British Olympic Association climbs down on censorship claim

There had been worries recently that the contract British athletes being included in the national team for the Bejing Olympics had been reworded to censor what those athletes may say publicly about the dire state of human rights or politics in the host nation China. The BOA has now apparently clarified this position saying that while it is normal Olympic practise to inform competing athletes that they cannot use the Games as a political platform neither is the BOA in the business of trying to censor what its athletes speak about – they can talk to journalists, answer questions and so on, just not decide to use their position at the Games to stage a protest or demonstration, something which comes from the International Olympic rules. The British Athletes Commission seems to accept this adding that it is the sport which is paramount and that they are going to compete, not to demonstrate.

Which is fair enough, as far as it goes, since that is indeed what they are supposed to do. But I can’t help but wonder if the Games weren’t being held in a nation with an appalling record in human rights abuses, lack of civil liberties, environmental pillaging and few freedoms then this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Part of the argument for having the Games there though is that somehow it will magically make the Chinese government more accountable, allowing more freedoms and liberties – the same argument is used by giant corporations like Google and Microsoft for working with the Chinese government, then self-censoring to suit that totalitarian regime and even, allegedly, giving access to web records to track down and silence those bloggers who post opinions considered ‘dissident’. Yay for the spread of freedom by example!!!

Its an old refrain of capitalism that it promotes freedom because those are the circumstances it flourishes best in and where political argument fails to persuade those in power money and successful business might. But that’s an experiment we’re still waiting to see a definitive result on – there may be some more freedoms in China today but equally there are a lot of repressive measures, so the jury is well out on how successfully the market and giving them the Games has worked – it may have helped a bit, but it certainly hasn’t transformed the country to a land of freedom. On the Olympians front though, if an athlete does feel very strongly that an international coming together of nations shouldn’t be staged in a country where the regime denies basic freedoms, liberties and human rights then perhaps they should consider if they should take part in the Games being held there?

Because I doubt the Games will magically make things better – we’re talking about a regime, after all, who when visiting London criticised their UK government hosts for ‘allowing’ people to protest their visit, that’s the attitude they have – they think democratic countries should muzzle free speech critical of them. So I am left wondering if athletics organisations saying that the staging of the Games in China will somehow help improve that country’s lamentable record is less wishful thinking than a fig leaf to their own conscience to justify going there – honest I am not just going because I want to take part in the Olympics regardless, I really believe being there will help the people of China. Honest. Okay, perhaps that is pretty cynical, but I find it is hard not to be cynical about the whole thing. (source: the BBC)

Wahey!

Tense, oh so tense! Scotland just in the lead over ancient rivals England, who we have so rarely beaten. 20 minutes to go, still just in the lead, everything to play for: England determined, playing some bloody great rugby, the Scots mixing it up, unafraid, throwing in some bloody brilliant tackles. Ten minutes to go: England fighting to get a try and tip the scales, the boy from Caledonia mounting a fantastic defence… 2 minutes to go and we’re still just in the lead… Fingernails dug into the beer can at this stage, it could all go so wrong in second… And it’s all over with Scotland standing at 18 points, England at 12, Princess Anne giving the Calcutta Cup to the victorious captin of her faovurite team. I could hear the huge roar of “Scotland!” from the Murrayfield crowd in my flat as I was glued to the screen.

The Six Nations was great for Scottish fans in the 90s then we had years of being pathetic, so heartbreaking after the glories of the 90s. Now we’ve thrashed two of the teams who started the Six Nations as pretty much the two strongest teams in most pundit’s view (France being the other). Even this morning some papers, especially down south seemed to think all the English team had to do was bother to turn up. I look forward to reading what they say tomorrow. And even nicer the Scottish players clapped the English players, as they left the field because it was a fabulous, tight, tense game of fantastic, world-class rugby between two terrific teams and great to watch. Excuse my excitement but its been a while since we played so well and it was one of those terrific games where both sides are playing well and it is so close you’re on the edge of your seat. And victory over England is always sweet to Scots, even today in the 21st century – not that we have any big beef or dislike really, but its still fun to beat the Auld Enemy from time to time (especially since it doesn’t happen that often!).

Olympics roundup

With the games of the 2004 Athens Olympiad well underway we at the Woolamaloo Gazette – official sponsor of the Marsupial Olympic Squad – thought it was time to update our readers on the state of play. Friday’s stunning opening ceremony set the stage for this return to the Game’s ancient homeland. Actors, musicians and dancers re-enacted many of the aspects of Greek culture, from the ancient period – sculpture, democracy, leaving unwanted babies to die on hillsides – through to more modern times, culminating in a bunch of paunchy, middle-aged men drinking five bottles of Ouzo then dancing on the tabletops to the strains of Zorba the Greek while seducing foolish and drunken British female tourists (Shirley Valentine, we’re talking about you, you slapper!).

As the Games get into their stride this week we realise our readers will want to know who the hot favourites are. As the other world media are already covering the major tournaments in great detail – especially the BBC with their ‘interactive’ coverage, which allows you to press the red button on your digital remote to check on the drugs testing of any contestant – we at the Gazette thought we would give you the low-down on some of the less well-known events.

Wednesday sees the Salted Herring Hurling heats. The previous world record for hurling a salted herring was set at the 1996 Olympics with Hauver Grundkinson of Bergen, Norway successfully throwing the herring some 23 metres. Nils Borgen of Denmark did manage a throw of 24 metres, but failed a drugs test afterwards when he was found to be sucking on a Fishermen’s Friend (an old sailor’s trick, popular with seamen) and was disqualified. This year’s Danish team is much weaker than before and it is thought that the only real challengers to the Norwegian’s attempts at herring Gold are the Icelanders. Meanwhile the Danish team are still thought to be the hot tip to win the Lego freestyle construction tournament. The Norwegians and Swedish teams will go head-to-head for the Raiding, Burning and Pillaging events, with most experts claiming it is too close to call this year.

The Haggis Hunt first became an Olympic sport ten games previously and has never been won by anyone other than the Scottish members of Team GB, although competition has been growing in recent Games. The wild Haggis is released over a form of steeplechase-like racetrack while the team of four hunters pursue it, stun it and capture it using only hand-woven netting made from thistles (most teams wear gloves, the Scots are too macho too do so, or perhaps just too tight to buy the gloves) and throwing heavy, shaped stones which evolved from Curling stones (this is another reason why the Scots are so good at this sport). Their main rivals this year are the Canadian team, who are also favourites for the 50-metre Otter Race.

The Spiff-smoking events are often the domain of the team from the Netherlands. With large government support for the sport in Holland the Netherlands team – Lurgen, Rolf and Papa Smurf – are easily the best equipped and trained team of tokers on the planet, although the US team’s Californian reefer merchants – Dude, Big Dave and Lili – may well surprise the complacent Dutch team. The Jamacian team are likely to be too stoned to turn up once more.

The tea-drinking championships this year are already underway with Team GB, China, India and Russia all through to the semi-finals. The French team were disqualified for drinking from bowls instead of regulation China cups and Team USA lost humiliatingly early in the tournament due to the fact that they simply don’t know how to make tea.

On the track and field front the kangaroos of the Marsupial team are hot favourites for the hop, skip and jump event and long jump event while the koalas should reach for Gold glory in the Climbing and Eating Leaves event. This may well humiliate the sports-loving Australians they share their continent with, but as they stole the marsupials land and kill many of them (giving rise to the KLF or Kangaroo Liberation Front) most of our pouched brethren will view this as a bonus and extra incentive to go for gold. We at the Gazette salute our marsupial cousins and wish their plucky team the best of luck, although realistically we don’t expect too much from the koalas in the javelin events. Still, they will likely do better than Team Antarctica; their plucky penguins may have taken gold at the belly-toboggan slide and the Orcas at the seal-tossing, but they are really more of a winter Olympics squad and will struggle in the blistering heat of Athens (most of the penguins have done little so far apart from sit around the pool in Hawaiian shirts drinking ice-cold margaritas.

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