|Thursday, May 23, 2013|
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PUBLISHER'S NOTELet The Games Begin
06/09/12, Kayode Soyinka
Thank you all our readers who read our last edition on Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and commended us for a job well done. We have followed up on that with this edition on the London 2012 Olympics. It is amazing how fast time flies. It wasn't long ago when the argument was about whether the massive infrastructure needed for the games would be ready on time. Now that's all over and the great games are finally here with us, with London surely hosting it. Just like the Ojukwu edition, we are presenting you with a very rich package because we are not just reporting the Olympics taking place in London, we are looking at the role Blacks in our continent and in the Diaspora in places such as Great Britain itself, the United States of America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world have historically played in, and the remarkable contributions they have made to the great Games. We thought this would be a better approach to introduce the London 2012 Olympics to our readers worldwide, and as usual give you a good and enjoyable read.
We have asked our special writer and brilliant sports historian and commentator Idorenyin Uyoe to put this Olympics package together. He is coming back on board after many years of absence from our pages since he first contributed to Africa Today in our early days. The Atlanta-based Idorenyin has not disappointed. If you think you know about the Olympics, wait until you read this edition. You might discover that you will learn one or two new things about the great games from reading his very interesting narrative. The articles he has put together not only read very well, they are equally enthralling about the exploits of Black athletes around the world, how they have entertained us, and the extent they have had to go to get to the top of their games; the pains and agonies of being the best in the world, the disgrace when they are found to have gone foul of the rules of the games, and the joy and jubilation when a sweet gold or any medal at all is won.
Roll back the years to the Seoul 1988 Olympics when the Canadian Ben Johnson shattered the world record in 100 meters, setting a new one at an amazingly impressive 9.79 seconds. And it was bedlam almost seconds thereafter when it was astonishingly and shockingly discovered that Johnson had beaten such an impressive line up of the world's best 100 meters runners, including the great Carl Lewis of the United States and Linford Christie of Great Britain with the aid of an enhancing drug anabolic steroid. The world, which was in ecstasy when Johnson broke the world record and became the toast of the world, only, within hours, was thrown into turmoil, yes, turmoil when it was discovered that the Canadian athlete was a drugs cheat. He was stripped of the gold medal and disgraced, sending a powerful message to other athletes around the world that there would be zero tolerance within the Olympics family to the use of drugs by athletes. The Johnson case and the drama that followed it taught the governing body of the Olympic Games a lesson from then on. It became very strict with athletes and introduced a more stringent regime of checking on them even off season to make sure they are not enhancing their performances with drugs and cheating on genuine athletes with natural talents. The International Olympics Committee's drugs policing unit has performed remarkably well since then. Not that some athletes are still not trying to cheat, but the rate and impunity with which they used the drugs, in some cases, with collusion with their trainers, have reduced.
For us in Africa the great moments of the Olympic Games have often come from long-distance runners representing the continent especially from East Africa. Olympic triumphs have thrown up for Africa great athletics heroes like Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, a marathon runner who won back-to-back gold in the distance in Rome 1960. There is also the legendary Kenyan Olympian Kip Keino, the middle distance hero who won gold in Munich 1972. They have been followed in more recent times by the likes of Haile Gebrselassie also of Ethiopia and the Namibian 100 meters runner Frankie Fredricks to mention but few.
However, it was in USA1994, when the games were held in Atlanta that Africa broke the jinx of poor performances in the elite game of football when the Nigerian team became the first football side to win gold medal in the sport, beating Brazil and Argentina, the super powers of the round leather game in the process. Brazil was so stunned by that defeat by Nigeria in the semi-final that it could not swallow its pride to mount the rostrum to collect its bronze medal. These great moments have been captured by Idorenyin in this edition.
However, when Africa is not doing well at the games, it is most likely that Great Britain would be doing well amongst the best in the world. And within the GB team are always athletes of African descent. Some of them have in the past captured the imagination and admiration of the world with their heroic performances. We cannot forget the exploits of such athletes like British-born Nigerian Bamidele (Daley) Thompson, who won Olympic gold medals in decathlon. Thompson has a Nigerian father and a British mother. There is also the quarter miler, another Nigerian, Chris Akabusi, who also captured gold in the 400 metres race at the Olympics, and several others.
They are partly the reason why Africa Today supports the Olympics coming to London because there is nothing more unifying than the Olympics. It is the biggest gathering of the world's best sporting talents. However, we are not na´ve: yes, it is sports, but, it is at the same time politics - every athlete and nation would be trying to prove throughout the duration of the games that he/she and it is the best in the different sports, and the global attention would be focused on which country would take the greatest number of medals who will top the medals table? Gone are the days when the spirit of the Olympics is not to win but to participate!
Bringing the Games to an ethnically diverse nation-state like Great Britain is therefore good for race relations. London is the second home for most Africans and Africans in the Diaspora. And the earlier FIFA returns the soccer World Cup to its original root the better it will also be for global peace and harmony.
Over the years, Britain has buckled under several ethnic tensions and pressures. It has, however, remarkably tried in the past 25 years or so to improve on its race relations. Although institutional racism is still embedded in the system in the UK, especially in the police force, sports, and the work place, the society at large, unfortunately, is also not immune from it. It must, however, be acknowledged that successive governments in several policy statements and through the judiciary have advocated zero tolerance on racism within the system and have tried to flush it out, including in sports. There were areas of the UK that in those days were no-go areas for the British police. Areas such as Brixton and Peckham in South London, Hackney in East London, Broadwater Farm Estate in North London and Toxteth in Liverpool, to mention but a few, that were the frontlines of racial conflicts. Successive governments in London have done so much to improve infrastructure in these places through massive urban regeneration and improved community relations and created more opportunities for the ethnic minorities living in and around these deprived areas. Bringing the Olympics to London has therefore provided opportunities again for the British government to continue with that urban regeneration agenda in some of the most deprived areas of the country. For instance, where these games are taking place is in the backwaters of the City of London, which has seen many years of neglect. And it is commendable that the British government took the decision to take the games right inside the east end of London. New roads have been built there. The Olympic Stadium itself situated in what is now known as the Olympic Park is brand new, and this is interesting because the city has the iconic Wembley Stadium, which for instant global recognition and national pride, could have been used as the main venue of the games, but the government decided to build a brand new stadium instead in the other side of the city. The result of that decision is that the deprived area where the new stadium now stands has been transformed.
There is also a newly built massive shopping mall, one of the biggest in Europe, which has been opened and since been doing business, attracting people from far and near to the area. There is a residential games village also newly built to accommodate the athletes. The area has generally been transformed by these new structures. At the end of the games the new infrastructure, especially the Olympic Stadium itself, would be sold off to the highest bidder. It was West Ham Football Club that initially won the stadium bid until it faced opposition from its north London neighbour Tottenham Hotspurs and the bid was thrown wide open again. Some of the new buildings will be turned into schools where education for people living in the area, we are told, will be made free after the games. This is useful especially for people of the ethnic minority living in this area. But whether the games will be a commercial success in this time of economic meltdown is another question entirely and it will not take long after the games for us to find out.
What is more important now and certain is that Britain would have put up a world-class show with the 2012 Olympics. And coming in a year when the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II also celebrates her jubilee on the thrown, London is bound to be busy and seems to be the right place to be this summer. Therefore, welcome to London, the home of the 2012 Olympics. Let the games begin.
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