The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: When politics and terrorism overshadow sports

Wednesday, 17 April 2024, 10:56 Last update: about 2 months ago

We are 100 days away from the Olympic Games, set to take place in Paris.

The Games bring the whole world together in what should be 16 days of competition in a myriad sports disciplines where the best athlete (often) wins.

But, over the years, the Olympic Games have unfortunately also been associated with politics. It is happening again this time too.

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Many are the events which have nothing to do which sport but which remain engraved in the history of the Olympic Games.

The way Adolf Hitler, for example, snubbed American athlete Jesse Owens who had won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, was a prelude to what was to come in the Second World War.

In 1968, two American sprinters raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem in a gesture of protest against racism.

Then, four years later in Munich, a terrorist attack on the Israeli contingent ended with 17 people being killed – six Israeli coaches, five Israeli athletes, one office and five of the members of the Palestinian militant group.

The Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union then led to boycotts from one end of the Moscow Games in 1980 and from the other end of the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Later, in 1996, at the Atlanta Games, a bomb killed one person and injured 111.

There were many other instances in which some countries boycotted the Games for their own particular political reasons.

This year, the Games in Paris will be held at a time when two wars are raging not too far away from France. What is happening in Ukraine and the Middle East will certainly affect the spirit of the Games, and threats of terrorism attacks will also have their impact.

Last Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the opening ceremony of the Games might have to be shifted from the planned stage on the River Seine to the more contained Stade de France if the security threat is deemed to be high.

France is currently on high security alert as it finalises preparations for the event, which will see the participation of more than 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries, and which will naturally attract millions of visitors to the country.

The opening ceremony is planned to have boats carrying athletes along the River Seine on a six-kilometre parade with huge crowds watching from the embankments. But if the risks are deemed to be high, there are plans to transfer the ceremony to the main stadium in the French capital, where the crowds can be controlled with less difficulty.

The ceremony was originally planned to cater for 600,000 spectators, but the ambitions were progressively scaled back to half that number. Still, the area that would need to be protected is much larger than the more contained stadium, and the plans could change between today and the day of the ceremony, 26 July.

Before that day, another event, the Euro 2024 championships, to be held in Germany, will be held and, even here, the organisers have to contend with security issues. As a pre-emptive measure, border controls will be introduced temporarily to reduce risks.

It is always a pity that sport events of such magnitude are overshadowed by politics and terrorist threats. It is hoped that what we will talk about will be only about some sporting feat and exciting games, and nothing else.

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