Saddam Hussain’s older son , the sadistic Uday , was a ” sports fan ” who took keen interest in the fortunes of the Iraqi sports teams . As long as they won , everything was fine ; losing was another matter. Should the team lose , the offending players were thrashed within an inch of their lives , tortured and even killed . One Iraqi boxer who had the misfortune to be knocked out in the first round of a Gulf States competition was manacled and hauled before Uday who berated him and punched him repeatedly. Uday then jolted him with an electric prod , shaved off his eyebrows and ordered the guards to take him away and “finish the job”. The boxer was never seen again.This was not an isolated incident ; dozens of athletes are believed to have been executed by Uday who took every defeat as a personal embarrassment.
I was reminded of Uday’s deeds when I read about some of the extremes that countries go to in order have their athletes win medals . North Korea’s gold medal winning athletes were quick to credit their “Dear Leader” for inspiring them . Some inspiration !! Winners , it seems , are rewarded with scare domestic appliances such as refrigerators ; losers face the threat of labor camps. In China , promising children are sent brutal training camps and subjected to arduous training sessions . Boys and girls as young as five and six endure hellish practices. This article from the Daily Mail gives some idea of what they go through — all in order that their country climb to the top of the medals table at the Olympics. It was heartbreaking to see the tear streaked face of a cute little girl , no more than six years old, as she struggled against the weight of an adult male instructor standing on her legs . See the link below.
The Olympics were meant to be a competition for individuals but , somewhere along the way , they have been hijacked by countries who equate medal count with glory . Today , it is China and North Korea but thirty years ago it was East Germany and Russia . To be fair , however , those countries never went to the lengths that China does .
This cut throat competition has also seen a disappearance of the Olympic spirit of fairness in competition . Things were worst during the Cold War era when you could almost guarantee that Eastern Bloc judges in gymnastics or diving would give Western athletes a lower score . It is not as blatant now but there are still isolated instances of such unfairness.
The reason of course is that, nowadays , most of us see the Olympics as a contest between nations , not the competition between individuals that it was meant to be . With rare exceptions , we tend to look to the medals table first , at individual performances later. Unfortunately , the medals table is here to stay ; there is no way we can get rid of it . As I write , the U.S has edged ahead of China in total medals . This is unlikely to stay that way since Chinese athletes compete in many more sports than we do . I shouldn’t really care which country “wins” but when I see the tear streaked face of that poor little girl , I fervently hope that it is not China.