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The Paralympic Games in Rio: Where the (dis)abilities matter

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“I savor life. When you have anything that threatens life... it prods you into stepping back and really appreciating the value of life and taking from it what you can.”
- Sonia Sotomayor
 
On the evening after the closing ceremony of the XXXI Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, my mind was still immersed in the scene of several thousand perfectly chiseled bodies. I couldn’t emotionally adjust to the “normal pace of life” knowing that I would have to patiently wait for almost three weeks for the next thrilling global sporting festival, when the 15th Summer Paralympic Games will begin once again in Rio. To compensate for my anxious state of mind, I decided to watch ESPN to obtain a mini-dose of sport emotions. I got more than I bargained for. As soon as I turned on the TV, I became engrossed by a short but very captivating documentary entitled: Owen and Haatchi. From the get-go the story made a huge impression on me and served as a humbling precursor and transition to my next sporting festival where Paralympians will be competing in 22 sports and 528 events. 
 
Between September 7th and the 18th, 4,350 athletes with disabilities from 161 countries will share 4,350 compelling and inspiring stories of triumph. As they put the Paralympic spirit into motion to achieve sporting excellence, it will be our blessing to reflect not on their disabilities, but on their abilities and on the joy they have to represent their nations in the best possible way. Sport is a fair equalizer for all athletes; it doesn’t matter if you come from an affluent or developing country, every athlete still has to show up, participate, and finish the competition. The medal classification for the last Paralympics in London was not a mirror reflection of the Olympics. Instead, the para-athletes representing the nations of the emerging economies and developing countries could hold their own quite well. 

Sport free of doping or glory at all costs: That is not the question anymore

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“Sport is a very important subject at school, that's why I gave Quidditch such an important place at Hogwarts. I was very bad in sports, so I gave Harry a talent I would really loved to have. Who wouldn't want to fly?”  - J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels
 
Even Greek mythology embraces the human desire to fly, as many of us might recall in the escape story of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, from Crete. He used wax and string to fasten feathers to reeds of varying lengths to imitate the curves of a bird's wings. Daedalus advised his son to fly at a medium altitude and follow his path of flight. If he flew too high, the sun could melt the wax, and if he flew too low, the sea could dampen the feathers. Unfortunately, Icarus became euphoric, and against the wisdom of his father, he glided higher and higher. The sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and the boy dropped into the sea and drowned. 
 
This myth has its own interpretation in sport psychology; moreover, it serves perfectly as a foreword for this reflection on the prevalence of performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) in contemporary sports in which athletes are tempted to fly above human body limits or cruise too low under the radar of clean sport. At both altitudes, they gamble with their well-being. 
 
In 1997, Bamberger and Yaeger surveyed 198 mostly US Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. They asked if the athletes would take PEDs under the hypothetical premise of not being caught and knowing they would be guaranteed a victory; 195 of 198 responded “yes”. Additionally, if the caveat was added that they would die from the side effects within 5 years, 61% of the athletes still said they would use PEDs.

Refugee team carries bittersweet message to the world

Farhad Peikar's picture
Also available in: Español

Thousands of spectators rippled to their feet while millions of others around the world joyfully watched live images on TV as the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) marched in Brazil’s Maracanã Stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Comprised of five South Sudanese runners, two Congolese judokas, two swimmers from Syria and a marathoner from Ethiopia, the six male and four female athletes were selected from a pool of 43 possible candidates.  Their inclusion was one of the top feel-good moments of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio because the 10-athlete-team not only carried the Olympic flag, but also a message of hope for millions of young people that have been driven from their homes.
 
However, while there is much to celebrate and many to praise for this unprecedented and historical initiative in the world of sports, in an ideal world such a team should not exist at all. The few joyful moments - compounded with our cheers - should not obscure the realities of unmatched human suffering in refugee camps worldwide. The very existence of such a team reminds us that the world has collectively failed over 65 million displaced people in helping them return home or find a new place to call their permanent home. These athletes represent a community that is running away from regional conflicts, civil wars, aggressions, genocides, famines, poverty, and diseases— some of which are so deep-rooted that finding viable solutions seems elusive.

Olympic-sized ambition: Halt the Games' economic excess by building a permanent site for the Olympics — in Greece, their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Build it well, build it wisely, and build it only once — How investing to create a permanent site for the Olympic Games, ideally in their historic home of Greece, could reduce waste, deliver economic stimulus, and avoid "white elephant" monuments to extravagance.


The jeering of angry taxpayers and frustrated favela-dwellers may drown out some of the cheering of sports enthusiasts this weekend, as the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Brazil and local officials in Rio have certainly done their best to stage the Games successfully, addressing a range of challenges that include the Zika virus outbreak, the doping scandal among athletes and the country’s prolonged economic slump and political traumas. Yet an enduring scandal in international finance — the chronic design flaw in the way that the Games are planned for and paid for — has again imposed an enormous economic burden on the Olympic host city. Struggling economies can ill afford the extravagance of repeatedly building use-once-throw-away sports facilities.

It was surely startling to see the deep degree of scorn and sarcasm with which many workaday Brazilians, who are now enduring a deep economic downturn, hurled derision at the arrival of the Olympic torch in Rio this week. They evidently saw that Olympic arrival ceremony as a symbol, not just of athletic ambition, but of financial folly.

The anxieties that Brazil has endured on the road to Rio 2016 should underscore a longer-term, Olympic-sized concern: Mismanagement by the Games' promoters has now been thoroughly documented, underscoring the abusive way that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the global sports-industrial complex have habitually foisted reckless costs on the taxpayers of hapless host cities.

By goading Olympic-wannabe cities to make ever-more-extravagant financial commitments – stoking their dreams of a media moment of purchased publicity – the mega-event industry has helped shatter the finances of one host city after another. No wonder that so many cities are now shunning the IOC’s bidding process, dreading the deadweight losses that are almost certain to burden any Olympic host.

Welcome as the IOC’s recent “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform proposals may be, it’s long past time to rein in the financial excesses of mega-event promoters. With a claque of financiers and flacks who are ready to manipulate the gullibility of the would-be hosts, the Olympic spirit has fallen victim to the self-interest of construction firms, property developers and publicists who seek to profit from host cities’ overspending.

An invaluable book documenting this Olympic-scale threat – discussed in detail at a World Bank’s InfoShop book-and-author seminar in June 2015 – should be top-of-mind for Olympics-watchers this week, as Rio de Janeiro enjoys its moment in the spotlight. “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” — by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College — can help other cities avoid an impulsive rush for momentary Olympic notoriety. A video of Zimbalist’s InfoShop presentation is archived at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PUBLICATION/INFOSHOP1/0,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

Large-Scale Social Protest: A Business Risk and a Bureaucratic Opportunity
Governance Journal

The public versus private nature of organizations influences their goals, processes, and employee values. However, existing studies have not analyzed whether and how the public nature of organizations shapes their responses to concrete social pressures. This article takes a first step toward addressing this gap by comparing the communication strategies of public organizations and businesses in response to large-scale social protests. Specifically, we conceptualize, theorize, and empirically analyze the communication strategies of 100 organizations in response to large-scale social protests that took place in Israel during 2011.

Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development
ITU/CISCO/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
This report explores the current use and potential of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in tackling global development challenges, highlighting a number of specific instances where IoT interventions are helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. It presents summary conclusions on what is required for the IoT to reach billions of people living in the developing world, and also to accelerate income growth and social development as a result.
 

Is sport inhumane?

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” - George Orwell
 
Several years ago, while attending a global sports conference, I noticed that one of the most prominent members of the International Olympic Committee was carrying a small book in French. Knowing that this individual has an inclination toward intellectual escapades, I couldn’t resist asking for the title and author, he replied: Robert Redeker, 2008, “Le Sport Est – il inhumain?” As I had not previously heard of Redeker, I asked some follow-up questions to establish his viewpoint.
 
Robert Redeker is a French writer and philosophy teacher, known for his controversial views on many aspects of humanity with a soft but critical spot for sport as he wrote two additional books dedicated to sport: in 2002, “Le Sport contre les peuples,” and in 2012, “L'Emprise sportive.”
 
For those of us who will be going to Rio to witness the Olympic and Paralympic cauldron being lit amidst hundreds of thousands of spectators during the opening ceremonies, it is also perfect timing for a reflection about the current state of sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Movement. Currently, the deliberations are mostly lead by the media, athletes, coaches, and this time by the World Health Organization due to Zika's unknown long-term impacts.  
 
An ever-increasing number of leaders in sports as well as politics, education, and even religion are starting to pay closer attention to how sports can be a tool to benefit humanity. Critics such as Redeker have argued that it is an inhuman matrix, and that contemporary sport dehumanizes athletes while focusing only on citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger - speed, height, and strength as they are measurable quantities) at the expense of social, societal, behavioral and anthropological development.

From a rubber boat in the sea to swimming in Rio: A story of resilience

Bassam Sebti's picture


On a chilly October day in 2015, 24-year-old Rami Anis boarded a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea in Turkey. His destination was Europe and his goal was a better life away from war and hardship.

Looking at the people around him on the boat, he was horrified. They were children, men, and women. The fact that they might not make it never escaped his mind, even though he is a professional swimmer.

“Because with the sea, you can’t joke,” said the Syrian refugee.

But on Aug. 11, Rami will not be worried about swimming in the sea. He, instead, will be swimming at the Olympics. He made it safely to Belgium after days of heart-wrenching journey, from Istanbul to Izmir to Greece before setting off a trek through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and eventually Belgium.

Rami will be competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team — the first of its kind — and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the opening ceremony. 

We, the people, for the global bicycle momentum

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.” - Mark Twain
 
Have you ever wondered what happened to once commonplace items such as the abacus, the slide rule, the hourglass, or the quill; not to mention, VHS recorders, CD cassette players, and more recently, address and telephone books? They all met the same fate: they were replaced by modern technological innovations such as calculators, electronic watches, ballpoint pens, and computers. And what happened to the bicycle? It has been with us for over 200 years, and by some estimates, there are more than two billion bikes in use around the world and by 2050 this number could reach five billion. Over fifty percent of the human population can ride a bike. The bicycle is a veteran and mainstay of human mobility. Even competitive riders pay respect to the utility of bicycles outside grand tours. One of them, Ted King predicted: “Bicycles have the potential to save the world. There’s so much that a bicycle can do, from an environmental standpoint, from a health standpoint, and their social impact.” 
 
Amid the recent surge in global popularity of cycling - in sport, in leisure and in urban commuting - two presenters of Italian RAI2 radio believe that the Nobel Peace Prize should go to the bicycle. The presenters of the popular Caterpillar program describe bikes as an "instrument of peace". They say the bike "is the most democratic means of transport available to humanity". Proponents have also used the example of Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali, who during World War II ferried counterfeit documents by bike to save Jews, as an example of how the cycle has aided in "liberation and resistance". Additionally, 118 Italian Members of Parliament have also officially nominated the Afghan Cycling Federation women's team for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. They hail the bicycle as environmental, economic, and democratic.
 
In November 2015, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), in collaboration with the World Cycling Alliance (WCA), announced their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to the UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who called for voluntary commitments from civil society to tackle climate change. In “Cycling Delivers on the Global Goals” the direct impact of cycling can be demonstrated on at least 11 of the 17 Global Goals. Recent research presented in “A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario” by UC Davis firmly concludes: “The results show that a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save society $24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11% in 2050 compared to a ‘High Shift’ scenario without a strong cycling emphasis.”
 
The global community of cycling enthusiasts celebrates, even worships, the loyalty of the freedom machine to humanity by organizing events all over the world. However, well- intentioned or -organized, all these remain out of sync with very diversified agendas. After over two centuries of stellar service to humankind, we, the people, believe that the bicycle deserves an official annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations, and preceded by the International Year of Bicycle Awareness and Education of Cycling for All.

The things we do: The economic, social, and personal costs of optimism

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Construction worker for the Panama Canal expansion projectIt is now the second week of 2016 and many people are working (or struggling) to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. Whether they have decided to run a marathon, travel more, or save money, many people endeavor to create positive, new habits while shedding existing habits they think are less positive.  These resolutions, though, tend to last one or two months, fading into the backgrounds of their consciousness as spring arrives. 
 
It’s a typical combination of the planning fallacy, unrealistic optimism, and a bit of self-regulatory failure.
 
And this sort of challenge is not specific to New Year’s resolutions or even to issues pertaining to individuals.  City councils frequently draw up budgets that are too lean, road construction frequently lasts much longer than expected, and advances in technology often require much more investment than planners expect. So what’s at work here?  Why is it that people have a hard time judging the amount of time, energy, and resources that a project will take?

Sir Philip’s paralympic team yearns to play hoops with US President Obama

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

“It’s surprising the impact [the Paralympics] really has on you… It’s an untapped fuel for humanity that we really need to start using.” - Bode Miller, U.S. Olympic Skier

Sir Philip CravenDecember 3, 2015 - The International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Since December 3, 1992, the world annually celebrates The International Day of Persons with Disabilities to promote awareness, knowledge, and support for critical problems related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons and from the period 1983 to 1992 was named the UN’s Decade of Disabled Persons.

According to the 2011 World Report on Disability, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group, more than a billion people globally have some sort of disability, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries. One third of all out-of-school children have disabilities, and fewer than 2 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries are in school. More than 800 million individuals with physical and/or cognitive impairments live in poverty, 3.5 million of whom are refugees. Between 50-70 percent of them are unemployed.

The 2015 theme of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was: Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities. There were also three sub-themes: Making Cities Inclusive and Accessible for All; Improving Disability Data and Statistics; and Including Persons with Invisible Disabilities in Society and Development.


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