Olympics makes anyone a good sport
Sport can be a great positive influence even in the most trying conditions. The spirit of camaraderie and a level playing field it ensures can even help spur change in societies.
Look at Russia. President Vladimir Putin is suddenly turning into a champion of human rights and compassion as the country gets ready to host the Winter Olympics. Kremlin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the tycoon-turned-Putin-foe after he was kept in the slammer for a decade. Human rights activists and many world leaders had raised their voice against Khodorkovsky’s detention but nothing moved the Kremlin until now.
Celebrities also joined the chorus when two Pussy Riot singers were thrown into jail over their prank concert in a church. Days after the tycoon’s release, they were also pardoned and freed. Cases against 30 crew members of a Greenpeace protest ship have also been dropped.
The recent actions of Putin are not in any way linked to sports, but it is naive to think that the winds of change that are blowing across Moscow do not come from the direction of the Olympics venue in Sochi. Who knows, despite its new anti-gay laws, we may see Putin rolling out the red carpet for Billie Jean King, an openly gay celebrity who will be a member of the US Olympic delegation to Sochi.
Though not on a similar dramatic scale, North Korea has welcomed Dennis Rodman into the country with open arms. Not many Americans are welcomed in Pyongyang, but the basketball star has wormed his way into the hearts of the people who matter there. The execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, had alarmed Washington. But none of that deterred Rodman who went ahead with his trip as he felt he had nothing to fear, relatively speaking at least.
Maybe the Olympic officials should take a cue from Rodman and Sochi and pick Pyongyang as the next Olympic venue. One thing that is going for it already are the impressive parades it puts on now and then. That should at least ensure a colourful opening ceremony.
Sports events like the Olympic Games can change things far beyond what we see. Beijing had clear blue skies over it during the entire Olympics, remember?