Wednesday, 21 September 2016

An Olympic cautionary dose

When I was at school, we all knew that the most unjust type of sanction was collective punishment – you know the sort: when the whole class is kept in detention for one person’s misdemeanour. It’s the last resort of the ineffective teacher. “I know someone’s been smoking in here, and if they don’t own up in the next minute, I shall keep the whole class back after school until I get the name.”

I remember well the first time I was on the receiving end of this sort of sanction. I have no idea what the offence was. I was still in junior school and I remember the class being lined up at the top of the basement stairs, prior to being marched down to have the cane administered by the ex-army-captain headmaster. In fact, I’m ashamed to say, I was so scared I feigned sickness and avoided my fate and so was launched into a propensity to intelligent deceit. I did later get my fair share of rapped knuckles from Fido, the length of quadrant wielded by my moustachioed Maths teacher.
Graphic showing estimated civilian casualties in WW2, Memorial Civiles

When we were away on holiday in France this summer, we visited the moving Memorial des Civils museum in Falaise which records the civilian cost of World War 2. There was an exhibit there which listed something like 20 men from a village, taken to concentration camp, after German military trains had twice been blown up nearby by the resistance. One man came back. A pattern repeated thousands of time in war, no doubt. The museum reminded us that our Soviet allies lost 36 million civilians in the defeat of Nazism, far more than the rest of Europe put together. Which is, by the way, one reason why I consider our officially sponsored populist anti-Russian narrative so misconceived.

You may surmise from this that I rate collective punishment as a very low form of life. And I was sorry when the Olympic authorities, almost, and the Paralympic totally imposed a blanket ban on athletes from the Russian federation. It seemed to me a denial of natural justice. Whatever the rights and wrong of the McLaren report on state sponsored doping in Russia, it’s clear that some innocent athletes were barred from competing by the bans, and I suspect guilty ones from elsewhere competed, perhaps making intelligently deceitful use of TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions).

Whatever the case, it seems that the whole affair was hurriedly and clumsily mismanaged – which of course worked to GB’s advantage. True, GB did wonderfully well in both Olympics and Paralympics in Rio, and their medal haul exceeded even the London Games. But then they would have won more, wouldn’t they, with their main competitor for second, third or fourth place removed from the picture? I wouldn’t want in any way to rain on their parades. They deserve our very great admiration, but let’s keep it in perspective and hope that by 2020 Russia will be back in the mix.

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