Heavenly bodies

A hop, skip and jump from the Olympic VIP entertainment suites where regimes with appalling human right records are enjoying a break from torturing their citizens, is a simple, humble encampment of Eelam Tamils.

Gobi Sivanthan is on hunger strike to raise awareness about Black July, 1983. According to Tamils Against Genocide, this is the period when the Sri Lankan government intensified a programme of genocide against the Eelam Tamils, who had been brutalised into violent self-defence. Various regimes have come and gone since the British left in 1948, but Tamils Against Genocide believe the Sri Lankan state and Sinhalese rulers have consistently persecuted the Eelam Tamils; abducting, assassinating, and sequestering their traditional homelands.

The Killing Fields campaign makes 5 requests to the IOC, the UN and the international community.

Gobi has been enduring this gruelling marathon since July 22nd, but there won’t be any medals or applause at the finishing line. Like so many inconvenient voices screaming for justice, self-serving politics and vested interests will collude to smother it.

The Olympics began life in Ancient Greece as a series of professional athletics tournaments between warring city-states who eventually amalgamated into the Athenian Empire and subjugated and enslaved the Aegean. Thence came the Romans who ingested and regurgitated every iota of Greek culture, and perpetuated the Games to breed warriors for their relentless conquests. The Games have always claimed to be apolitical, but deep down they can appear profoundly partisan. The international jamboree provides politicians with a golden opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of sporting heroes. Tommie Smith believes the US Olympic establishment has never truly forgiven him and and John Carlos for giving the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

The Olympics was an archaic irrelevance for 1000 years until resuscitated by Pierre de Coubertin in the 1890s. Coubertin was a romantic aristocrat who believed that education through sport could create peace on earth. He had observed the ‘athletic chivalry’ at Rugby and Eton, and hoped that the Tom Brown’s School Days ethos of stiff upper lip and team spirit would persuade the increasingly belligerent working classes to be more compliant, and better motivated to defend France if forced into war. The 1896 Games in Athens invited 250 male athletes (women were impractical, uninteresting, incorrect and anaesthetic according to Coubertin) from 14 countries to compete in 43 events. The Nazis seized on Coubertin’s naivety and hijacked his vision of virtuous Olympic super heroes to legitimise their vision of an Aryan master race for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Modern Olympic values advocate respect, equality and fair play: It’s not just about winning – it’s the taking part. However, the original participants were ruthless mercenaries determined to win at any cost. Sporting prowess was a way out of poverty and an ability to cheat was regarded as an asset. Victors were rewarded with riches, status and influence, and the greatest prize of all – immortality – via honours, odes, choruses and eponymous statues.

The Olympics have always attracted snake-oil salesmen, high priests, scheming politicians and demi-gods of one sort or another, eager to gain followers and extend influence. Despite being boycotted, corrupted, terrorized and exploited, the Games represent an indestructible brand because the blood, sweat and tears of individuals transcends the saccharine nationalistic razzmatazz.

Like all great dramas, we identify with a personality who – but for some glitch in the genetic melting pot – could be you or me. When I watch those incredible feats of human endeavour, my alter ego imagines that if only I could escape the clutches of the sofa…I could be steaming past Michael Phelps…or pipping Jennifer Ennis at the post…or turning to grin at Usain Bolt as I shred his world record.





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