August 28, 2016 12:05:14 am
As India celebrates its women, who salvaged some pride in another dismal Olympic performance, trolls British television personality Piers Morgan for questioning the revelry surrounding their welcome, and berates its officials for another poor outing at the “greatest show on earth,” there has been similar stock-taking around the world, now that the curtains have fallen on the Rio edition of the games.
First off, the muted ones appear to be the Americans, who’ve had an extraordinary Games even by their standards. Team USA netted its best haul — 121 medals — in a summer games free of boycotts, but the post-Games narrative has been hijacked by the Lochte affair, with the swimmer’s Rio robbery recital, that he and three teammates were forced out of a taxi and robbed at gun-point by thieves pretending to be police, unravelling over the week. The 12-time medal winner has lost four major sponsors, been pilloried by the American media, and even had the ignominy of witnessing the parody of an interview, where he expressed remorse, going viral. As The Charlotte Observer succinctly put it, the lasting legacies of the Rio games, as far as Team USA is concerned, will be “gold medals and a gas station”.
The real story of Rio, however, is across the pond in Great Britain, which finished second in the medal table — its best performance since topping the list as hosts in 1908. Brexiters have already begun hailing the success as validation that the country can survive outside the EU, while Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged unlimited knighthoods to medallists and coaches. The team was also flown back in a gold-painted airplane with “victoRIOus” on the side, and even a baggage screw-up of Olympic proportions — where the athletes learnt the pitfall of having the same red-colour bags — couldn’t dampen celebrations. Much of the focus — both in the national and international press — has, however, been on the £350m UK Sport has spent on the Olympic and Paralympic Games since London 2012. In effect, as per the British press, each medal at Rio cost the country £5.5m. But you can’t argue with the dramatic turn in fortunes for a country that finishe£5m per year before the ’96 Games. By London 2012 it was spending £264m, and Team GB came third in the medal table, with 65 medals.
Not everyone in the country, however, is happy with the spending. And the kill-joy of the season has to be The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. In an opinion piece titled ‘This Olympics hysteria shows that Britain has turned Soviet,’ Jenkins says the British have gone from ridiculing Communists, “for using sport as a proxy for economic success”, to copying them. “Who needs to cheat with drugs when medals go to money? Perhaps the best answer is for countries that have no money to be allowed drugs, to level the playing field. They are cheaper,” he says.
Despite the best English cynicism, Great Britain’s metal upheaval appears to have got China’s goat. Xinhua, the Communist mouthpiece, expressed its indignation, at trailing UK in the medal table, even before the Games had ended. Taking to its official Twitter account, Xinhua said: “No gold for #CHN gymnasts, #TeamChina have suffered the worst Olympic flop at #Rio2016.” The post was accompanied by a photograph of Chinese gymnast You Hau grimacing after falling during the men’s parallel bars final. The tweet had followed an earlier one (since deleted), which said: “You’re kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to.” It was accompanied by a photo of the medals tally, which showed China behind Great Britain.
After its initial annoyance, Xinhua though changed tack after the Games, emphasising that winning isn’t as important and stating that the Rio Games were a success as the country’s athletes showed what they had always been accused of lacking — emotion. In an editorial titled ‘Rio Olympics: How China charmed the world,’ the media organisation picked diver Qin Kai proposing to fellow Chinese diver as “one of the most moving moments of the Rio Olympics.” “The moment was emblematic of a new China that emerged during these Games; a China that has laid bare its emotions while placing greater emphasis on human spirit, respect and friendship than simply winning titles,” it said.
Away from the disappointment, real and perceived, one of the most heart-warming tales of these Games was provided by Fiji, which won its first ever medal — a gold, no less — in Rio. And the country’s rugby sevens team won it in style, demolishing Great Britain 43-7 in a one-sided final.
The man behind the medal, English coach Ben Ryan, and his players, were awarded the Order of Fiji, the highest honorary title in the island nation. And the Olympic journey is a fitting result for a country of 9 lakh people, where the sevens version of the game is what cricket is to India. “As the final whistle sounded to mark the end of the game, people took to the streets of Suva with the Fiji flag, dancing and running from one end to the other..,” The Fiji Times reported.
And it’s the controversial flag, which incorporates the British Union Jack, that has got some respite due to the win. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama soon scrapped plans to change the national flag in the wake of the medal. The island-nation also declared August 22 as a national holiday to mark the win.
Amidst all the celebrations, The Fiji Times had a sobering message for its countrymen — one that we here in India would do well to heed. “Surely now is the time to motivate our athletes to start preparations for the next Olympic Games in Japan,” it said in an editorial, before adding, “The hard work actually starts now… There should be no excuses. The national sevens team has proven that we can still train right here in Fiji and hit the top of the world in sports. As the premier sporting event on the planet finally comes to an end in Rio de Janeiro, we hope the many lessons learnt in the lead-up to the event, and at the event, will be the catalyst for our nation to stand up and be counted in Japan. Go Fiji, go!” Go, indeed!
Curated by Arun Prashanth Subramanian