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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.

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,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html 

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. 

Quote of the week: Novak Djokovic

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Novak Djokovic“If you can channel it in the right way, fear will turn to strength.”

- Novak Djokovic, a Serbian professional tennis player who is currently ranked world No. 1 in men's singles tennis by the Association of Tennis Professionals.  He is generally considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time and a top 5 player in the Open Era (since 1968). Djokovic has won 10 Grand Slam singles titles and has held the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a total of 172 weeks.

If You’re Watching the World Cup, You Don’t Want to Miss This

Pabsy Pabalan's picture
Team Burundi, Great Lakes Peace Cup
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does.”
- Nelson Mandela

Even though I didn’t grow up watching football, admittedly I’ve developed an interest in the sport during this month-long emotional World Cup soap opera. And like me, millions of people will be glued to their television sets for this Sunday’s finals match between Argentina and Germany. 
Above and beyond the superstars, the fans and controversies, I learned more about how this beautiful game is used to build communities, overcome social and cultural divides and advance peace. It seems sports have a way of changing the lives of people around the world - but what does this exactly look like?

Scoring for Peace

Ravi Kumar's picture

A documentary shows the importance of sports in uniting conflict-affected communities

Bikomati, an athlete with a missing front tooth and a contagious smile, is a high school student in Bubanza, a city in northwestern Burundi

Ismael Bikomati in Scoring for Peace.

“When I joined the rebels, I was 12 years old. I went there because we didn’t have enough food at home,” says Ismael Bikomati in Scoring for Peace, a documentary seeking to spread the message of peace globally.

Bikomati, an athlete with a contagious smile, is a high school student in Bubanza, a city in northwestern Burundi. He is a midfielder for his team and the captain as well. He is one of a group of 500 players from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda who competed in the Great Lakes Peace Cup. It was organized by the World Bank during the spring and summer of 2012 to help former combatants rebuild relationships with their communities.

The Nairobi Mini World Cup

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Imagine you are a poor child from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and have a dream to become a soccer star. Some young players come close to this dream when the International School (ISK) in Nairobi hosts its annual “Nairobi Mini World Cup”.

The Mini World Cup started after ISK’s Principal of the Elementary School, Patricia Salleh Matta, introduced a Saturday sports program three years ago and opened the school not just to its own students but to many communities around the school. 

My 11-year-old son Marco and I have a passion for soccer (we call it football). In order to advance the game at ISK, where he goes, I got involved in coaching and eventually became the school’s “Soccer Commissioner.” As such, my main task is to organize soccer tournaments. The highlight of our year is the annual "Nairobi Mini World Cup," which has become a fixture for many schools and soccer clubs in the city.

Sports Program Helps Children Overcome Despair of Poverty

Matthew Spacie's picture

Parvati Pujari, 21, is training to be a football coach. When she is not playing football, Parvati works at Magic Bus as a mentor. She is also completing a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the Mumbai University.

What makes all this special is that Parvati is from one of Mumbai’s 4 million extremely poor families who live on less than INR 592 – (USD 11.9) per person, per month. Her parents were constructions workers in Mumbai, helping build a five star Mall in central Mumbai. After construction finished, they moved into one 8 x 12 foot temporary room which floods every monsoon. “Our living condition is such that we get to see all seasons at close quarters,” says Parvati. Parvati’s family consists of nine people, making it difficult to make sure everyone gets enough to eat. “We mostly make do with a khichdi [rice and lentils],” she says.

What changed for Parvati was her belief in her own power to change her own – and her family’s – future by making sure she used every opportunity that was available in the system, but not used. Parvati completed school even as her girl friends were married off as children. While her peers were struggling with premature pregnancies and its attendant morbidity, Parvati was taking activity-and sport-based coaching classes for younger children, taking a job, working on her football course, and traveling abroad to raise funds for Magic Bus.

In the twelve years she has spent with Magic Bus, Parvati has demonstrated what is possible, even for the very poor to do to break out of poverty.

An Unconventional Tactic for the Fight Against Poverty

Ben Safran's picture

Earlier this summer, Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka to win the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. Like any triumph in an international competition, there was a great sense of national pride, this time coming in a country with great need for such a unifying force. But, as Tunku Varadarajan wrote,  the victory was much more than just a boost to national morale:

“As Pakistan fights for its survival against the barbarian Taliban…its people find themselves possessed of a weapon with which to vanquish the forces of darkness. I speak here not of drones or tanks or helicopter gunships, but of the glorious game of cricket.”

This is a powerful concept: that cricket is a key weapon needed to defeat the “darkness” imposed by extremism in Pakistan. But why limit ourselves to discussing the power cricket possess to fight the Taliban? What about the effects all sports have to instill happiness, empowerment, and hope in people? Could using sports for development be an unconventional tactic for the fight against poverty?