Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nothing better than love and service, Universally speaking, I win in the long run

March 21, 2008
by Ed Alexander

Political protests at sporting events are nothing new, and moreover they should in general be welcome so long as they are made in good faith. They help to show the very importance of sport, namely that it is more than just sport. One does not have to necessarily agree with the message being made, but one must respect the bravery and awareness of those individuals who make them. In a world in which we regularly hear about overpaid athletes living in bubbles of luxury it is encouraging to see that some still remember that they have the potential to speak for their people.

This was the case when Serbian swimmer Milorad Cavic took to the rostrum to celebrate his victory in the 50m butterfly-stroke at the European Championships in Eindhoven. Draped in a Serbian flag and wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Kosvo is Serbia”, Cavic will no doubt have angered both Albanian ultra-nationalists and grey-suited officials from FINA, the sport’s governing body. Many of us who firmly support Kosovo’s independence will have paradoxically supported Cavic’s protest though, seeing in it an expression of the democratic right of the individual to speak his mind. When so many athletes concern themselves solely with wearing branded sportswear advertising their latest commercial endorsement, Cavic has shown that some athletes are still proud to represent their people and that sport, along with other mediums such as theatre and art, remains one of the most vital bastions of the defense of public interest when we become disillusioned with politics. Cavic has been banned for the remainder of the European Championships, meaning that he will miss out on the 100m Butterfly-stroke event, a decision which surely reflects poorly on FINA since the winner will never know whether he was the best or whether Cavic would have beaten him.Whilst avoiding cliché, it seems that now is the time to bring up Voltaire’s much used soundbite: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!

Sport is adored by the masses worldwide. One need only look back to great sporting statements, such as Jesse Owen’s success in the Nazi Olympics of 1936 or the black power salutes made by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics, to see that sport is not, and never should be, viewed outside the context of politics. If an individual feels that he can make an influence, or at least show solidarity to his people, then it is in many respects his responsibility to do so. A good deal of rational and sane Serbs do not wish for Kosovo to be separated from Serbia, and it is for these people that Cavic speaks, not for the violent and thuggish protesters who harm their own cause through their ignorance.

In a global context, the responsibility of athletes to make a political stand is all the more relevant as the Beijing Olympics approaches. The deaths of protesters has not gone unnoticed but now it is time for World Class Olympians to show their solidarity with the people of Tibet. Chinese officials will not be impressed, and it is likely that the national sporting federations of the athletes might not back them either, but now is not the time to listen to bureaucrats, now is time for sport to speak to the people.

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