Silencing The Redundant

I think I only follow one footballer on Twitter and he is an ex-Celtic player so this isn’t anything that is likely to affect me too much but I am always uneasy about headlines like this…

Premier League issues social networking guidance for players

The Premier League has drawn up guidelines for players about how to use social media. 

They offer advice on the endorsement of brands, goods and services and also warn players not to reveal confidential information about team matters.

I don’t like things like this because even though they say “guidelines” and not “rules” or “laws”, it still seems that people are being told what they can and cannot say. Transgressors of the guidelines are likely to be punished.

Although I personally might not want to follow too many players (though I do follow a lot of fan media) that is beside the point.  These guidelines are still a little whittling away of free speech at the margins, and the fact it is done so publicly normalises the little loss too.

I am sure there have been “guidelines” given to olympic athletes about what they can and cannot say as well.

Wilful Ignorance or Unskilful Inference?

In an article about Welsh footballing greats, the BBC’s Kevin Leonard either doesn’t know, or clumsily tries to gloss over something.

When Team GB kicks off its Olympic men’s football campaign against Senegal on Thursday, it will feature five Welsh players, including captain Ryan Giggs, in a squad of 18.

It would have been six – but for one of Europe’s biggest football talents, Gareth Bale, aggravating a back injury.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have none.

The article at no point mentions that the associations of Scotland and Northern Ireland chose not to compete as part of Team GB (sic). Originally Wales also decided not to compete.
As the story progressed it was decided that there was no legal way of stopping players from the various home nations from playing if they so wanted. That said however, players were strongly discouraged by their associations from taking part.

I strongly suspect that even if not for football reasons, if the chance had been there then political pressure would have been put on the team manager to pick a Scot for purely political reasons, particularly with everything else that is going on at the moment.

The point, which the article misses out, either wilfully or through negligence, is that the opportunity probably wasn’t there due to the pressures applied elsewhere, for good or bad.

I’m going with good.

You Can Hear That Special Olympic Spirit

Oh the camaraderie, the flag-waving and all that special olympic spirit is starting to build up.

The BBC, who will of course be the preferred jingoistic broadcaster for the event, had this to say

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed a sonic device will be deployed in London during the Olympics.

The American-made Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) can be used to send verbal warnings over a long distance or emit a beam of pain-inducing tones.

The equipment was spotted fixed to a landing craft on the Thames at Westminster this week.


Royal Marines operating in patrol craft from HMS Ocean are also heavily armed with conventional firearms.

In an article that contains no criticism of the measure or dissenting voices whatsoever, the BBC goes on to do its bit for US arms sales too…

The piercing beam of sound emitted by the device is highly directional. Some versions of the LRAD are capable of producing deafening sound levels of 150 decibels at one metre.

But the device, which was used this week during Exercise Olympic Guardian, can also be used to broadcast verbal warnings, such as ordering crowds to disperse.

LRAD Corporation has previously sold the device to the US Army, which deployed them in Iraq for crowd control.

They have also been bought by the US Navy and Air Force as well as a number of police forces worldwide.

It gets worse if you read the article.



Not Exactly in the Spirit of the Thing

The term the ‘olympic spirit’ is somewhat misunderstood if you consider that in the ancient olympics, if you knew your opponent was better than you, it was quite the done thing to nip into his tent and night and snip is hamstrings thus clearing the way for your victory.

However, if you take it in its modern sense of meaning helping and improving humanity (in somewhat limited areas I grant you), fair play, trying to be the best and all the other sporting metaphors that shouldn’t always be used as a guide in other areas of life but far too often are, then something else that seems against the spirit of the thing is that  the word olympics is a registered trademark.

This isn’ t new however.

The United States Olympic Committee and Trademark Infringement forbids the use of ...

The words Olympic, Olympiad, Citius Altius Fortius, or any combination or simulation thereof tending to cause confusion, to cause mistake, to deceive, or to falsely suggest a connection with the corporation of any Olympic activity.

The London 2012 people have done the same thing. At a basic level this means that they could do you if, for example, you wanted to have a competition in your school (or technically even your back garden) called The ********* Secondary School Olympics as this might cause confusion with the real thing.

It’s an indicator that these major sports, although we may or may not find them, or bits of them, enthralling, are definitely not of the people in the way that they are often portrayed.

Every time one of them comes round in any country troublemakers are rounded-up beforehand and people are evicted from  their homes to make way for the tournament infrastructure. In the run-up to the China olympics there was much of this kind of thing in the media but for the London Olympics it has been there, but much less prominantly so.

Also, most of the money these tournaments escapes without doing any real good.

FIFA have been getting a bit of a going over in the media of late, the IOC could be doing with one too.

Hoping for a Tommie Smith Moment

When it comes to sport we are all familiar with the concept of the vast majority of Scots not supporting England in major tournaments.

Furthermore, we are also familiar with the complaint that when it is a UK team, a Scottish winner is described as “British” and a Scottish loser is described as “Scottish”.

But I will go you one further.

I don’t support the UK in any of these competitions either. I don’t like it when the olympics etc come round and a Scot wins or does well and is then seen parading around with the union jack. So in these tournaments I support no one. Not even the Scots in the UK team because if they do well then the victory parade with the Union Jack is on the way.

So when the olympics are on and the media are frenziedly trying to turn a London party into a UK party (does that last line make anyone think of something else too?), I’ll be waiting for a Tommie Smith moment.


A Tommie MacSmith moment would of course be nice but some displays of social conscience by any of the athletes would be good. I know they are told not to but I think the point is that you do it even though they don’t want you too.


I feel a series coming on and this is the first instalment.

Yes, it is “Great Missing the Point Moments in History”. Some of these may be someone wilfully missing the point (you can expect Bishop Wilberforce to make an appearance) or it may just be stupidity (you can expect Bush to appear too). Some will be serious and some just stupid.

Anyway, let’s have an easy one to start with…


I think he has called this just about right. I mentioned a few of these things in previous posts but he has put it together well here…


Not since Marco Polo has anyone traveled so far up China’s Silk Road with such amoral élan. But there was Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, knight of the court of King Leopold’s Belgium, three-time Olympian in the grand sport of yachting – standing astride Beijing at the close of the 2008 Olympic games. In front of a stunning 90,000 at the Games’ closing ceremony, he said, “Tonight, we come to the end of sixteen glorious days which we will cherish forever. Through these games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.”

But what did the world really learn? From NBC’s ratings-rich coverage alone, not all that much. We learned that China is remarkably beautiful, Michael Phelps can really swim and Usain Bolt is truly quite fast. Oh, and there are pandas there. some of whom died in the Sichuan earthquake. We can’t forget about the pandas.

As the Washington Post’s veteran columnist Thomas Boswell wrote in his last missive from Beijing:

“In all my decades at The Post, this is the first event I’ve covered at which I was certain that the main point of the exercise was to co-opt the Western media, including NBC, with a splendidly pretty, sparsely attended, completely controlled sports event inside a quasi-military compound. We had little alternative but to be a conduit for happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda. I suspect it worked.”

I applaud Boswell for his honesty, but it is hard to not have contempt for the aside that “we had little alternative” but to dance the infomercial shuffle.

Boswell and the press made a choice the moment they stepped on China’s soil.

They chose not to seek out the near two million people evicted from their homes to make way for Olympic facilities.

They chose not to report on the Chinese citizens who tried to register to enter the cordoned off “protest zones” only to find themselves in police custody. (A shout out here to all who will find themselves shortly in similar “protest zones” in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul.)

They chose not to report on the Tibetan citizens removed from their service jobs by state law for the duration of the games.

They chose not to ask what $42 billion, the price tag of the games, could have meant to earthquake ravaged Sichuan.

They chose to not point out the bizarre hypocrisy of seeing Michael Phelps–with full media fanfare–taking a group of Chinese children to their first meal at McDonalds. (Even though Phelps famously eats 12,000 calories a day during training, I can’t imagine much of it comes from Mickey D’s.)

They chose not to report on the foreign nationals who as of this writing, are still being held in Chinese prisons for daring to protest. (According to the Associated Press, the US Embassy pleaded with China to free protesters, gently suggested, that China could stand to show “greater tolerance and openness.”)

They chose not to ask why George W. Bush was the first US president to attend the Olympics on foreign soil, and why the State Department last April took China off its list of nations that commit human rights violations.

They chose not to ask whether it was a conflict of interest for General Electric to both own NBC and be one of the primary sponsors of the games as well as the supplier of much of the games’ electronic security apparatus, including 300,000 close circuit cameras. All indications are that these cameras will most likely remain in place once the world has turned its attention elsewhere.

They chose not to ask and re-ask the question of why the games were in Beijing in the first place, considering that Rogge and Beijing organizing committee head Liu Qi both promised that the Olympics would come alongside significant improvements in human rights.

As Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said:

“The reality is that the Chinese government’s hosting of the games has been a catalyst for abuses, leading to massive forced evictions, a surge in the arrest, detention and harassment of critics, repeated violations of media freedom, and increased political repression. Not a single world leader who attended the games or members of the IOC seized the opportunity to challenge the Chinese government’s behavior in any meaningful way.”

The legacy of these games will be in no short order: China’s dominance, in winning more gold medals than the US; the aquatic dominance of Phelps; and the blistering triumph of Bolt and the Jamaican sprinters. But we should also remember the ravaging of a country, sacrificed at the altar of commercialism and “market penetration.” And we should recall a mainstream press, derelict in its duty, telling us they had “little alternative” but to turn this shandeh into a globalization infomercial.

Liu Qi called the Olympics “a grand celebration of sport, of peace and friendship.” Not quite. Instead it was a powerful demonstration of the way the elephants of the east and west can link trunks and happily trample the suffering grass.
England, you’re next. And you thought the blitzkrieg was rough.

First published at thenation.com

[Dave Zirin is the author of  the forthcoming “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]