The Olympics have left in their wake a glut of sports metaphors and even a few diplomatic spats, but the games themselves are over. The athletes are heading home - in fact, many left before the closing ceremonies last Sunday night. Some will receive heroes' welcomes, others, less so. Where are the best and worst places to go home to as an international athlete?
The Best Countries:
North Korea: The DPRK loves a success story, especially when they're so few and far between. North Korea walked away from the Olympics with six medals, including three golds in weightlifting -- perfect for a country that prizes industriousness and sings the praises of "excellent horse-like ladies." The North Korean propaganda machine is ecstatic, boasting about the surging popularity of weightlifting and thumbing its nose at the West. After receiving a barrage of flowers upon their return, the medalists can look forward to other rewards, including cars and refrigerators.
United States: The U.S. Olympic Committee offers bonuses for medals earned, up to $25,000 for a gold medal, and some sports federations offer rewards as well, though these pale in comparison to other countries (Singapore has promised to shell out $1 million for a gold, and will be paying out $250,000 to each of its two bronze medalists this year. China, Russia and Italy each pay more than $100,000 for athletes who strike gold.) These earnings may even come tax-free, if an effort by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers succeeds. The real money comes in endorsements, though, which are often measured in millions of dollars and can add up quickly. And then there are the reality TV show offers.
Trinidad and Tobago: The tiny island nation is happy just to be recognized as a competitor. The team may not have won a single game at the 2006 World Cup, but they were welcomed back with parties, national honors and financial rewards, and that was just for making it through the prelims. That bodes well for the 2012 T &T team, which became the most decorated in the country's history with four medals this year. So far, they've had a holiday in their honor, and gold medalist Keshorn Walcott has had a lighthouse, a plane, and a housing development named after him.
Any country that's never medaled before: A country's first Olympic medal is sure to evoke national pride. Cyprus' first-ever medalist, Pavlos Kontides, was decked with a laurel wreath and greeted at the airport by saluting fire trucks and throngs of fans. Guatemala's Erick Barrondo, who took home silver in race walking, was made a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress. And the whole island of Grenada got a half-day holiday in honor of Kirani James' gold medal in the 400 meters.
The Worst Countries:
Not all athletes have a reason to look forward to going home. In Canada, athletes have faced unemployment challenges, and in Australia, Tanzania, and elsewhere, athletes are already dealing with a disappointed press. A Dutch show jumping horse named London, which leapt to two silver medals with rider Gerco Schroder, might not even leave England after being seized as part of an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. It could be worse, though.
Kenya and Nigeria: Kenya had its worst outing in decades, and though its athletes brought home 11 medals, it placed behind African rivals Ethiopia and South Africa in the final tally. Nigeria came up completely empty handed. The governments of both countries have ordered public inquiries into what went wrong, and Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan announced a comprehensive overhaul of the country's sports system. As bad as the looming firings may be for Kenyan and Nigerian Olympic officials, the acerbic press reaction might be worse. Choice headlines include "Kenya's Olympic Fiasco," "Dark secrets of Team Kenya emerge," and from Nigeria's Vanguard, "Olympic Flops Return Home."
North Korea: We might not know what happens to North Korea's non-medalists, but we hope the country's one win-two loss record women's soccer team (a 9th place finish) doesn't share the fate of the 2010 DPRK World Cup team. After dropping out in three straight losses, the World Cup team was publicly humiliated in a six-hour-long staged berating, in which players were told they had personally disappointed Kim Jong-Un (then still heir apparent to Kim Jong-Il). Players then had to individually criticize the team's manager, who may have then been sent to a labor camp. Other athletes who have disappointed the Dear Leader are rumored to be sent directly to camps upon their return without the public fanfare.
Iraq: It's hard to think of a worse welcome home than a meeting with Uday Hussein, but that's what faced athletes returning to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam appointed his sadistic son to the position of Iraqi National Olympic Committee President, and from that office Uday had carte blanche to torture athletes that did not measure up to his expectations. The Olympic Committee building in Baghdad was as much a medieval prison as anything else, with dungeons replete with iron maidens and other torture devices. It's no wonder why the Iraqi flagbearer in the 1996 Atlanta games fled the athletes' village and defected to the United States.
Colombia: Sometimes, it's not the government, but the fans that are the greatest hazard. After accidentally scoring on his own goal in a preliminary round of the 1994 World Cup, Colombian soccer phenom Andrés Escobar was gunned down by Humberto Munoz, who was involved in the Colombian drug trade and a significant betting loss on the game.
While the United States and China anxiously watch the medal count to see who will end the Olympics with more hardware, for some countries, just a single medal is cause for celebration.
Tajikistan's 19-year-old female boxer, Mavzuna Chorieva, won her country's third-ever* (and first at the 2012 Games) Olympic medal on Aug. 8 after taking the bronze in women's lightweight boxing at the 2012 London Olympics.
Because it's difficult for Tajik women to participate in combat sports, Chorievna spent years disguising herself as a boy in order to compete in boxing matches, and even when she was allowed to participate as a girl, she boxed against men since there were no other women to fight.
Her victory for Tajikistan saw the whole gamut of responses on social media, ranging from accolades for making a significant stride for Tajik women to indignation from others who believe women in Tajikistan should not participate in combat sports.
Tajikistan was not the only country to bring home its first* 2012 Olympic medal this week, and definitely not the most excited. Other countries brought home their first-ever Olympic medals:
After Grenada's Kirani James (pictured above) won the men's 400-meter final on Aug. 6, the Grenadian Prime Minister declared the following day a national half-holiday. The city of Gouyave put on huge carnivals to celebrate James's performance. His victory also made Grenada the smallest country to win an Olympic gold.
Trinidad and Tobago took home its first Olympic medal on Aug. 7 after Lalonde Gordon took the bronze in the same event, the men's 400 meter. Although cheers broke out on Port of Spain's Independence Square as spectators watched on a huge screen, the country's celebration was slightly more muted than in its Caribbean neighbor.
Guatemala's first medal-winning athlete Erick Barrondo was anointed a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress after bagging the silver medal during the men's 20K race walking competition.
Cyprus's first-ever medal winner Pavlos Kontides schemed up his own hero's welcome after winning the silver medal in the men's Laser class sailing event, telling the press, "I suspect my name will be written in golden letters in Cyprus," and, "When I get back home there will be huge celebrations because this is a huge achievement for my country, the first-ever Olympic medal."
He was right; crowds swarmed the airport waving banners that read "Immortal" and "You've Made Us All Proud," and hoses mounted on fire trucks sprayed arcs of water for Kontides's plane to pass under while it taxied to the gate.
*Correction, Aug. 13, 2012: The original post incorrectly stated that Tajikistan won its first medal at this year's Olympics. It actually won two at the 2008 Olympics. The post has been accordingly revised.
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Cameroon's Olympic delegation has confirmed that seven of the African nation's 37 athletes have disappeared from the Olympic Village. Drusille Ngako, a reserve goalkeeper for the women's soccer team, is believed to have been the first to disappear in July, escaping the compound while her teammates travelled to Coventry for a final training match against New Zealand. Swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue, scheduled to compete in the men's 50-meter freestyle, disappeared with his personal belongings next, followed by five eliminated members of the men's boxing team: Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Mewoli Abdon, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo. The news comes after the Ethiopian team's 15-year-old torch bearer Natnael Yemane, a member of the London Organizing Committee's International Inspiration program, disappeared in Nottingham on June 27.
The Guardian speculates that the athletes were motivated to escape the Olympic Village for economic reasons and aim to remain within the European Union. Such disappearances are unfortunately not unusual at international sporting events. After 26 athletes sought asylum during the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne, Australia, nine athletes from Sierra Leon, Tanzania and Bangladesh disappeared from the 2009 tournament. Not all seek legal residence, however, and in 2011, 15 Ethiopian athletes disappeared from the All African Games in Mozambique, a regional hub for illegal immigration. They were rumored to have fled to South Africa in search of employment.
The Olympic games are also known for numerous political defections. Deutsche Welle tracks the first incident to 1948, when Marie Provaznikova, then president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return to her native Czechoslovakia. In a similiar protest against the Soviet Union, nearly half of Hungary's Olympic delegation defected in 1956 after the failed revolution. The small island of Cuba, however, gets the gold for most defections as low wages and political oppression pushes many talented athletes to seek new teams abroad. Though Cuban coaches have attempted to prevent player-loss by forcing teams to leave competitions early, a national soccer team member managed to file for political asylum as recently as April 2012. Making news for his bronze medal in the men's all-around, U.S. gymnast Danell Leyva is the son of two Cuban athlete defectors
Whether foul play or a transnational job search is at fault, the International Olympic Committee remains in the dark. When asked about the disappearances, IOC spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters: "We are unaware of it."
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
From Beijing to Moscow from Rio to Sydney, the Olympics have spanned continents, traversed intense political terrain, and remained competitive for bidders of all colors and creeds. That said, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan recently questioned the IOC's fairness:
"No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics," Erdogan said in London after watching the Turkish women's basketball team beating Angola 72-50 in its first Olympic match.
"This is the third time for London, Madrid was the host twice," he said. "Tokyo has hosted three games. Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach."
Not yet jaded by his fourth rejection since the 2000 Olympics, Ergodan has been working to bolster Turkey's fifth bid to host the 2020 Games in Istanbul and to understand why Turkey's never won the bid. With a 75,000-person stadium already built, Ergodan's sparing no line of argument to help sway Jacques Rogge, head of the IOC.
While a number of other cities in Islamic countries have vied for the games in recent years including Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, and Doha, the winner won't be announced until September 7, 2013, in Buenos Aires.
Islamic practice has already caused some controversy in this Olympics with the dispute over whether Saudi Arabia's female Judo competitor Wojdan Shaherkani will be allowed to compete with her headscarf.
Those hoping for an Iran-Israel Judo showdown will be disappointed after a "critical digestive system infection" prevented Jahvaad Majoob -- the only Iranian athlete scheduled to compete alongside an Israeli -- from boarding the plane to London. Yet, from the North Korean flag mix up to the ongoing controversy over a Saudi Arabian judo fighter's headscarf, those itching for some geopolitical proxy battles will have their fill. Here are another seven matches to watch:
Table Tennis: North Korea vs. South Korea
August 3, 2:00 pm EST
For big tension on a very small court, viewers should tune in to the first found of men's team table tennis where North Korea will face off against its archenemy South Korea. The nations remain technically at war despite a July 27, 1953 armistice, and the demilitarized zone remains one of the most dangerous borders in the world with Pyongyang threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of flames." In this match at least, paddles are certain to fly.
Lightweight Double Sculls: South China smackdown
July 29 5:40 am EST
Poor Germany is stuck in the middle of China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea in the women's lightweight double sculls. As the Asian nations squabble over islands in the East and South China Seas and the potential for naval war looms, the title of best rower may mean more than just a medal.
Handball: Britain vs. Argentina
August 2, 11:15 am EST
Despite insisting in February that her country would not boycott the games, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced this week she will not attend the opening ceremony. Her absence is a protest against Britain's claims to the Falklands, which Argentine maintains at their rightful territory despite their military defeat in 1982. As the island nears a referendum to determine its political status, Argentinean and British Olympic teams will have the chance to fight it out on men's handball court. If the losing country isn't satisfied, it will get another chance -- they're scheduled to play in field hockey too.
Pair Rowing: Greece vs. Germany
July 28, 7:00 am EST
Blood pressure will be high as Greece's Nikolaos Gkountoulas and Apostolos Gkountoulas race Germany's Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta in the men's pair rowing race. As debtor faces creditor, viewers should hope it'll be a repeat of the 2012 Euro Cup. Team loyalty got political when creative German fans mocked the Greeks "Without Angie, you wouldn't be here." Not to be beat, the Greeks struck low: "We'll never pay you back. We'll never pay you back." The question remains-if Greece wins, who gets the gold?
Soccer: U.S. vs. North Korea
July 31, 12:15 pm EST
Opponents on every issue ranging from human rights to nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea will face off in match 15 of the women's group G. Though the United States won the FIFA 2008 Championship title after defeating North Korea in the final round, their 2010 quarterfinal losses prevented a rematch. It remains to be seen if young leader Kim Jong Un is as harsh as his dad when it comes to international soccer failure.
Fencing: China vs. Japan
August 5, 5:30 am EST
While Beijing and Tokyo diplomats have so far limited themselves to lobbing rhetorical barbs over the latest territorial row, fencers Kenta Chida, Ryo Miyake, Lei Sheng and Jianfei Ma will face off in the men's team foil. Though fencing is lauded as a game of strategy, not force, the fighters' long history is certainly bloody.
Basketball: U.S. vs. China
August 5, 11:45 am EST
The U.S. women's basketball team faces China in game 52. U.S. - Sino relations have begun to sour as the United States pivots its forces to Asia and populist rhetoric has entered the U.S. presidential race. Bruised by an embarrassing 62-100 loss to the U.S. in May, seventh-ranked China is thirsty for revenge.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
North Korea's women's soccer team walked off the pitch yesterday after players' faces were mistakenly projected next to the South Korean flag. The angered team refused to return until the image had been corrected, delaying the game substantially before returning to defeat Colombia 2-0. North Korea's coach Sin Ui Gun defended his teams decision, telling BBC news "If this matter had not been solved, continuing would have been a nonsense."
The incident is just another on the growing list of Olympic gaffes. The Council for British-Arab Understanding has mocked new Arabic security posters as "gibberish," noting that the posters had been printed in the wrong alphabet and individual characters reversed. As the Passport reported earlier, confusion over athlete's birthplaces led to several independent states being listed as Russian in an accidental return to Soviet geography. Olympic officials proved they did not, however, discriminate, and in a slew of mistakes struck closer to home. The Great Britain team program incorrectly listed Swansea City's Welsh midfielder, Joe Allen, as English -- just a day after a press release congratulated the British women's team under the banner "England women on their way."
For their part, Scottish officials have pointed the finger to London over the North Korea episode, claiming that the Glasgow stadium was displaying a video produced by a capital organizer and highlighting that the correct flag was flown from the stadium's top tier. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters "This was an honest mistake, honestly made" before pleading: "We shouldn't over-inflate this episode -- it was unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened and I think we can leave it at that."
The North Korean team accepted the official apology before retreating to hotel seclusion. Though state media carefully avoided mention of the flag dispute, Coach Sin Ui Gun warned "winning the game can't compensate for the mistake." We'll see if the upcoming men's table tennis match between South Korea and North Korea changes his mind.
IAN TIMBERLAKE/AFP/Getty Images
Swedish furniture giant IKEA has begun work on a 26-acre self-contained neighborhood in Stratford, East London - just in time for the 2012 Olympics.
The town will be called Strand East and will contain 1,200 new homes, 480,000 square feet of office space, and a 350 bedroom hotel. The development's canal side location -- nicknamed "mini Venice" -- will feature a water-taxi service and floating cocktail bar. It is the first major development for LandProp, which owns the intellectual assets of the furniture company. The development group already operates in Holland, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, according to the Daily Globe and Mail.
The announcement comes shortly after the British government's agreement last month to slim down urban planning laws in order to encourage more sustainable projects, like this one. In what was a bitter dispute with countryside campaigners, the reforms represent a huge step along the way to reviving Britain's struggling rural economy.
Andrew Cobden, a spokesman for the project, also described a 40-meter illuminated tower that will be visible across the East London skyline - meant to emulate the Olympic torch. Like all things IKEA, the tower will be made from relatively "simple" materials, a wooden lattice of 72 diagonal laths, 16 horizontal steel rings, and held together by 32,000 trusty steel bolts.
The development will accommodate residents at a range of income levels. IKEA's first pre-fabricated home debuted last month in Portland, at an all-inclusive price of just $86,000. You might need more than a tiny Allen wrench to build this one.
When China hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, its government tried to rein in citizens' bad habits like spitting. Britain is taking a different tack in the run-up to London 2012 with a guide teaching Britons some helpful cultural stereotypes. Some gems include:
- A smiling Japanese person is not necessarily happy.
- Be careful how you pour wine for an Argentinian.
- Avoid winking at someone from Hong Kong.
- Remember Arabs are not used to being told what to do.
- Do not be alarmed if South Africans announce that they were held up by robots.
- Don't ask a Brazilian personal questions.
- When meeting Mexicans it is best not to discuss poverty, illegal aliens, earthquakes or their 1845-6 war with America.
- Never call a Canadian an American.
And how do foreigners see Britons?
Research shows foreign visitors often find Britain's mix of cutting-edge modernity and rich cultural heritage ‘'fascinating'' and ‘'exciting.'' They see British people as ‘'honest,'' ‘'funny,' ‘'kind'' and ‘'efficient'' but in some cases they wish we offered a more exuberant welcome.
You can see the full list (plus handy descriptions) at VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.
(h/t The Awl)
Rio de Janeiro is undertaking a significant rebuilding and reconstruction effort before the 2016 Summer Olympics. The city will raze over 100 of the most "at risk" favelas and rebuild hundreds of others. According to the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, about 13,000 families will be forced from their homes - and it's unclear where the people will be relocated and if they will be compensated.
For the local population, the Olympics are rarely about fun and games. In the last twenty years, the Olympics have displaced over 20 million people, despite the fact that international law stipulates protection from forcible eviction. People are either removed from their homes by the government or priced out: 720,000 at the Seoul Olympics; hundreds of families in Barcelona; 30,000 Atlantans; hundreds of Roma settlers in Athens; and 1.5 million people in Beijing.
Time to "think again"?
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
Steel has been in the news lately because the newly unveiled, bizarre-looking, 2012 Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, are supposed to have been made out of the last two drops of British steel used to construct the 2012 London Olympic stadium. So, the quiz question I'd like to highlight this week is:
In 2009, China produced 568 million metric tons of crude steel. How much did the No. 2 country produce?
a) 88 million metric tons b) 298 million c) 458 million
Answer after the jump ...
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Former International Olympic Committee director Juan Antonio Samaranch passed away today at the age of 89. While Samaranch's tenure unquestionably transformed the Olympics into the multibillion-dollar global enterprise it is today and expanded participation among developing countries and women, the former Franco-regime official also left the games with a reputation corruption that will be hard to reverse.
Here's an excerpt on Samaranch from Olympic historian John Hoberman's "Think Again: Olympics" in the July/August 2008 issue of FP:
The corruption was never worse than when Juan Antonio Samaranch, an unreconstructed Spanish fascist, was president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001. Samaranch brought with him from Franco's Spain an authoritarian style that facilitated the bribery of IOC members, destroyed any chance of curbing doping, and appointed a generation of committee members who never dared to oppose him.
Samaranch, who insisted on being called "Excellency," filled the IOC with such characters as South Korean intelligence operative Kim Un Yong and Indonesian timber magnate Bob Hasan. Both have served prison time for corruption. Then there's Lee Kun Hee, the chairman of Samsung Electronics (convicted of bribery in 1996) and Francis Nyangweso, once the military commander in chief for Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. Nyangweso remains on the IOC board to this day. Why this rogues' gallery was recruited into a "peace" and "human rights" organization remains a mystery.
In fairness, one improvement in the way the IOC operates should be acknowledged. After the 1999 bribery scandal in which IOC members were paid off to support Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games, the IOC established a technical committee comprising a small number of vetted members to oversee the host city selection process, thereby reducing the risk of bribes to less trustworthy colleagues. The one topic this committee will not address, however, is whether staging the games in a repressive society might be a bad idea. Last year, the IOC rewarded Russia's pseudo-democracy with the 2014 Winter Games. When protesters showed up during the IOC's visit there in April, they were beaten by police.
When the Olympics first started, I directed this blog's readers to "White Snow, Brown Rage," Reihan Salam's Slate opus on diversity and the Winter Olympics. At the time, I wondered how globalization has impacted the winter games -- are more countries participating? Winning medals?
The answer is to both question is yes, as you can see above. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of countries participating in the Winter Olympics has skyrocketed -- with the number of medal winners increasing in turn. (It's a bit hard to see on the graph, but the percentage of countries winning medals has held at around 30 percent since 1988.)
That said, the Winter Olympics are just keeping pace with the Summer Olympics, as you can see on the chart below. Since 1988, the number of countries sending athletes to the summer games has increased around 46 percent, and around 44 percent for the winter games.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway competes in the men's biathlon 10 km sprint final during the Biathlon Men's 10 km Sprint on day 3 of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler Olympic Park Biathlon Stadium on February 14, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.
Georgia's Olympic committe reacted angrily to the International Luge Federation blaming the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run last week on human error:
"I exclude the possibility that Nodar was not experienced enough," committee chief Giorgi Natsvlishlili said in televised comments. "From my point of view the track was at fault."
The International Luge Federation blamed the fatal crash on the luger, saying he had failed to compensate properly when he slid into the curve. But its chairman, Joseph Fendt, said Saturday the track had turned out to be far faster than its designers ever intended it to be, and Olympic officials have shortened it to slow speeds and altered it to keep lugers on the track if they crash.
"Safety standards were not properly observed," Mr. Natsvlishvili said.
He hinted that Georgia might take "further action" regarding the accident, but didn't elaborate.
I don't really know the ins and outs of luge politics, but it seems to me that shortening the track during competition constitutes an admission that there's something wrong with the track. As Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, "No sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death."
If indeed Kumaritashvili was not qualified to ride on the track -- doubtful since he was ranked 44th in the world -- that still doesn't exactly exonerate the organizers. Why are inexperienced riders being allowed to compete in such a dangerous sport at the Olympic level?
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Since we've apparently been mandated by the Department of Homeland Security with providing more Olympics coverage, I thought I'd take note of the fact that, for the first time ever, the medals hanging around Olympians necks in Vancouver will be partially made with recycled materials:
The more than 1,000 medals to be awarded at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which kick off today, amount to 2.05 kilograms of gold, 1,950 kilograms of silver (Olympic gold medals are about 92.5 per cent silver, plated with six grams of gold) and 903 kilograms of copper. A little more than 1.5 percent of each gold medal was made with metals harvested from cathode ray tube glass, computer parts, circuit boards and other trashed tech. Each copper medal contains just over one percent e-waste, while the silver medals contain only small traces of recycled electronics. ...Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based company that extracted the metals used to make the medals, noted in a press release that it used a number of different recovery processes. The company shredded computers, monitors, printers and glass and then separated out steel, aluminum, copper, glass and other usable substances. The leftover shredded components were fed into a furnace operating at a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius in order to remove the metals that could not be recovered simply by shredding the electronic devices.
I'm definitely not an expert in this, but it seems to me that it would take an awful lot of energy to extract (and detoxify?) the material and run a 1,200 degree (2,192 degrees Fahrenheit) furnace -- especially for about 30 kilograms of actual recycled material.
Clive Rose/Getty Images
WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK, CANADA - FEBRUARY 12: (FRANCE OUT) Martin Schmitt of Germany during the Ski Jumping Individual NH Qualifications on Day 1 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games on February 12, 2010 in Whistler Olympic Park, Canada.
Philippe Montigny/Agence/Zoom/Getty Images
With the Winter Olympics starting tomorrow in Vancouver, Andrew Swift and Kayvan Farzaneh, our excellent researchers, put together a beautiful photo essay of athletes from warm-climate countries, like Taiwan, Israel, and Ghana: the outliers.
The photo essay reminded me of some choice commentary from the last winter Olympics by FP contributor (and Brooklyn-bred Bangladeshi) Reihan Salam. For those considering the racial and global socioeconomic implications of the oh-so-white winter games, the Slate piece "White snow, brown rage" is a must:
Like the Augusta National Golf Club, the Winter Olympics is "exclusive." Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington Post, has described it as "almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations." Growing up, I forsook the lily-white Winter Olympics for the multi-culti Summer Games. I still vividly recall the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when my middle sister and I cheered on every wiry, diminutive American athlete of a darker hue. When you squint, a fearsome Latino bantamweight looks not unlike one of the burnt ochre Salams.
Now, let's compare that image of a powerful brown-skinned pugilist with that of my Winter Olympic role models. In 1988, we of course had the Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the classic film Cool Runnings. Given the team's lackluster performance, Stool Runnings might have been a more apt characterization. Pluck and determination count for something, to be sure. And yes, Jamaica has no snow, leading some softhearted types to give its Winter Olympians a pass. But even as an 8-year-old, I was hoping for something more. Specifically, I was hoping to see this Third World band of brothers humble their colonialist oppressors with furious bobsled action. Instead, I was told that merely finishing the race was a "triumph of the human spirit" for these stumbling boobs. Meanwhile, pasty and perfumed Hanz and Franz were high-fiving each other on the medal stand. Call it tribalism of the basest sort, but I will never apologize. I want some brown sugar, on ice.
Surely globalization, the world getting flatter, has meant that more countries have started competing in winter games, as their athletes can train abroad. I think this calls for a chart.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The Gaggle blog over on our sister site Newsweek notes that Canada's parliament has shut down for two months (?!) for the winter Olympic games.
For those of you who have gotten behind on your Canadian politics, here’s a basic rundown. Prime Minster Steven Harper, who leads the Conservative Party, was facing a lot of difficult issues: an inquiry over maltreatment of Afghan detainees, economic woes hosting the Olympics. So he announced in December that he was basically shutting down, or proroguing, Parliament until March 3, 2010, the day after the Olympics ends. And, when they come back to session next month, the agenda is basically reset: any bill that was on the table is done and gone away with. This has lead to numerous prorogation protests across the country, despite Canadians being generally known for their politeness. A one-week shutdown due to a massive snowstorm isn’t looking so insane, now is it?....
As a Canadian citizen, I generally don’t like to slam on my native land; I’ll definitely root for Team Canada come this Friday. But in terms of ridiculous government deadlock and partisanship, unfortunately, we have already claimed the gold medal.
Which makes complaining about Congress feel a bit silly.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
Democracy Now host Amy Goodman -- a well-known left-wing critic of U.S. foreign policy -- was detained and questioned when entering Canada last week. But according to her, it wasn't her views on the war in Afghanistan or free trade that had the border guards worried, it was fear that she might say mean things about the upcoming winter Olympics:
In the country to promote her book Breaking the Sound Barrier , a collection of the award-winning journalist's columns, she planned to discuss the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, of which she is a critic; Canadian icon Tommy Douglas, a hero of medicare; global warming; and the worldwide economic meltdown.
“Well, that pretty much does it. And he said, ‘what about the Olympics? ‘And I said, ‘the Olympics? Do you mean when President Obama went to Copenhagen to try and get the Olympics for Chicago?' ” Ms. Goodman recalled asking.
She claimed the officer persisted in questioning her about Vancouver's upcoming Games.
“I said, ‘no, I wasn't planning to talk about that,' ” she said. “He just seemed incredulous. They didn't believe me.”
They began to search her notes and computers and those of her two colleagues, Ms. Goodman alleged. They then photographed the journalist and gave her a stipulation to leave the country by Friday night. They were delayed over an hour.
The recent summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2016 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia have attracted a good deal of criticism from human rights activists, but Canada? What exactly were they worried she was going to say?
Thankfully, beyond a few muggings, last night's massive Brazilian blackout seems to have caused little lasting damage. But the international coverage of the event is probably a good preview for the Olympic host country's next six years:
Questions remained about what happened and what the fallout would be in Brazil, a nation seen as an ascending economic and political power.
"The image of Brazil, of Rio, is bad enough with all the violence," said 35-year-old graphic designer Paulo Viera, as he sat in a restaurant a block from the sandy arc of Copacabana.
Standing in an open-air restaurant where patrons were drinking quickly warming beer, Viera said he worried about how the outage might look for a city that last month was picked to host the Olympics and will be the showcase city for soccer's World Cup in 2014. "We don't need this to happen. I don't know how it could get worse."
The blackout comes on the heels of a wave of gang fighting in Rio's slums that led to violence fears ahead of the games.
"It's sad to see such a beautiful city with such a precarious infrastructure," 22-year-old law student Igor Fernandes said. "This shouldn't happen in a city that is going to host the Olympic Games."
This is a little unfair. Even Rio's mayor acknowledges that the city has a long way to go in terms of safety and infrastructure before the games, but they do have another six years, and the IOC knew what they were getting when they awarded Brazil the games.
The problem with developing coutries hosting events like the Olympics is that while the intention is to highlight the enormous progress they've made, they're just as likely to highlight the shortcomings. . Every crime wave or infrastructure failure, or corruption scandal Rio suffers in the next six years will now be covered in the context of whether the city is ready for the games.
So, Rio de Janeiro has won the 2016 summer Olympics, dashing the hopes of Chicagoans, including President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, adviser Valerie Jarrett, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and, to boot, Oprah Winfrey.
I'm sanguine. Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the United States, and would have been a great host. Fabulous food, plenty of space, beautiful scenery. It's hard to see it lose, but I'd rather visit without all the hubbub.
But, on the other hand, I'd love to go to Rio. And, just saying, any Foreign Policy poohbahs who might be reading, I think this site could use some hard-hitting ground truth on the policy implications of heated Olympic competition. I'm available, and hear there's one coming up!
This week, I took a look at how Olympic preparations are faring in my hometown of London. The answer? Not great, per se. The city will spend billions and billions of pounds (money it doesn't have) on infrastructure it doesn't really need. London's got plenty of stadiums. It could use certain transport investments, but it seems those aren't happening. And the price tag will likely hit $40 billion. That's as much as Beijing spent. It's more than Britain's stimulus, enacted last fall to ward off economic contraction. It's a lot of money, and means London might end up with a lot of debt.
All of which has convinced me that the only countries which should really want the Olympics in these economic dark days are big emerging economies. Why? Well, developed economies tend to have plenty of infrastructure in the type of major cities which host Olympics. They also tend to have high labor costs. Often, they don't need the Olympics to attract more tourists, either.
But big emerging economies -- like the BRICs -- often need serious infrastructure investment. They have higher GDP growth rates, which helps with legacy debt. They have also been hit less-hard by the recession (a generalization, of course, but mostly true).
It seems that this is being born out, too...BRIC countries have won three of the five most recently announced Olympics. We have Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, London 2012, Sochi 2014, and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
I'm putting my money down for New Delhi 2020!
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
So much for that presidential pitch:
Rio de Janeiro and Madrid are vying to be the host of the 2016 Olympic Games, after Chicago and Tokyo were eliminated by the International Olympic Committee.
Tokyo secured the fewest of the 95 votes available in the second round at the meeting in Copenhagen. Chicago was knocked out in the first round vote.
Cities will be eliminated until one secures a majority with the winner set to be announced after 1730 BST.
Chicago's early exit was a surprise, with bookmakers making them favourites.
For reasons my colleague Annie Lowrey explained, Chicago may have actually doged a bullet today. But it's still pretty embarassing for Obama, who traveled to Copenhagen to make a last minute pitch for Chicago.
One has to imagine the White House thought that Chicago had this in the bag if President Obama was willing to take time away from debates on health care, Afghanistan, and Iran to advocate for his hometown. As John Hoberman wrote on the site this week:
If he fails, the right wing will pillory him as a dilettante who should have kept his eye on weightier affairs of state. Nor would a "loss" to the president of Brazil or the prime minister of Spain do much for Mr. Obama's international stature. All of this suggests that Obama should have left well enough alone and stayed at home.
More to come.
"It's war!" cries Brazilian newspaper O Globo, lamenting an article in the latest New Yorker on gang violence in Rio de Janeiro, which comes out mere days before the International Olympic Committee decides the location of the 2016 summer games.
The article, by journalist Jon Lee Anderson, describes the fighting between gangs in Rio's favelas, which he says are spread everywhere in the city: "there is no way to completely escape Rio's misery." O Globo, which has a section online dedicated specifically to the city's Olympic bid, notes that Anderson said the timing of the article is a coincidence, and that he believes Rio is fully capable of hosting the games.
The paper couldn't help but notice the "sad coincidence" that this same week, Chicago -- Rio's main competitor -- faced its own shocking gang violence moment, with widespread circulation of a cell-phone video footage showing the fatal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert.
As Chicago booster Michelle Obama said herself, "the gloves are off".
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
Last year, Passport made the case for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosting the 2016 Olympics over closest rivals Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid.
Today, one Chicago website is making that same case.
"It would be exciting to host the Olympics here in Chicago," ChicagoansforRio.com says. "But you know what would be even better? Rio de Janeiro. Just let Rio host the 2016 Olympics. We don't mind. Honest."
Just eight days until the announcement of the winner, Chicagoans for Rio break down some reasons Brazil would host the games better. For instance:
Statues. Rio has Christ standing. Chicago has Lincoln sitting. (To be fair, Chicago also has statues of Lincoln standing.)
Signature events. Rio has naked people dancing. Chicago has chubby people eating.
Nickname. Rio is the "Marvelous City." Chicago is the "Second City."
The site also points out Chicago has a budget deficit of nearly $220 million; they claim Rio has a $0 budget deficit because, "If you're a Chicagoan, Rio's budget deficit does not matter."
They also say 21 of Athens' 22 Olympic venues remain unused.
It appears the latest victim of recessionomics is the ambition to host the world's second most important sporting event.
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
The Olympics torch for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver is officially supposed to evoke "the cool, crisp and modern lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports." But a lot of people are saying the 37-inch white torch, with crimped ends and twist in the middle, resembles a hand-rolled marijuana joint, especially when it's lit (and viewed in the horizontal position).
It doesn't help that Vancouver is a major marijuana-producing area. The Olympic torch has now been dubbed the Olympic Toke.
Photo: © VANOC/COVAN
Last week, I blogged that Andrei Lugovoi, prime suspect in the Alexander Litvinenko murder, is running for mayor of Sochi, the Black Sea resort town that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. [Update: Looks like Lugovoi's out.] But Lugovoi's only one of the 25 fascinating characters (including some Passport favorites) running in what's shaping up to be one of the world's more interesting political contests.
Liberal opposition leader and political sex symbol Boris Nemtsov is running, and got ammonia thrown at him by pro-Kremlin hooligans a few days ago. Ex-KGB oligarch Alexander Lebedev is in the running, as is freemason lodge leader Andrei Bogdanov, who we last met when he was waging a high-profile beef with far-right leader (and Lugovoi's boss) Vladimir Zhirinovsky during his highly suspicious presidential run.
But there's more! Former Bolshoi ballerina Anastasia Volochkova is running, as is porn star Yelena Berkova, and local wrestling promoter Stanislav Koretsky. Then, of course, there's the guy who will most likely win, Anatoly Pakhomov from Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.
A lot of these candidates have fairly minimal connections to Sochi, which doesn't seem to be a huge problem in Russian politics. Though the Communist Party's candidate did gripe about Lugovoi, "Maybe he vacationed here once.”
So why does every egomaniac in Russia want to be mayor of Sochi all of a sudden? First, the upcoming Olympics makes the race a perfect opportunity for self-promotion. Second, for the slightly more serious candidates, a recent upset in Murmansk, where a United Russia incumbent was defeated in a mayor's race by an independent candidate, has the Russian opposition sensing blood in the water.
Has the financial crisis broken United Russia's seemingly invincible grip on Russia's regional politics? Let the games begin.
Photos: Getty Images
Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi, who is Britain's chief suspect in the murder of dissident ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko is considering running for mayor of Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that will host the 2014 Olympic Games.
Scotland Yard's prime suspect needled Britain last May, by attending a soccer game played by two British teams in Moscow. I have to imagining that attending an Olympics hosted by Lugovoi himself has to be a pretty infuriating prospect for the U.K.
Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like the Sochi games might be a somewhat more modest affair than planned:
The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi will cost 15 percent less than originally anticipated as initial budget estimates exaggerated the projected cost, a top official said on Tuesday. [...]
Russian officials have warned that the country's budget deficit could reach around 8 percent of GDP in 2009. A deputy minister warned on Tuesday the economy would contract by 2.2 percent in 2009.
Yet to conduct the sports event on the balmy Black Sea coast, Russia needs to spend lavishly on upgrading Soviet-era infrastructure and building new facilities in the hitherto quiet mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana.
The report said local authorities were recently forced to extend tender deadlines for Olympic-related construction contracts due to lack of interest from companies hit by financial difficulties.
Authorities also faced mounting difficulty in acquiring land necessary for construction of Olympic infrastructure in the southern Russian city of Sochi because owners were refusing to sell at prices offered by the government.
Doesn't seem very encouraging. But given all the ink and pixels that were spilled (including by some of us here) predicting that air pollution and protests would turn the Beijing Games into an embarassing catastrophe for China, I'd be cautious about predicting doom for Sochi quite yet.
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
The athletes on China's gold-winning 2008 women's Olympic gymnastics team were not underage, the International Gymnastics Federation has declared after an investigation. Female gymnasts must at least turn 16 in the year of competition to be eligible, and many people suspected that some of the gymnasts were underage due to inconsistent reporting of their ages. In reference to some of the gymnasts' childish body sizes, Bela Karolyi, who coached Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comaneci, had gone so far to say that China was competing with "half-people."
Not everyone is in the clear, though. It turns out that two members of China's bronze-winning 2000 Sydney team might have been underage. Dong Fangxiao, who was a technical official at this year's games, got her Beijing credential with documents saying she was born Jan. 23, 1986, which would have made her too young to compete in Sydney, the Associated Press reports. Even her blog says she was born in the Year of the Ox (Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986). Meanwhile, Sydney gymnast Yang Yun said in a June 2007 interview on China Central Television that she was 14 at the 2000 Games. Last week, she told the Associated Press that she had misspoken.
You've got to hand it to the Chinese. They know how to put on a show, as the world saw during the opening of the Beijing Olympics in August—and today for closing ceremony of the Paralympics.
And the world's media were a pushover audience, according to a new study led by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland and conducted by the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change.
How did media cover the Olympics? Overwhelmingly as a sporting event rather than as a political power game. Prior to the Olympics, there was much speculation that the global press would turn the games into an international anti-China campaign—after all there had been extensive coverage of the protests against China's human rights record during the global torch relay and of the rioting in Tibet.
But that all essentially disappeared off the front pages of global newspapers. The brilliantly conceived and staged opening ceremony attracted 'gee-whiz' coverage. The press ignored the attending heads of state—and even, in most instances, the parade of their own countries' athletes—to focus on the new Chinese superpower flexing its muscles with choreographed musicians, lights and fireworks.
The first week of athletic competition was also treated as almost pure spectacle. The reporting—not just of the athletes, but of China—was overwhelmingly either positive or neutral in tone.
Which regions of the world were most favorably disposed towards China? The Arab news outlets were the most positive, followed by other Asian countries (such as India), then Latin America, then Europe and the United States. Which region had the most jaundiced eye? Africa.
The Olympics study also looked at other issues. For example: Were mens' or women's events better covered? The press in the Arab world emphasized the achievements of male athletes and the African media focused on women. The Chinese media offered the most balanced coverage of male and female contestants.
The study, conducted live during the Olympics by faculty and students attending the Salzburg Academy in Salzburg, Austria, looked at the coverage of the first week of the games, from August 8 – 14. Working in their native languages—Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish—the researchers analyzed 68 leading newspapers, in 29 countries, across six continents (click here for the full list of countries).
Susan Moeller is director of ICMPA and associate professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.