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      Volume 11 |Issue 36| September 14, 2012 |


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Food for Thought

Good Sports and Bad Eggs

Part II

Farah Ghuznavi

The recent Olympic Games in London offered up more than its fair share of human interest stories, and not only those concerning the athletes. Politicians gave us quite a show to remember, Mitt Romney and Michelle Obama performing as respectively a zero and a hero in their own right, while performers and commentators made their presences felt, in the opening ceremony and well after. Some commentators should, in my opinion have been permanently gagged not least because what they had to say was gag-worthy in more than one sense of that term. Like Fox News' lamenting the lack of patriotism and the "anti-American feeling" displayed by American athletes who failed to wear uniforms that sported the traditional red, white and blue. So presumably,by this criterion, Gabby Douglas' choice of a pink leotard must have been proof of her lack of patriotism, even though she won gymnastics gold for the US.

Weightlifter Zoe Smith of the British Olympic Team poses for a photograph during the Team GB Kitting Out at the NEC on July 4, 2008 in Birmingham, England. Photo: by Warren Little/Getty Images

Indeed, one Fox News host chose to single out Douglas, commenting "Some folks have noticed that American athletes' uniforms don't carry the Stars and Stripes look as much as they had in past years. The famous flag-style outfits worn in years past replaced with yellow shirts, gray tracksuits, pink leotards. So how do we show our patriotism at the games?" A troubling question indeed, particularly since, as another Fox commentator put it -"What's wrong with showing pride? What we're seeing is this kind of soft anti-American feeling that Americans can't show our exceptionalism. Frankly, if they are offended about our showing our exceptionalism then they have that right and I don't care. And neither do most Americans." Really, so this is about an unnamed “they” - presumably everyone unfortunate enough to be non-American - being jealous of American “exceptionalism”?!

I could easily spend the rest of this article ranting about the neurotic paranoia exhibited by Fox News television hosts, but it's probably better to leave the last word on this non-issue to one of the commentators on NewsHounds, which does an excellent job of critiquing Fox News 'content'. As she so succinctly put it, "Here's a hint [on how to show patriotism at the games]…maybe by cheering on our athletes and their accomplishments rather than whining about their uniforms and questioning people's patriotic expression"!

In one piece of good news, it was highlighted that for the first time in Olympic history, all of the teams included female athletes. On this occasion, it's probably more important to just enjoy the fact that we are a small step closer to gender equality. But the cynic in me does question exactly what some of these female athletes were there for - there were some who looked suspiciously like token females. And, oddly enough, they also belonged to the usual suspects in terms of the teams one might suspect of being less than strongly committed (or for that matter, not committed at all) to promoting greater equality.

On the other hand, there were female athletes who were clearly there for all the right reasons and did a fantastic job of representing themselves. Like the 18-year-old British weightlifter, Zoe Smith, who got off to a great start by breaking the British record in an impressive Olympic debut. Smith has reacted to the abuse directed her way by Internet trolls (for supposedly being unattractive and unfeminine) with spirit and maturity, expressing surprise at the outdated persistence of such chauvinistic views, and adding that she was particularly sad to see abuse from girls who labelled her "weird" for her muscular physique.

Mind you, Zoe Smith was not the only target of Internet bullies. I was amazed to see an article by someone named Martin Rogers, who rejoices in the title of "Yahoo Expert" (though perhaps that should more accurately read "Expert Yahoo"). He managed to churn out an entire article on the theme of how Bangladesh is the largest nation - and it should be noted here that he defines size by population rather than land area or resources - to never have won an Olympic medal.

Great Britain's Zoe Smith during the London 2012 kitting out session at Loughborough University, Loughborough.

Perhaps Rogers would have done better to question why other countries with legendary athletes and comparatively far greater resources, like India, have not done even better. Zillionaire businessman Lakshmi Mittal's 15 million pound injection into India's Olympic training notwithstanding, South Asia's regional powerhouse has so far won fewer medals than tiny Venezuela, a fact that the spokesperson from the Mittal Foundation explained in terms of the absence of a competitive and professionalised sports culture one that has yet to be developed properly in the country. And, it might be added, in the region.

There is no shame in that, and South Asia has not been particularly well-known for producing sports superheroes in the past ) barring a few exceptional individuals). In fact, Rogers' article even takes the trouble to mention that 80 of the 204 Olympic nations, more than one third of them, have never won a medal! How many of those countries face the challenges in terms of resource constraints, development priorities and sports culture that Bangladesh does?

Instead of taking that into consideration, he states that Bangladesh's "Olympic futility is so bad it makes one wonder if a statistical mistake has been made". Given the lack of athletic tradition in this country - in comparison to, let us say, Kenya's runners or Sweden's skiers - and the striking lack of resources most of our athletes are faced with, I was left wondering if in fact Mr Rogers' futility in coming up with such a pointless and mean-spirited article was not indicative of a serious mistake in Yahoo's choice of "Experts"!

Bangladeshis are happy and proud to be represented in the international arena by the likes of American-born Syque Caesar, who holds dual nationality and previously won Bangladesh gold for his performance on the parallel bars at the Central South Asian Championships. The choreographer, Akram Khan - whose work was featured in the Olympic ceremony as a tribute to the victims of terrorism in July 2005 - is also British-Bangladeshi. These examples demonstrate what Bangladeshis are capable of when they receive the training and resources that many Westerners take for granted. Mr Rogers would do well to bear that simple truth in mind.

Sources for this article include the BBC, the UK Telegraph, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, the Daily Star and various Internet commentators

Read this week's Book Review (page 40) on Lady Fest, an anthology that includes Ghuznavi's short story 'Getting There', one of the winners at the Oxford Gender Equality Festival 2010.



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