Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Bad Idea

It was a bad idea in 1980 for the United States. Ditto for the Soviet Union in 1984. Likewise for many of the African nations in 1976. I'm talking about boycotting the Olympic games of course. The idea of an Olympic boycott is spreading again due to China's human rights abuses at home and its support of oppresive regimes in Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea.
Some U.S. legislators are calling for a boycott, as are some Canadians . This has stirred some voices against the idea of a boycott as well, most notably in Germany.

My take is that boycotts never work. In fact, I think they are counterproductive. I remember watching the 1976 Montreal Olympics. My heroes from those games are John Walker, Lasse Viren, and Ivo van Damme, but they could just as easily have been Mike Boit, Miruts Yifter, and Filbert Bayi; all great African athletes who lost a chance to bring world attention to their respective countries and the plight of black South Africans suffering under apartheid by their NOT competing at Montreal. Likewise I thought the U. S. made a major mistake by not sending a team to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Instead of changing Soviet policy at the time we simply gave them a propaganda coup by allowing them to claim that we were afraid to send a team.

And of course our past and present economic boycotts against countries such as Iraq, Cuba, North Korea and other countries have worked so well, right? No, actually in most cases, trade and interaction work more towards changing regimes than adopting boycotts and sanctions. I'm not saying that we shouldn't speak out against China's human rights policies - we should, but staying home from the 2008 Bejing Olympics won't help anyone in China or Sudan, while engaging in constructive engagement and reaching out through competing in events such as the Olympics (even as commercial and bloated as the Games have become) just might be of help in the long run.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Class Acts

This morning Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia won the New York City Half Marathon (thats 13.1 miles for the non track fans out there) in a time of 59 minutes and 24 seconds, easily beating American 10,000 meter national champ Abdi Abdirahman by more than a minute. I've always admired Gebrselassie, ever since he won the Olympic 10,000 meter race in the Atlanta Olympics back in 1996. He's a great runner, on a par with all time greats like Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Vladimir Kuts, and Lasse Viren as far as career accomplishments go, but that's not the main reason I like him. Throughout the years he's been a fierce competitor on the track, but also a graceful and giving champion off it. Brian Cazeneuve of Sports Illustrated has written a good article that shows both sides of the man, the runner and the person who wants to help his countrymen accomplish things of more lasting import than simply running. I recommend it to those of you who realize that success can be found as much in helping others as in your own individual accomplishments.