eventually go to America’s Carl Lewis. This guy distinguished himself by not getting caught. Nobody in their right mind would believe that a human can run at 40 km per hour speeds. Horses can do that. Not humans.

Not surprisingly, the drug Johnson was caught with was Stanozolol, a medication used most frequently to improve muscle growth, red blood cell production, increase bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened (what? yes, you do hear it right!) horses. Stanozolol can be used for people, too, to help treat anemia and similar conditions. But definitely not in doses whose traces were found in Johnson’s body.

The numerous medals won by Marion Jones went all over the place to other female athletes whose medical and coaching staffs knew better than to associate with BALCO too openly.

Sir Sebastian used to face accusations of cheating himself, too.

Again, the point of view depends on the angle.

Having noticed that most African runners spend most of their time training in high altitudes, only to come down to race in lower elevations and beat everybody hands down, Sebastian Coe (as he was then) followed in their footsteps.

Is that cheating?

If you tried to replicate the effect training at high altitudes has on an athlete’s body by injecting oxygen into an athlete’s blood, it would be called blood doping. That’s illegal. If, on the other hand, you were to spend a few months in, for example, the Andes, now, that would be considered an innovative approach to training. Yet, the effect is the same.

Was Sebastian Coe cheating? You be the judge.

That uncomfortable angle might, however, explain Sir Sebastian’s calls for prudence. Still, he said, if the accusations are proven beyond any doubt, the penalties should be harsh enough to deter any followers.

He’s definitely not afraid of the embarassment a proper clean-up job would cause the sports to suffer, Sir Sebastian said. He is scared that if people try to sweep all these allegations under the proverbial rug, spectators would lose any interest they have had so far in watching sports.

Which is all this is about.

Sir Sebastian should have mentioned Russian officials’ penchant for publishing fake information, distributing falsified data all over the place or, to put it bluntly, lying through their teeth. It’s called disinformation, and if anyone’s a past master in this field of human endeavour, it’s the Russians. History proves it beyond any doubt, reasonable or not.

Sir Sebastian didn’t say it. Why not? As mentioned, he’s a presumed heir to the top post at the IAAF. Except, he still would face a vote by the body’s general assembly. Here are the numbers: the IAAF consists of 212 member federations. It used to be 213 but the November 2010 meeting of the IAAF Council found that the Netherlands Antilles was going to cease its independent existence.

Like it or not, the Russians still carry considerable weight within that body. They can have unhealthy influence on the outcome of the voting. So, Sir Sebastian, who used to say the Russians ought to be stripped of all of their medals and let’s be done with it once and for all, is now backpedalling. Ever so gently, but still, distinctly enough.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that all this outcry and indignation are hypocritical.

Nothing more, and nothing less, either.

Professional sports are all about business. They are part of entertainment industry. So, they do their utmost to entertain. If they were to manage to find ways for humans to catch lightning with bare hands and twist its shape according to their spectators’ wishes, so much the better.

That people are wiling to pay good money to watch well-trained humans (animals would seem to sound better and closer to the truth) performing acts beyond the limits of human abilities is a strange phenomenon. It’s not particularly new. Attendance at Greek Olympiads, predecessors of the modern extravaganzas, would make today’s organizers turn yellow with envy. Doping and outright cheating were a normal way of doing things then, and nobody would even bother to shrug about it, let alone create expensive bodies to oversee what these bodies call “the cleanliness of the sports.”

That professional sports would develop into a global business of such gigantic proportions is a sign not of the athletes’ godly (or ungodly?) abilities but of pure marketing genius.

It is also a sign of something more sinister. Nobody described it better than the British writer, George Orwell. He wrote an essay for the Tribune newspaper in December of 1945, commenting on the visit of Soviet football team Dynamo. Some people, not so much out of sheer naivete but, rather, knowing a marketing opening when they saw one, would go so far as the herald the visit as a sign of everlasting peace between the democratic (no matter how Royal) Great Britain, and the communist Soviet Union.

After all, who could blame them if “everlasting” didn’t last even till the end of Soviet footballers’ trip to Great Britain? The organizers (meaning: the guys who promised everlasting peace) have collected the spectators’ money and spent the rest of the time laughing all the way to the bank.

That average people in both countries were still going hungry following the war was not much of a concern to them.

Anyhow, herewith a few quotes from George Orwell’s piece.

The Sporting Spirit

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. …

Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Thus spake George Orwell in 1945. Remember: in 1945. Thus spake George Orwell 69 years ago.

He said it all, and let’s leave it at that.

Toronto’s Olympic dream Canada’s nightmare

Why the people of Toronto continue to think that their collection of villages is the centre of the universe as we know it remains a sweet mystery.

Why many others across Canada seem to keep swallowing this nonsense hook, sink and line has become an enigma beyond belief, too.

On the heels of the Pan American Games, whose bill is yet to be revealed, so all of us learn how much this sham is going to cost us, there seems to be a growing sentiment abroad, insisting that Toronto should bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. Why, they say, it’s the ideal moment in history: the PanAm Games have been a resounding success (says who? Oh, they say so, which means that’s how it’s got to be!), and besides, the other potential North American suitor has just pulled out of the contest. A window of opportunity if there ever was one!

If only they listened to what Boston’s Mayor Martin S. Walsh had to say.

Announcing that he was asked to sign a contract that would guarantee that the city of Boston would be responsible for potential financial losses, Mayor Walsh said he couldn’t in good conscience do anything of the kind. He is of the view that this ought to be somebody else’s responsibility (read: the organizers ought to be responsible, not the taxpayers). Besides, he was asked to sign a document the precise language of which would be revealed to him some two months after he had signed on the dotted line. No option to negotiate, Mayor Walsh added, and that sealed it for him.

In that one sentence, Mayor Walsh revealed the criminality of the Olympic system as we’ve known it for decades.

Olala, Marcel!

Enter Marcel Aubut, head of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

To refresh everybody’s memory (in case it needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut who drafted Eric Lindros first overall in 1991 even though he had been perfectly aware that Lindros would refuse to join the Quebec Nordiques no matter what. As a result, Lindros, considered by many Wayne Gretzky’s second coming, would lose an entire NHL season. That makes Aubut’s move even more unconscionable. As a hockey official of extensive experience Aubut must have known that professional players’ careers are limited.

And he crowned this sordid drama by trading Lindros a year later to two teams (the excuse that he and Pierre Page had no way of informing one another about their individual but separate talks does not hold water). The case had to be settled by an independent arbitrator, a scene that still makes the crowd at 1185 Avenue of the Americas in New York cringe.

To refresh everybody’s memory again (in case it still needs refreshing), that would be the same Marcel Aubut under whose personal and expert guidance the Quebec Nordiques were eventually forced to leave Quebec City in a financial shambles, only to resurface in Denver as the Colorado Avalanche and win the Stanley Cup within a year.

Of course, in fairness, who knows whether the Avalanche would have won anything without the presence of Patrick Roy in their net? It seems quite obvious that, had the Nordiques stayed put, theirs wouldn’t be the club the Montreal Canadiens would trade Roy to.

But that is hindsight. The fact that remains is that it was Marcel Aubut who caused the Lindros scandal, and that it was Marcel Aubut who helped bring the Nordiques to financial ruin and ignominious departure.

So, having this guy say that “It’s time to make it crystal clear, I am officially declaring that I will use the full power of my office to lead and advocate for Toronto’s candidacy to hold the 2024 Olympic Games,” that would be a clarion call for everybody concerned to run for cover.

Not so easy

Let them apply, so what? many might suggest.

Alas, that’s not how it works.

To put together a presentation for an Olympic Games bid costs money. There are firms that specialize in this kind of work. They charge their clients for every box of Kleenex they use when they happen to sneeze. With the deadline for bid submissions set for September 15, 2015, these consultants would have to work pretty hard and fast. Double (or triple) the original demand in order to account for the deadline pressure.

So, taxpayers would be shelling out their hard-earned loonies just so the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members have something to read in their leisure time. Without any guarantee whatsoever. Marcel Aubut might be presenting himself as a heavy hitter whose word spreads general fear in the IOC offices in Lausanne, Switzerland, but, in fact, he’s a featherweight so far as the Olympic poohbahs are concerned.

But, while the Olympians get set to gather to ponder on the individual bids by hicks who are willing to mortgage their citizens’ future for the chance they might appear on TV screens, bidding cities will have to prove they have sufficient facilities to host events on such scale.

No problem, the Toronto bid supporters will yell, we’ve just had the PanAm Games, and our facilities worked just fine.

First of all, they would be lying through their teeth. Track-and-field experts have been shocked by the small-country-county ambience of Toronto’s fields. Even Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium worked better during the track-and-field world championships in 2001.

Besides, the Olympic would-be royalty demands that their events happen in brand new facilities. They claim, as an excuse, that these facilities would then remain as legacy for future generations to use. Another bald-faced lie. There have been exceptions, to be sure. Some of the winter sports facilities in Calgary still remain in use. But going into more detail would reveal some horror stories that are better left for windy and rainy autumn nights. They are best shared by crowds that are sitting by the fireplace, with toddies all around. These stories are scarier than most of the Halloween costumes people could ever imagine.

In any case, even facilities built brand-new for the PanAm Games would be obsolete (in Olympians’ view) nine years hence.

Here’s what happens

Hordes of realtors, developers and sundry financiers will overwhelm all levels of government telling them this or that kind of work’s got to be done immediately, even before the Olympic crowd bothers to descend upon the bidding city. Whether it’s a conspiracy, as many Olympic watchers suspect, remains to be seen. But the fact is that, when asked, Olympic officials will nod in agreement: what, you didn’t read the fine print?

Interestingly enough, government officials proceed to spend like crazy sailors on shore leave. After all, it’s not their money they are spending. And there is a sufficient number of fools amongst their electorate who fall for the shamelessly idiotic propaganda about the Olympic Games. It’s the greatest sporting event on earth, and one that takes its responsibilities seriously, whether it’s the environment or the cleanliness of the athletes. We as citizens should be proud that the august Olympians decided that ours is the best spot on planet Earth to hold this event, that’s the motto.

And not even the fact that it took Montreal almost four decades to pay off its Olympic debt, and that it’s going to take Vancouver about that same amount of time to pay off its Olympic debt changes the hoopla.

If the Olympic Games were produced and paid for by private organizers and if they made money in the process, three cheers for them.

But since the Olympic Games are produced and paid for by taxpayers who have literally no say in what is going on, the picture changes.

There have been case studies during which analysts presented private entrepreneurs with Olympic budgets and accounting books, so far as they could lay their hands on them.

The private entrepreneurs were shocked both by the budgets and by the accounting that followed.

To use a most recent Canadian example, none of them would have thought of bringing snow (using trucks and helicopters) from Manning Park all the way to the mountains around Vancouver.

The more thoughtful people in the entrepreneurial crowd hated what they saw. Not because none of them got to hop on the gravy train. Because they saw where their taxes were going, and they didn’t like it one bit.

To be sure, by the way, this kind of megalomania is not limited to Canada.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, alpine skiing events took place quite far from the sea shores, separated from the Black Sea by massive mountain ranges. The organizers, in an attempt to make access easier for the tourist hordes who would want to watch the break-neck artists hurtling down the slopes, broke through the mountains. One tunnel after another, one artificial pass after another. The result: the moist sea air made it all the way through to the alpine events areas. Tons of artificial snow and sundry chemicals made the slopes acceptable for the skiers. Not for the nature. The alpine meadows have been devastated beyond belief and it will take decades for the scientists to be able to say whether they would ever recover.

So much for the Olympians’ environmental responsibility.

But sports are good for your health!

Absolutely. But not sports as performed at highest-level events.

First and foremost, to even have a chance of becoming an Olympic-level athlete, you’d have to become a professional in your chosen field. Nobody can make it on talent alone any longer.

Becoming an Olympic athlete is no guarantee of success, either.

Now, if you decide you want to spend the rest of your productive life jumping over hurdles or throwing all kinds of stuff so far as they can fly, it’s your business. You may even think that what you’re doing is useful for society. It’s your right to have opinions.

The buck stops once you accept a cent of public funding. And getting money from sports federations equals exactly that. These bodies wouldn’t be able to survive a single season without getting government support.

As an athlete, you may claim that you are presenting yourself as a role model for the younger crowd so that they become hooked on sports, too.

There’s nothing easier to explode than this myth. If money various levels of governments grant to various sports federations, up to and including the Olympic committee, were spread among schools, so they can build and maintain sports facilities, hire and keep physical education teachers, and are able to keep physical education as a daily class on their schedules, that would be the proper way of engaging in sports.

The highly trained gladiators just don’t cut it. And that’s ignoring all their doping and other dirty shenanigans.

To sum this angle up: the federal government has, quite properly, resisted spending taxpayers’ money in support of professional hockey clubs.

It should tell the same thing to all those who come, caps in hands, asking for federal government support in staging events such as the Olympic Games. The government is not in the business of professional sports.

And if those would-be organizers start pushing their point by saying what an economic bonanza their event would turn out to be, the government should issue a collective smile and say: Is that so? So, go ahead, invest, and be successful. We’ll watch your progress with considerable interest.

And if the potential organizers, blackmailers, one and all, start crying, the answer should be even simpler. Let them eat cake.

Boris Nemtsov’s assassination bound to remain mystery for ever

It takes a certain amount of stupidity (naiveté for the more polite crowd) for Western commentators to believe that Russian police would ever find the assassins of the country’s former deputy prime minister and president Vladimir Putin’s opponent Boris Nemtsov.

They would have to name one of their own.

And it takes a certain amount of gall bordering on outright chutzpah for Putin to write the murder victim’s mother to tell her he’s going to do whatever to takes to find those guilty of the crime and bring them to justice.

This is not to say Putin himself ordered the murder. As a former high-ranking KGB officer, he’s perfectly aware of the concept known as plausible deniability.

Here’s what’s going to help Russian authorities in their potential cover-up:

In addition to criticizing Russia’s government for corruption that has reached truly Byzantine levels, Nemtsov was also critical of lacking human rights, as well as of misdeeds by local authorities in the Yaroslavl region whence he had come.

Except: all those he had been critical of were linked to president Putin (and his office) in one way or another.

In particular, Nemtsov was highly critical of the expenses brought upon the nation by the Sochi Olympic Games organizers at a time when the majority of the population is close to starving.

Russia’s official investigators have already advanced several theories to explain Nemtsov’s death.

First, they suggested that Nemtsov is a victim of a provocation aimed at causing harm to the Kremlin (and the presidency) itself. It’s an attempt to destabilize the political situation in the country. They have said it with straight faces, pretending the political situation in Russia was indeed stabilized. It’s anything but.

Secondly, they came up with an Islamist revenge angle because Nemtsov had been highly critical of the recent attack against the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. So were many others critical of the attack. Why single out an opposition politician in the distant country of Russia?

No explanation for that, either.

And, of course, the third option’s got something to do with the developments in Ukraine. What exactly, the investigators wouldn’t reveal. Not in any detail, in any case.

Not a word about Nemtsov’s anti-graft campaign.

Former chess champion Gary Kasparov, who’s not on friendly terms with Putin’s administration, either, suggested Russia’s president didn’t necessarily personally issue thee order to kill Nemtsov. No need to. He did create an atmosphere in the country where political assassinations have become the norm rather than an exception.

That contrasts wildly with a statement by a Moscow-appointed ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. So far as he is concerned, it was the bloody Western imperialists, acting in cahoots with the Ukrainians, who did Nemtsov in.

Considering the series of politically-motivated murders, one wonders. All of the victims attracted Putin’s wrath in one way or another, and all of them were dangerous to him.

How about the former Soviet (and, later, Russian) spy Alexander Litvinenko? Responsible for investigations of what the Russians call euphemistically “organized crime,” Litvinenko said the government was responsible for the murder of Boris Berezovskii, a Russian oligarch whose commercial interests interfered with commercial interests of those in Putin’s circle.

A couple of Russian intelligence agents paid a visit to Litvinenko in London. Shortly afterwards he died of cancer caused by a dose of radioactive polonium these two somehow introduced into his cup of tea.

Or how about the murder of a fascinating Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaia? She reported on Russian atrocities in Chechnya. She also exposed a number of illegal deals in which money flowed into the Kremlin and into Putin’s pockets.

Russian police said it was several people who had been guilty. Judging by their names, all of them are of Muslim origin. That still doesn’t even begin to explain why the Politkovskaia was murdered on Oct. 7 (in 2006). The day just happens to be Vladimir Putin’s birthday.

Russian courts sentenced the five alleged culprits to a variety of prison terms. They all appealed. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

Sergei Magnitskii, a lawyer who exposed massive corruption that involved a private investment fund and several high-ranking Russian government officials, was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. He died in prison. Pancreatic complaint was the official reason. Marks of severe beating found on his body suggest otherwise.

Alexander Perepilichnyi, another Russian entrepreneur who dared expose the Kremlin’s financial misdeeds, died in circumstances similar to Alexander Litvinenko’s premature demise.

One of the few things that seem to be certain is that Boris Nemtsov is dead and that the killing weapon was a Makarov nine-millimetre gun, a pistol in use in the Russian army and popular with the country’s police.

And the other thing we know for sure is that Vladimir Putin has one less dangerous opponent to contend with.

Russians release doping test samples – they claim

Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, step aside. Your doping scandals have been thrashed through the media left, right and centre. Yet, they can’t even begin to compare to what Russian sports authorities have done to show what can happen when winning (at all cost) is everything.

Representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have gone to Moscow and left the Russian capital the other day with more than 3,000 samples. They took all of it to a specialized laboratory in Köln am Rhein in Germany. Considering Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutka told the Reuters news agency on the occasion that his country will provide WADA with everything, it raises a few uncomfortable questions. Such as: who guarantees that the samples WADA has loaded on the plane have never been tampered with? Not that one is paranoid but: the Russians have a history rich on disinformation (bluntly put: lies and obfuscation).

So, here’s the question again: who is making the guarantees everything’s above board and nobody’s trying to make any deals under the table?

It’s not a rhetorical question. And here’s the answer: nobody.

In case you’re wondering: remember, for example, the Chernobyl nuclear station meltdown? The one where everybody all over the world knew there was an unexpected release or radioactive material into the air in the Soviet terrirory (most reports went so far as to pinpoint the location within a few centimetres), and yet, the Soviets kept denying it all for days on end?

Or, to remain within recent memory, remember the Kursk submarine that went down in the Arctic, all and sundry aware of the tragedy and offering a number of helping hands, with the Soviets first denying there even was such a submarine, then, denying that it had some kind of technical malfunction, then, denying that they can’t save it by themselves, and, then, letting the entire crew die while help was just around the corner?

So, one more time: nobody can guarantee that everything’s going to be above board, with no under-the-table deals, so help us Nature. Not with the Russians in on it. Not with their president (a former KGB spy) in on it. Not with his KGB cronies helping him run the country any way they felt was useful – to them.

Here’s what happened

Originally, this scandal involved only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It would spread across the sporting spectrum as a forest fire in no time. Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters face charges of doping. Russian sports bodies’ chiefs stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that.

IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too. Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah. This gives nepotism a brand new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charged recently that young Diack had personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

The French newspaper, l’Equippe, found more documentation. Some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months earlier, these same officials had banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

He entire operation was easy enough. The athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Most of the tests require collection of urine samples. Still, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

How perfectly honourable!

The German TV ARD and French paper l’Equippe’s probes found many more details. Not that they had any sporting ideals in mind when they went public with them. Titillating scandals such as these help enhance ratings. Better ratings help enhance advertising. Better advertising helps enhance the health of the bottom line.

Running concern

Sir Sebastian Coe, the legendary British middle-distance runner, boss of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the man expected to became the IAAF chief in the not-so-distant future says track-and-field is facing its worst crisis in the last four decades.

Depends on how you view it.

Canada’s own Ben Johnson had to return his gold at the Olympics at Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He won it in the crowning track-and-field race, 100 metres dash.

America’s own Marion Jones was involved in the doping lab BALCO scandal, and, sportingly enough, was economical with the truth when speaking to U.S. federal investigators. That landed her behind bars.

Johnson’s gold would eventually go to America’s Carl Lewis. This guy distinguished himself by not getting caught. Nobody in their right mind would believe that a human can run at 40 km per hour speeds. Horses can do that. Not humans.

Not surprisingly, the drug Johnson was caught with was Stanozolol, a medication used most frequently to improve muscle growth, red blood cell production, increase bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened (what? yes, you do hear it right!) horses. Stanozolol can be used for people, too, to help treat anemia and similar conditions. But definitely not in doses whose traces were found in Johnson’s body.

The numerous medals won by Marion Jones went all over the place to other female athletes whose medical and coaching staffs knew better than to associate with BALCO too openly.

Sir Sebastian used to face accusations of cheating himself, too.

Again, the point of view depends on the angle.

Having noticed that most African runners spend most of their time training in high altitudes, only to come down to race in lower elevations and beat everybody hands down, Sebastian Coe (as he was then) followed in their footsteps.

Is that cheating?

If you tried to replicate the effect training at high altitudes has on an athlete’s body by injecting oxygen into an athlete’s blood, it would be called blood doping. That’s illegal. If, on the other hand, you were to spend a few months in, for example, the Andes, now, that would be considered an innovative approach to training. Yet, the effect is the same.

Was Sebastian Coe cheating? You be the judge.

That uncomfortable angle might, however, explain Sir Sebastian’s calls for prudence. Still, he said, if the accusations are proven beyond any doubt, the penalties should be harsh enough to deter any followers.

He’s definitely not afraid of the embarassment a proper clean-up job would cause the sports to suffer, Sir Sebastian said. He is scared that if people try to sweep all these allegations under the proverbial rug, spectators would lose any interest they have had so far in watching sports.

Which is all this is about.

Sir Sebastian should have mentioned Russian officials’ penchant for publishing fake information, distributing falsified data all over the place or, to put it bluntly, lying through their teeth. It’s called disinformation, and if anyone’s a past master in this field of human endeavour, it’s the Russians. History proves it beyond any doubt, reasonable or not.

Sir Sebastian didn’t say it. Why not? As mentioned, he’s a presumed heir to the top post at the IAAF. Except, he still would face a vote by the body’s general assembly. Here are the numbers: the IAAF consists of 212 member federations. It used to be 213 but the November 2010 meeting of the IAAF Council found that the Netherlands Antilles was going to cease its independent existence.

Like it or not, the Russians still carry considerable weight within that body. They can have unhealthy influence on the outcome of the voting. So, Sir Sebastian, who used to say the Russians ought to be stripped of all of their medals and let’s be done with it once and for all, is now backpedalling. Ever so gently, but still, distinctly enough.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that all this outcry and indignation are hypocritical.

Nothing more, and nothing less, either.

Professional sports are all about business. They are part of entertainment industry. So, they do their utmost to entertain. If they were to manage to find ways for humans to catch lightning with bare hands and twist its shape according to their spectators’ wishes, so much the better.

That people are wiling to pay good money to watch well-trained humans (animals would seem to sound better and closer to the truth) performing acts beyond the limits of human abilities is a strange phenomenon. It’s not particularly new. Attendance at Greek Olympiads, predecessors of the modern extravaganzas, would make today’s organizers turn yellow with envy. Doping and outright cheating were a normal way of doing things then, and nobody would even bother to shrug about it, let alone create expensive bodies to oversee what these bodies call “the cleanliness of the sports.”

That professional sports would develop into a global business of such gigantic proportions is a sign not of the athletes’ godly (or ungodly?) abilities but of pure marketing genius.

It is also a sign of something more sinister. Nobody described it better than the British writer, George Orwell. He wrote an essay for the Tribune newspaper in December of 1945, commenting on the visit of Soviet football team Dynamo. Some people, not so much out of sheer naivete but, rather, knowing a marketing opening when they saw one, would go so far as to herald the visit as a sign of everlasting peace between the democratic (no matter how Royal) Great Britain, and the communist Soviet Union.

After all, who could blame them if “everlasting” didn’t last even till the end of Soviet footballers’ trip to Great Britain? The organizers (meaning: the guys who promised everlasting peace) have collected the spectators’ money and spent the rest of the time laughing all the way to the bank.

That average people in both countries were still going hungry following the war was not much of a concern to them.

Anyhow, herewith a few quotes from George Orwell’s piece.

The Sporting Spirit

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. …

Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Thus spake George Orwell in 1945. Remember: in 1945. Thus spake George Orwell 69 years ago.

He said it all, and let’s leave it at that.

Doping scandal of major proportions rocks the world’s sports community

Will most of Russian athletes be stripped of their Olympic and other international championships medals and banned from competition for some pretty considerable time?

What began as a scandal involving only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has now spread across the spectrum. That Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters now face charges of doping is one matter. That Russian sports bodies chiefs now stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that, is another matter.

And that IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too, makes it the mother of all sporting scandals.

Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah, a position that gives nepotism a new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charges that young Diack has personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova who paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov to make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

Help from up top

That, of course, is not all. ARD and l’Equippe, the French sports newspaper, have unearthed more documentation, and some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months ago, these same officials banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

What’s fair is fair, right?

How did the cover-up work? Could have hardly been more simple: the athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Not only that: as most of the tests require collection of urine samples, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

Doping: what else is new?

ARD, an abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a.k.a. Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany in English, has been known for its hard-hitting documentaries. Besides, it is precisely the Germans who ought to know whereof they speak when it comes to doping. A sports medicine institute in Leipzig in the former East Germany has been in the forefront of the doping science for a very long time. Some of its leading researchers have spent the last couple of decades or so working with athletes in China. Doing what?

Meanwhile, l’Equippe newspaper has been known as the publication of record when it comes to investigating doping in cycling, during the Tour de France, in particular.

Not surprisingly, a huge number of international sports officials have been expressing shock bordering on outright dismay, as if they hadn’t known for decades that this has been going on in one form or another. The chest-beating has been coming loud and clear, from former fencer and now head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach, all the way to the founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and IOC member, Canada’s own Dick Pound.

Pound comes the closest to saying “I told you so,” an expression he would have done better keeping to himself.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Coe, a former British runner, later the boss of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and now a leading candidate for the IAAF presidency, is on record as saying that there should be a widespread redistribution of medals. This promises a fine spectacle, with officials going back – well, Sebastian Coe hasn’t said yet how many years back – to double-check ancient doping test results. What will the IAAF officials do if the samples no longer exist? How will they prove the old samples, if and when found, haven’t been tampered with?

According to some British sources, the Olympic poohbahs are now considering banning Russian athletes from all competitions. As if the Russians were the only ones doing this. They were the only ones caught, for the time being, that’s all.

Why the crocodile tears?

Of course, it’s all hypocrisy.

Sprinters running at speeds reaching 40 kilometres an hour speeds, even if only for less than 10 seconds, aren’t normal human beings. Marathoners getting close to covering this distance in less than two hours aren’t normal human beings, either. We can consider one sport on the Olympic schedule after another to see that it’s been artificially created bodies who have performed these achievements.

Yes, yes, yes, some say it’s the diet, others say it’s the new training methods, still others say it’s all of it combined.

But the conclusion is simple and straightforward: what these athletes are (and have been) achieving is not normal.

But, of course, viewers all over the world are fans who want to see such out-of-this-world achievements. They are paying good portions of their hard-earned money (in whatever currency) to see the modern gladiators ply their trade. It has become an industry on its own: without viewer interest, there wouldn’t be so much coverage that pretends it’s news. Without so much coverage that pretends it’s news there wouldn’t be so many dollars invested in advertising. Speaking of which, when a sprinter shows that this or that running shoe is the best, it’s still within the boundaries of the understandable. But when, for example, a weight-lifter promotes products of female hygiene, it becomes a comedy.

And yet, the solution is simple. If you asked the athletes whether they would digest something that would guarantee them Olympic gold and, at the same time, premature death within five years of victory, an overwhelming majority would go for the doping.

It’s perfectly irrelevant if they would agree in the wild hope that, within those five years, a cure would be developed for whatever they had brought upon themselves, or because their imagination doesn’t stretch that far, or that they are of the view that, at least, they had taken care of their families.

What matters is: they would do it.

So, why not let them?

Why not realize that even the original Olympiads in ancient Greece were filled with not only outright doping, but blatant cheating, too? (If you let me win this race, my sponsor will guarantee you a job at so many drachmas a year, plus room and board.)

Why not admit that the anti-doping crowd has been playing catch-up all along, never really getting even close to the level of those who’d been using performance-enhancing drugs?

Just drop the pretence, leave (taxpayer-supported) Olympic organizations and sundry sports bodies out of it, pass the deal over to pharmaceutical companies, and change the slogan. Get rid of the ancient Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). It’s Latin, anyway, and how many people speak (or, at least, just understand) Lingua Latina these days? Replace it with “My drugs are better than yours, nyanyanyanahnah,” and be done with it.

Of course, we won’t have titillating stories of athletes who wouldn’t pass the normal sobriety tests to enjoy any longer.

Will it be such a huge loss?

Did Picasso support Russia’s bid for World Cup of soccer?

Nothing beats a good bribe if and when you’re after the right to host a World Cup of football (soccer for North American readers).

According to intelligence sources, FIFA vice president and UEFA president Michel Platini’s personal collection now features a painting by Pablo Picasso that used to be hidden in Russia’s national archives.

FIFA is football’s (soccer’s) governing body all over the world. UEFA’s fiefdom includes all of Europe.

These allegations of bribery, of course, neatly fit the allegations of a massive vote-buying scandal involving bids for the two forthcoming World Cups: the 2018 in Russia, and the 2022 in Qatar.

A report out of Great Britain lists a Picasso painting (or Picasso paintings) as having been removed from Russia’s national archives – either from the Hermitage Gallery in the Palace Square in St. Petersburg or from the Kremlin in Moscow itself. Of course, one wonders: has there been an art archive hidden in the Kremlin? Or did the report mean the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Lane in Moscow, and it only wanted to say the painting was removed on orders from the Kremlin?

Cloak-and-dagger operation

The British House of Commons Media and Sport committee claims it got its information from what it called “high-level intelligence gathering and surveillance on the other countries bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”

It is good to remember in this context that the British did submit their bid for the 2018 World Cup, too, but were not successful. The 2018 and 2022 bid situation was somewhat convoluted: FIFA told its members they can bid on either event or on both of them. The British first tried bidding on both, and then concentrated on 2018. It didn’t do them much good.

Russian authorities, as could (and should) be expected, hotly denied any underhanded skulduggery, bribes included.

Now, of course, this particular denial is coming from a country that gave birth to the rule that one oughtn’t believe any rumours until they’d been officially denied. So, Russia’s denial doesn’t prove anything.

What did not help matters was what happened after FIFA ordered an investigation. Some 18 months later, it received the Adjudicatory Chamber’s report. FIFA said the report cleared both Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing. No need to start the bidding charade again, FIFA said. But the language of its statement that announced FIFA’s decision was somewhat involved for a layperson (and convoluted for experts in legalese, too): “The various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”

Huh?

What didn’t help matters, either, was the strange fact that FIFA’s lead investigator dissented and said so publicly. Michael Garcia announced he would appeal.

What?

Yes.

Garcia went so far as to issue a statement saying, verbatim: “Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report.”

Here’s the translation: the final report is a bloody lie. The winners cheated. And cheating happens to be unsportsmanlike.

Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, examined the 2010 vote. The funniest part: Garcia submitted his still unpublished report to criminal authorities in Switzerland. That’s where FIFA is based.

Oh, those nosy reporters!

It all began with reporting in The Sunday Times of London.

These stories, the paper said, were based on what it described as a secret “database” put together by English soccer officials as they were bidding unsuccessfully to host the 2018 tournament. British embassies and former intelligence officers unearthed and collected the information used in the allegations of bribery-induced vote rigging.

Not unexpectedly, Michel Platini of France, a member of the powerful executive committee of FIFA, denied receiving the gift, calling the report a “ridiculous rumour.”

Besides, Platini told the French news agency AFP, “The allegations in The Sunday Times are completely fictitious. This case is now in the hands of my counsel for possible libel.”

Why Platini? Could it be a typical example of the traditional love that has existed through centuries between the French and the English?

Not really. This is far too important. It is also good to remember that Platini leads UEFA, the European soccer authority that oversees the Champions League. Many consider him as a possible successor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election next year.

Aiming high

The Sunday Times 15-page statement submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons goes so far as to name Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as having been personally involved in the bribery scheme.

It took one single vote in 2010 by the FIFA executive committee members to decide the winning bids of both 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

This is highly unusual in and of itself.

This kind of voting also suggests that the numerous reports saying the bidding process was rife with opportunities for bribery, kickbacks and voting pacts couldn’t have been too far off the mark. Especially because investigators associated with England’s unsuccessful bid for the 2018 Cup uncovered evidence that Russia and Qatar had joined forces to influence votes in a pact “seemingly brokered through a major bilateral gas cooperation agreement.”

In another interesting twist, the FBI and IRS took an interest in FIFA’s executive committee. The two bodies turned Chuck Blazer – the lone American on the committee in 2010 – into a cooperating witness in a federal criminal probe based in the Eastern District of New York.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that Blazer had met personally with Putin in the lead up to the World Cup vote, posting photographs of himself with the Russian president on his blog.

Later, after FBI and IRS confronted Blazer with evidence of unpaid taxes, he agreed to go undercover for the feds, secretly recording his meetings with soccer officials during the London Olympics in 2012.

Why is all this important?

All of this serves as yet another proof (as if one was still needed) that the gigantic sports events have turned into moneymaking machines for groups of well-connected entrepreneurs.

These things are no longer about sports, no matter how you look at it.

Populations all over the world are massaged by mass media to become supporters of the various Olympic Games, World Cups and other such gatherings of professional athletes. What they do not realize is that – as faithful taxpayers – they pay for most of the costs. The money ends in the pockets of those who build the sites and those who grant them the right to stage these events.

So, it’s not so much megalomania as it is a money grab.

If private entities were to stage such huge events, there would be no special reason to complain that they ended up with a profit. They risked, they won. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

It’s when taxpayers pay for the dance and private businesses win the door prizes that these things begin to smell funny. When, on top of it all, all kinds of officials get to share in the proceeds without sharing a cent with those who had originally paid the piper, the whole scenario begins to stink to high heaven.

How long will it take before taxpayers see the light?

Equality? What equality? Of sexes? Are you kidding?

Hypocrisy by any other name is still hypocrisy.

A teenaged female friend of mine, as talented a person I’ve ever met in my puff, told me the other day the accepted dress code (including, one assumes, her school’s rules) dictates that skirts have to extend below a girl’s knees, and tops, especially those with V-shaped openings for necks (whatever THAT means) are a no-no. Too revealing, she was told.

If this Commandment from the Mount has come from school administrators, one may attempt to understand their motives. Still, it falls short of basic logic.

Yes, absolutely, hormones are raging like crazy amongst the boys in that girl’s age group. But that still does NOT mean that girls have to cover themselves from head to toe like nuns, just so they don’t provoke any hormonal explosions within the opposite sex crowd.

It was in this context that my friend raised the question of Justin Bieber.

Wisely, she said that while she personally didn’t like Bieber’s music-making in general, and his singing in particular, she had no issues with those who felt Bieber was the popular music’s second coming.

Personally, I’m not so sure I’d be THAT wise (or generous) at all. To me, Bieber’s singing (or his attempts at singing) sounds like an injured donkey’s screeches in heat.

What has got my teenaged friend’s dander up was that he apparently said that rape has got its reasons. Justin Bieber uttered words to that effect in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. He then tried to dance around them saying his experience had not included rape, but even this qualification didn’t change his view one iota.

Reading his sentiment to perfection, my teenage friend said that – quite obviously – what he meant to say was that if a girl reveals a part of her body, she’s asking for it. And even if she reveals nothing but is beautiful and / or attractive, she’s asking for it, too.

She would proceed to draw a parallel to the limitations on girls’ school dress code.

Is that the message they want to convey? she demanded.

I agree with her wholeheartedly. On all counts.

In addition to his criminal issues (both in the U.S. and in Canada), Bieber makes racist jokes and seems to be of the opinion he can get away with an apology, no matter how perfectly insincere.

And if he really said rapes happen for a reason, all reasonable concert promoters, record producers and sundry members of the hangers-on crowd should drop him like something dirty they picked up after it had fallen from a horse’s behind.

But, to get back to my teenaged friend’s complaint about the dress code modifications.

If it really originates with school administrators, they seem to have it all splendidly wrong.

If there were anything they ought to control, it would be the boys’ behaviour. If there’s anything they (and the boys’ parents) ought to teach them, it’s respect. You first must give respect. Only then can you expect that someone will respect you back. That’s the mantra.

An aside here: one of the criminal cases in the U.S. that involve Justin Bieber has happened aboard a private jet taking him and his father to a Super Bowl game. The crew, including the captain, were asking both Biebers to stop smoking marijuana. It does happen to be illegal to smoke anything aboard an aircraft in the first place, after all. On top of it, marijuana fumes that the pilots must necessarily inhale impacts their ability to fly the plane safely.

In this context: remember Ross Rebagliati? That was the guy who won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in snowboarding in Nagano in 1998. Within days, if not mere hours, the International Olympic Committee decided to take his medal away: the doping control found small traces of marijuana in his system. Rebagliati defended himself by saying he spent a few days before flying to Japan in Whistler, B.C. That happens to be the place where those who do not indulge are treated as weird nerds. Whistler is about 7,500 kilometres removed from Nagano. And still, the august Olympic body accepted Rebagliati’s word and he got his medal back.

Can you imagine how the pilots must have felt when two guys were smoking marijuana right behind their backs in a Gulfstream?

Besides, what a role model is Bieber senior to his offspring, the younger Bieber? And what kind of a role model is, by extension, Bieber junior to his adoring fans?

Here’s the meaning of the aside: parents should be the first, and most important, role models for their children. If their children do not learn anything about mutual respect within their families, where else are they supposed to learn?

We live in the 21st century, for crying out loud! Is it so difficult to teach the boys that girls are NOT mere sexual objects? Is it so frightfully difficult to teach them that girls (women in general) are people, first and foremost?

Yes, absolutely, teen age is the age when young people start looking at one another, considering whether this or that person would make a good life partner. Yes, absolutely, teen age is the age of first loves. Loves that may (or may not) develop into something special.

None of which means that violence is permitted as a part of it.

It makes no sense whatsoever to mouth truities about equality and whatnot, if female students are supposed to wear clothing worthy of Victorian times.

This Victorian approach stinks to high heaven. It reeks of hypocrisy. Most of the more sensitive young people, students included, will realize that.

Is that what we want to teach them?