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Five-ring circus

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) follows a similar practice. Every four years it chooses a country for the Summer and Winter Olympics and, more often than not, leaves the host ruing the purse-breaking hospitality involved.

There was a time when the Olympics were all about competition in sports. Today, it is about economics in shorts. Gone are the days when the Olympics could be staged – as they were in London in 1948 – for under a million dollars. Within 50 years, in Atlanta 1996, the billion-dollar ceiling had been reached. For Beijing 2008, China splurged a colossal $44 billion.

Pakistan is content to occupy a backbench in Rio.

Six years later, Russia, like some competitive nouveau riche oligarch, squandered $51bn on the Sochi Winter Games. Brazil, already teetering under the burden of a financial crisis, is expected to pay bills of up to $12bn for the ongoing games at Rio. It is conceivable that, in future, any country intending to bid for the Olympics may need to apply simultaneously to the IMF for fiscal support.

Pakistan, having just weaned itself away from dependence on the IMF, has taken a wise decision to send only a token seven-member representation to Rio. It has declared to the sporting world that, whereas it once aspired to host the Asian Games, it is now content to share a backbench in the Olympic stadium with countries like Djibouti, Malta, St Kitts and Nevis, and the Virgin Islands.

It does not feel the need to explain why, with over a 1,000-kilometre sandy coastline, it cannot produce a single beach volleyball team, or with perhaps the highest number of men with guns (in and out of uniform), it cannot produce one Olympic-level marksman who can hit a bull’s-eye.

Such anomalies are not unique to Pakistan. It is a sign of Olympics-to-come that the IOC, for the first time in its history, has admitted a new category of athletes – refugees. Forty-three applied, out of whom 10 were permitted to participate in the Rio games under the Olympic flag.

Another category – self-described ‘neutrals’ (whom the Russian president Putin called Judas) – consisted of a couple, Vitaly and Yulia Stepanov, who revealed (for an undisclosed sum of silver dollars) that drugs had been used by Russian athletes. That simple disclosure was not enough. The World Anti-Doping Agency wanted to go further. And in a perverse echo of Indian efforts to have Pakistan declared a terrorist state, WADA pressed that such doping had been state-sponsored and therefore Russia as a country should be banned from participating in Rio.

Forced to give a decision just days ahead of the opening of the games, the IOC reacted by permitting the Russians to compete in the main Olympics and then in an incomprehensible, reprehensible, inhuman gesture, it banned the entire Russian delegation of disadvantaged athletes from participating in the Rio Paralympics. According to the International Paralympic Committee, “the move was punishment for the country running a doping operation that polluted sports by prioritising ‘medals over morals’”.

Both the IOC and IPC deserve all three medals – the Olympic bronze, silver and gold – for hypocrisy. They have forgotten that the West boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 as a punishment for Russia invading Afghanistan. Yet, they have chosen to ignore the presence in the same war-torn Afghanistan of US-led coalition troops from countries that are competing with impunity this fortnight in Rio. Shouldn’t the IOC and IPC add another category to its list of approved Olympic sports: Russian bear-baiting?

In self-respecting countries, sports are a national pastime. In Pakistan, the neglect of sports has taken the force of a national policy. Sports stadiums are gradually degenerating to a level midway between utility and tourism. It will not be long before, like the Coliseum in Rome, tourists will replace athletes in Pakistan’s derelict stadiums.

Meanwhile, the country waits for cricketer Imran Khan to redeem PTI’s manifesto promise to introduce a “national youth policy with emphasis on a comprehensive sports policy for setting up in each district international level facilities for cricket, hockey, football and other sports”.

The public has forgotten, as cricketer-prime minister Nawaz Sharif himself has done, PML-N’s electoral commitment to “depoliticise sports bodies [,] to provide scholarships for the youth excelling in sports [,] to encourage sporting activities among women and special persons [,] and to construct modern gymnasia at the District and Tehsil levels”.

Our politicians may not break Olympic records. They deserve an Olympic gold for breaking electoral promises.

Dawn (Pakistan) 
Content provided by Asianet-Pakistan

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