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Olympics2012The IOC should ditch the sideshows

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 | 04:42 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka competes in the men's single sculls repechages of the rowing event during the London 2012 Olympic Games.  He is Niger's first-ever Olympic rower and is a former swimmer who only took up the sport three months ago. He finished Saturday's 2,000 metres single scull heat more than a minute behind his nearest rival -- a huge margin in rowing terms -- in a time of 8 min 25.56 sec. And he fared even worse in Sunday's second-chance repechage, finishing in 8:39.66 -- but earning huge cheers from the 23,000-strong crowd for his efforts. (Damien Meyer/AFP/GettyImages) Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka competes in the men's single sculls repechages of the rowing event during the London 2012 Olympic Games. He is Niger's first-ever Olympic rower and is a former swimmer who only took up the sport three months ago. He finished Saturday's 2,000 metres single scull heat more than a minute behind his nearest rival -- a huge margin in rowing terms -- in a time of 8 min 25.56 sec. And he fared even worse in Sunday's second-chance repechage, finishing in 8:39.66 -- but earning huge cheers from the 23,000-strong crowd for his efforts. (Damien Meyer/AFP/GettyImages)

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Here's a suggestion for the next time the International Olympic Committee decides to allow someone into the Olympics as a show of how far we've come and to set the groundwork for yet another member to the exclusive club: Don't. It's embarrassing.

Here's a suggestion for the next time the International Olympic Committee decides to allow someone into the Olympics as a show of how far we've come and to set the groundwork for yet another member to the exclusive club: Don't. It's embarrassing.

With all respect to Hamadou Djibo Issaka's courage and fortitude, allowing the sculler from Niger to compete with just three months in a boat is not the way to promote bringing new countries and athletes into the Games.

As a matter of fact, it smacks of IOC smugness. Look at the wonderful way we're helping underdeveloped countries. What a fine bunch of cultured folks we are.

And attempts inevitably backfire. In Britain, some in the media are calling Issaka the Sculling Sloth (slothful: Disinclined to work. Lazy). That's an insult to a guy who is apparently a fairly good competitive swimmer.

So, why isn't he swimming?

Answer. They've already done the "Guy who just started swimming a few months ago in a hotel pool, I wonder if he'll drown?" routine, and they needed something new. And besides, it's no good if he can actually, you know, do the sport.

You might remember Eric "The Eel" Moussambani Malonga, who swam for Equatorial Guinea in 2000 where his time for the 100 metres was slower than anyone's mark for the 200. Much hilarity ensued.

Yes, he has become that country's national swim coach, but that could, it says here, have been promoted by the IOC without the sideshow. A little money here, a little coaching clinic help, there, and voila.

Visa mix-up

Bet you didn't know Eric had his time down to just 10 seconds slower than world standard four years after his first appearance? He couldn't get in to Greece because of a visa mix-up. That would have been the time to introduce him.

There have been people in the Olympics who had no business being there going back to the beginning in 1896, of course. But it really came to the media fore with Michael "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards, who in 1988 stepped into the gate at the top of the ski jump wearing coke bottle-bottom glasses.

Finished last.

Great fun, and all, but what most didn't realize about Edwards (and TV didn't want to point out because it would wreck the tale) was he was a solid athlete who had just missed the 1984 British team as a downhill skier.

And Eddie milked the whole routine right onto The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, among hundreds of other things.

Then there was the Jamaican bobsled team. Cool Runnings. How cool was that? Let's make a movie.

Those men were also all excellent athletes back home with a strong background.

Now, we have more modern versions that are different, because they haven't put the time in.

Media being played

They are made-for-television additions that take advantage of our pre-conceived notions about who should be doing what. The media is allowing itself to be played by an IOC determined to control what constitutes a "feel good" story in the Games.

They know the media loves the dog and pony show, so they throw the dog a bone.

You want a real Olympic story that shows what you can do when the dream takes over?

I give you Benjamin Boukpeti, who was born in France but chose to represent his father's country of Togo in K1 white water. In 2008 he won Togo's first Olympic medal, a bronze. He's now in his third Games.

Wonder how that's affected interest in canoeing and kayaking in Togo?

I offer Segun Toriola, a table tennis player from Nigeria who is in his sixth Olympics and four years ago made it to the quarter-finals in men's play. Think about that - the final eight in a sport dominated by players from the Asian continent.

Wonder how that's affected interest in Nigeria? Can we have a few minutes of media on that?

You don't have to look hard for real stories of countries that might surprise a bit, or are still developing their programs. They are already there in London.

Just don't give us sideshows.

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