Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Usain, why can't you be nice to the others?

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge (splendid in what looks like a magnifying monocle), is having some problems seeing eye to eye with what he perceives as Usain Bolt's lack of sportsmanship (see Times report). Most notable amongst his quoted remarks are:

"That's not the way we perceive being a champion. I have no problem with him doing a show but I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters." [my emphasis].

I feel that a lot of people misinterpreted Bolt's gestures, for innocent or malicious reasons. There may be more than one level of culture clash at work--race and class, being obvious, but also the aspirations and motivation of the modern athlete. All of that works out in different ways on different stages and may be a good topic for another discussion. We can think, for example, about how we like or not the display of the sponsor's goods at the key moment: Usain showed off the Puma shoes when he won the 100 metres and sales reportedly soared by 2 million over the weekend. Good boy, say Puma. Naughty boy others may say. But does any of that detract from Bolt as a supreme athlete and competitor, who has one of the simplest demeanors in his fun-loving style?

In a sense I could have no problem with the spirit of M. Rogge's request, except that if that's how he wants Olympic athletes to behave then make it a rule and abide by it (as is in the case in some sports in martial arts or fencing or boxing--though see below). It's a long time now since I have been involved in sports at various levels. All I know is that despite what we may say to encourage and not make ourselves feel bad, we really love winning and it's a wonderful feeling. Depending on your religious persuasion one could equally be upset by athletes crossing themselves or praying before and after a race.I cannot remember how many winners at Olympics in recent years have hoisted the index figure to show that they are number one.

One Tajikistan boxer pre-empted the pat on the shoulder aspect by biting his Kazakhstan opponent on the shoulder (see report), then he was disqualified. I don't know who was leading the bout at the time.

The IOC has shown its displeasure at poor sportsmanship and "political gestures" when it disqualified and stripped the Armenian-born Swedish wrestler of the bronze medal he put on the mat before walking away from the awards ceremony. Will they do the same to Usain to underline M. Rogge's point. I don't think so. Most have seen in Bolt a fresh beginning in a sports that had lost much lustre and credibility. But let's take a look at how badly the IOC feel about the "issue" of sportsmanship.

What should we do about the "spontaneous" showing of the national flag by the winner(s)? The Olympic Games are a movement not a political platform.

What should we do about Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi's grand gestures EVERY TIME he wins a major race, well before the finish? And those high jumpers doing unnecessary somersaults on the mat after they have cleared a major height or won, or broken a record? How does the next jumper feel with that "Beat that!" display. Or is the jumper so pleased with the performance that the rest of the field is (rightly) forgotten? What do you do about those who want to work the crowd into a frenzy before their turn? Does that destroy the well-built peace and karma of other athletes?

The other side to M. Rogge's proposition is that the losers do not necessarily want a gesture from the winner at the end of the event; it can easily be misinterpreted too. I have seen (as a player, coach and referee) the winner's offered hand spat upon or otherwise rejected by a loser and then all hell broke lose. There is a good set who are the "leave me alone" brigade--like the losers in tennis who cannot wait to get off the court before the crowd give their applause to the victor. You could imagine the reaction of some to Usain after he smashed his own world record, after really running 60 metres and with his shoes untied. Who would be saying "Better luck next time, mate"?

I know that next will be something like the crowd should not cheer for the winner. How do you stop 91,000 people when the public announcement system blares out "Happy Birthday" after a man has just broken the world record ahead of his anniversary.

From what I read about M. Rogge (who is Belgian, and a three-time Olympic yachtsman--and some do not call yachting a sport), he is in need of some personal image rebuilding about coming to a deal to let the Chinese censor the Internet for journalists. For that, he deserves a pat on the shoulder and a hand shake. N'est pas?

Yes, the IOC needs to be applauded for (eventually) launching an investigation into the age of He Kexin, the host nation’s darling female gymnast who won gold in both team and individual events, and is supposedly under age for the sport at 14 [where the limit is 16] (see Times report).

The IOC needs to look at the funky judging. Several years ago we had the fiasco of the collusion of judges. This year we see fiascoes such as gymnasts who fall over getting better scores than those who manage to land perfectly. I guess there is a lot of scope for "artisitic interpretation".

I could go on. So, jacques it in.


Anonymous said...

these guys are a bunch of hypocrits and wet rags

Dennis Jones said...

Of course, I agree. Jamaica's foreign minister, Karl Samuda, also took up the issue, see http://livinginbarbados.blogspot.com/2008/08/usain-why-cant-you-be-nice-to-others.html, and said Rogge had "crossed the line". Wi ha fiwi style an' culcha. Gwan wid yu!