Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE PRACTICE OF SPORT IS A HUMAN RIGHT:  Tremendous essay in Grantland today from Anna Clark on the history, success, and aftermath of the international sports boycott against South Africa, and questioning why the IOC does not continue to leverage its power against other regimes which continue to discriminate against large portions of their populations. Clark cites a Richard Lapchick essay from 2009, which notes:
To this day, [South Africa under apartheid] was the only regime that the world came together to isolate in peacetime. There were oil, trade, bank loan and sports boycotts. Oil can be smuggled and trade restrictions circumvented. Some banks made loans that kept the regime afloat. But there is no black market for games, and the sports boycott became South Africa's Achilles' heel.
Ironic given the Games' professed nonpolitical nature (ha!), but be reminded that this is the one time every other year that we loosen the reins a bit on the blog in terms of geopolitical discussions. (Geopolitical, not political. No dressage banter unless it's actually about dressage; those reins remain tight.) It was impossible to talk about Beijing 2008 without discussing the brutal host regime, and we will not shy away from our continuing objection to British claims of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas and Gibraltar, and our support of freedom for the Manx people as well as Noel Gallagher.


  1. Benner6:34 PM

    Argentina's being closer to the Falklands than Britain does not make the Falklans "close" to Argentina, which, unlike the UK but like its Spanish forbearers, has never had any settlements there.  If those vain, spendthrift soccer cheats want it, let 'em take it fair and square.  As for Gibraltar, the British inhabitants are an embarassment to the patrimony, but I'd suggest that Spain concentrate it's efforts on keeping the Basques, Catalans, and international creditors (hey-yo) from fleeing before it goes about adding more rocks.

    Are te Manx people those who live on Man Island?

  2. The Pathetic Earthling6:58 PM

    I don't know why, exactly, but few things about geopolitics make me angrier than people claiming that Argentina has even a colorable claim to the Falklands.  My basic position is: if you invade to assert a claim to a disputed territory -- and then lose -- your claim is extinguished.

  3. Jordan7:30 PM

    I hadn't heard of dressage before last week and holy schlamoly is it the dumbest sport I've ever heard of.  I thought the only horse related event was jumping over things, which I at least understand.  Congratulations synchronized swimming (followed by ribbon gymnastics), you aren't the most ridiculous event at the Olympics.

  4. Joseph J. Finn7:32 PM

    Trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics are pretty high on that list too.  And yet, we don't have baseball and softball.  Pfahh.

  5. Duvall7:36 PM

    There are barely more than 3000 residents of the Falklands.  Couldn't the issue be settled by plebescite with one afternoon's work?

  6. Jordan7:51 PM

    Apparently I care so little about rhythmic gymnastics that I named it "ribbon gymnastics."  Trampoline gets a pass, though, since while it is certainly dumb, it became an Olympic sport when I was in high school and part of the American team came to do an anti-drug seminar which, while it kept roughly zero people off drugs, was kinda awesome.  Softball got dropped because baseball got dropped.  Baseball got dropped because the MLB won't allow people to play.  They've all but said that if that changes, they get back in.

  7. I'm still going with Olympic race-walking. I've got a video I'm saving for the right day. Withhold judgment until then.  Even compared to synchronized diving.

  8. Marsha8:17 PM

    Don't you be dissing race walking.

  9. Joseph J. Finn9:08 PM

    I've been having a fun discussion on Facebook about which Olympic sports aren't really sports (mostly based on whether or not there is objective scoring) and all diving gets cut under my standard.  Basically, if the scoring involves subjective judging of the scores by a judge, you're out.

  10. Joseph J. Finn9:08 PM

    I think it's hard to poll that many sheep at once.

  11. Duvall9:28 PM

    You can be the one to tell the boxers.

  12. pfrduke9:44 PM

    Grantland on rhythmic gymnastics.  No comment as to whether it makes it more of a sport, but the body flexibility and the coordination on some of the toss/catch tricks in the video is impressive.  Sort of like a training ground for Cirque du Soleil performers.

  13. Joseph J. Finn10:11 PM

    Sure.  They're not objectively scored so they're out.  You too, wrestlers, gymnasts, trampoliners, figure skaters and any activity with "dance" in the name.

  14. Jordan10:33 PM

    Race-walking is a thing?  That sounds pretty terrible, bu at least it's, you know, a race.

  15. Fred App5:53 AM

    I was sitting in a bar in London the other night watching darts. Not watching some people in the bar play darts, mind you. But watching darts on TV. Apparently, and against all conventional intuition, darts is a spectator sport -- complete with an arena packed with fans, some holding signs, and breathless announcers shouting things like, "Oh, he hit a triple-20. What an amazing streak for The Rocket!"

    All of which made me think that darts ought to be an Olympic sport. Can't be any less interesting than race-walking or "ribbon" gymnastics.

    And I'll try to say this in a way that does not violate your no-politics rule: Despite his alleged Anglo-Saxon affinity, Mitt Romney has done a pretty good job of uniting the UK against him. People who up until yesterday had no interest in the U.S. presidential race still have no interest in the race, except to fervently hope that Mitt loses. MY favorite slapdown was David Cameron, in one sentence, both defending the UK Olympics and sneereing at Utah. But Boris Johnson's rant was pretty entertaining, too.

  16. slowlylu6:12 AM

    As a former horse rider I appreciate Dressage.Imagine the athletic prowess required to move around a 2 tonne sentient being whilst performing set controlled moves.
    Also it is one of the only Olympic sports (Show Jumping and Eventing) where men and women compete against each other. In my mind that earns its right for Olympic inclusion.

  17. The Pathetic Earthling7:07 AM

    That pretty much violates The Rule.  If you need throat clearing to explain why it might not violate The Rule, it probably violates The Rule.

  18. The Pathetic Earthling7:09 AM

    If you need throat-clearing to explain why something doesn't violate The Rule, it almost certainly -- as here -- violates The Rule.

  19. The Pathetic Earthling7:23 AM

    I've now spent three minutes trying to write a short, pithy sentence about why this violates the Rule in a way that is both diplomatic and witty.  I'll stop before I violate the Rule myself.  But I'll leave it at this: if you need to state that you don't intend to violate the Rule with what you are about to say, you are almost certainly about to violate the Rule or, as here, violate it in four consecutive sentences.

  20. However well-intentioned, that totally violated the Rule.  We're not discussing the 2012 presidential campaign on this blog.

  21. Joseph J. Finn8:54 AM

    Horse is doing the actual work, so that's out by my definition (also applies to auto racing).

  22. Joseph J. Finn8:56 AM

    A couple of years ago when ESPN had their big anniversary, they ran a special that had some great video of the early years of the channel when they had pretty much nothing to air.  So, of course, at one point you had Chris Berman broadcasting (on site!) the darts championships in Britain, which was just delightful.

    (Also, Martin Amis' novel "London Fields" has as one of it's plot threads a darts championship where I know he's not exaggerating just how important one of those things can be to people who care about them.)

  23. carried9:02 AM

    The darts thing makes me think of That Mitchell and Webb Look's recurring bit about the snooker players.  What is it about Britain and televised non-sport sports (though I suppose we do that with bowling, so who am I to speak)?

  24. Fred App9:22 AM

    Sorrry about that. I knew I was walking a very thin line, and was trying to discuss neither the presidential election nor my feelings about who is the better candidate, but more about how British pride in holding these Olympics manifested itself in a pretty overwhelming, angry and widespread reaction.

    So my apologies for winding up on the wrong side of that thin line, and my promise to not even get close to that line in future posts.

  25. Eric J.10:18 AM

    I bet you'll find some Scotsmen who are willing to try.

    Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.

  26. isaac_spaceman11:02 AM

    I will cede the sport/not-a-sport argument to people younger than me, since it's something I got tremendously invested in 15 or 20 years ago and am now embarrassed to have cared about.  I will note, just as a bystander this time, that there are obvious differences between pure art that merely requires a great degree of athleticism (e.g., dance), predominantly athletic pursuits that are judged subjectively on a combination of athletic performance and artistic merit (with ice skating favoring the artistic side and gymnastics favoring the athletic side), and pure athletic contests that are scored based upon subjective, but non-artistic, criteria (wrestling; boxing). 

    Most of the not-a-sport people seem to be of the opinion that the use of artistic merit as a judging criterion disqualifies an activity from sporthood, though some (like JJF above) go so far as to include mere subjective scoring as a disqualifier.  (These people are higher-faster-stronger purists.)  The key distinction there is that the HFS purists object to subjective scoring, not subjective judging.  Almost every sport contains some degree of subjective judging, from sports like basketball and soccer and all major team sports, where referees have a great degree of subjective discretion in enforcing a mind-boggling array of rules, to sports like track, where officials are limited to things like punishing runner interference (not sure if the rise of motion sensors has taken foot faults and false starts away from the officials). 

    With motion detectors and touch sensors, it's probably possible to have a discretion-free swimming competition, though you'd still need someone to keep an eye on the lane markers.  I believe that fencing pretty much runs itself now too.  Other than that, I can't think of an Olympic sport that doesn't require the use of an official who may be called upon to make subjective judgments. 

    That's a straw man, of course -- nobody seems to be arguing that the use of subjective judgment (as opposed to subjective scoring) disproves sporthood.  Just thought it was interesting to follow the argument out in that direction. 

  27. isaac_spaceman11:16 AM

    While we're on the topic of darts, and I'll try to phrase this in a way that doesn't violate The Rule, but I [DELETED BY ADAM] the rolling hills of [DELETED BY ADAM] gloriously, improbably covered in sweat, but it wasn't my sweat, it was [DELETED BY ADAM] only made me want the Nutella more, so we [DELETED BY ADAM] kind of scabrous, looked quite itchy, in fact, because [DELETED BY ADAM] "because I am a lesbian" [DELETED BY ADAM] need to find the famous art historian, Santorino Nakasone [DELETED BY ADAM] the whole god-damned Vegemite sandwich.  And that, my friends, is why you should always keep one eye on the triple-seventeen. 

  28. isaac_spaceman11:17 AM


  29. isaac_spaceman11:18 AM


  30. ALOTT5MA Style Guide follows Olympic format and prefers "Bobsleigh".

    Also, what of the crew events?

  31. Benner4:08 PM

    The only reason the horse is dancing is because there is a rider on top of it, coordinating its moves in a mythical, spiritual connection.  Otherwise, the horse will spend its time swatting flies and pooping.  

    You also need pretty strong legs and core to ride.  

  32. Squid5:06 PM

    "<span>I believe that fencing pretty much runs itself now too."</span>

    Epee, perhaps, but foil continues to have a mind-bogglingly incomprehensible set of right-of-way rules that I didn't fully understand even when I was fencing in college (I fulfilled my phys ed requirements with the Robin Hood template of archery and fencing).

  33. bill.6:39 PM

    I agree with Joseph. J. Finn. Anything that involves style points is not a sport. Boxers can stay if they fight bare-fisted until one either taps out or is knocked out.

    No judges, just harder, faster, stronger, longer.

  34. The Pathetic Earthling8:25 PM

    Just one other note on the Rule (and this is manifestly not directed at Fred, but stated as a general matter).  The Rule is less about the political statement itself.  Most violations of the Rule are not in the statement itself, that a given statement might precipitate rebuttal from an equally well meaning person.  It is unfair to the commentariat here that they should be asked to not make a political statement when some other person has.  

  35. The Pathetic Earthling8:27 PM

    <span>Just one other note on the Rule (and this is manifestly not directed at Fred, but stated as a general matter).  The Rule is less about the political statement itself.  Most violations of the Rule are not in the statement itself, but in that a given statement might precipitate rebuttal from an equally well meaning person.  It is unfair to the commentariat here that they should be asked to not make a political statement when some other person has.  </span>