By Msmaku Asrat
The idea of Olympics was inspired by a Greek soldier PHEIDIPPIDES who, according to legend, run to Athens in 490 B.C. to deliver news of the Greek victory over Persians at the battle of Marathon. When the Olympic Games were established, the Marathon became the first event held at the culmination of the games. The standard race length of 26 miles and 386 yards was established at the London games of 1908. The first modern Olympics started in 1896 held in Greece from April 6-15. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also established the same year Only amateur athletes were allowed to participate. During this first Olympics, only 14 countries participated all from Europe and including US.
The ancient Greek Olympic Games were conducted between the five city states of Greece (Sparta, Athens, Corinth, Argos and Magana) The games were held in honor of Zeus, king of the gods, and was staged every four years at a place called Olympia. There were six major events: a) boxing; b) equestrian (chariot racing and riding); c) pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling); d) panthelton (a combination of 5 events by each individual (i.e. discus, javelin, jumping running and wrestling); e) running and finally f) wrestling.
Every country or territory which participated in the Olympic Games has to establish its own National Olympic committee. In this 2012 Olympics all but three of 196 independent countries of the world participated -a total of 193 countries. The 3 independent countries not participating were: South Sudan, Kosovo and the Vatican. There were also additional 11 territories who are members of IOC and participate in the Olympic Games. These are: American Samoa, Aruba, Bermuda (UK), British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands (UK), Cook Islands (New Zealand), Guam (US), Hong Kong (China), Palestine, Puerto Rico (US), and Us virgin Islands (the NOC of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in 2010.) So the total that participated this year is 204 countries and territories. Surprisingly IOC has more members than the General Assembly of the United Nations. The President of the IOC is also infinitely more powerful than the Secretary General of the United Nations. Since 1915 the Headquarters of the IOC is in the quaint town of Lausanne, Switzerland, located on the shores of Lake Geneva. The IOC, on the occasion of its 100th birthday, officially named Lausanne the Olympic Capital. The technocrats of the IOC are the most travelled in the world as they have to attend to every aspect of Olympic sports – a 300 event competition at every Olympics- each with its own rules and regulations and see all aspects of preparations leading to the games – a huge undertaking managed with a huge staff (our own Fikru Kidane worked there and has recounted his travels in his book የ ፒያሳ ልጅ (a son of Piazza.) Thousands have to be trained to monitor and supervise every event and ever stricter and more scientific anti-doping tests had to be made on every athlete before and after each game. Then there is the ever increasing investigation of corruption.
The “Winter Olympics” is the creation of Northern Hemisphere European countries and was started in 1924. Since 1986 the IOC has decided to hold separate winter and summer Olympics on separate four year cycles and two years apart. 12 countries of Europe, US and Canada have always attended the Winter Olympics. In 2002 in Salt Lake City for example 77 nations attended in 78 separate events but in 7 types of winter sports.
Ethiopia began participating in the Olympics in 1956, in Melbourne, Australia with a 12-man team. We were in two events – marathon and cycling. We had 2 for the marathon (Besa Feleke and Gebre Birkey) Ethiopia’s rank for the marathon event was 29th. We have ten members in the cycling team. In the individual cycling competition, Geremew Demboba took the 25th place. Ethiopia won the Marathon four years later in Rome and Abebe Bikila put Ethiopia on the Olympics map. Nonetheless, Ethiopia has a checkered past in the Olympics boycotting it THREE times with an enormous toll to many of our athletes, most notably Mirus Yifter,
a) The first boycott was in 1976, Montreal, Canada after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand, whose rugby team has toured Apartheid South Africa earlier the same year. It was a hasty decision on Ethiopia’s part when one minister went into the air and announced that he has already instructed the Ethiopian team, which was already in Montreal, to take the next plane back home. A huge disappointment to the sporting world in Ethiopia who were not sure if the Ethiopian Government has really made a decision. Ethiopia was held in high esteem at this time in African countries especially with regard to its tenacious fight against Apartheid. So one decision followed another in quick succession and 26 African countries (as well as Guyana and Iraq) boycotted the Montreal Olympics. b) The second one was in 1984 (two Olympics later) when Ethiopia was ruled by the brutal Derg and following the USSR, boycotted the Olympic Games of Los Angeles, USA. We may recall that USA has earlier boycotted the Moscow Olympics of 1980 and the USSR did the same in retaliation four years later. c) Ethiopia also boycotted the next Olympics of 1988, of Seoul, South Korea, because of the Derg’s close relations with North Korea. Only three countries (North Korea, Ethiopia and Cuba) boycotted the Seoul Games.
The hapless Miruts Yifter got Bronze for the 10,000 meters at the Munich, Germany Olympics in 1972. His inept coach took him to another stadium and he missed the 5,000 meters where he was expected to get Gold. Four years later Ethiopia boycotted the Olympics. In 1980 (Moscow) he got two gold medals. In 1984 Ethiopia missed the Olympics yet again. After that of course Miruts has passed his prime and was out.
Since 1960 Ethiopia has earned 38 medals 18 of them gold. In this 2012 Olympics Ethiopia won 7 medals (3 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze.) All the three gold medals were won by women. It should be remembered that women were for the first time included in the marathon in 1984, and on the third Olympics after that, in 1994, Ethiopia’s Fatuma Roba won gold in Atlanta, USA. At this London, UK Olympics 79 countries have won medals. Ethiopia’s Rank is 25th – in reality the highest rank from African countries (even though, S. Africa which includes white athletes, was 24th) Kenya was 28th. Compare this to Rank no.1, USA which had 104 medals. All the top 20 countries are from developed countries (with the exception of Jamaica which came 18th.) It has increasingly become obvious that the Olympics is a game of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The role of the poorer countries has diminished year by year and will increasingly become irrelevant until they will be pushed out of the Games by sheer lack of resources, They may continue in the long distances of track and field (like the Marathon which was won by Uganda this year.) Short distance needs a lot of input which only rich countries can afford. Swimming, rowing, equestrian and similar events are not for the poor. “Winter Olympics” of course is not for them. This year the host country England showed enormous prowess England excelled particularly in the “sitting games” (rowing, cycling, horse riding)
The noble athletes from the poor country Ethiopia are struggling against all odds with only their perseverance, their superhuman effort, and memories of their compatriots past glories as their guide – or rely on their enormous faith, as emotionally exhibited by Messeret Defar at the moment of victory. It is widely rumored that the tribalist TPLF wanted to purge all Amaras and recruit Tigreans instead. Since they are motivated by visceral hatred of the Amara it will not be difficult to believe this. Whatever the Weyane feels or believes or legislates the goal-post of the Olympics has already moved away from poorer countries. The next Olympics is in Brazil four years hence and it may be the last hurrah of the under privileged.
The 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Jenero, Brazil is already in full swing. Brazil has the largest black population outside Africa. It has more black people than the US and yet nobody knows a black Brazilian except the legendary footballer PELE. We do not see black Brazilians because they are so poor that they are unable to travel outside their county. And yet Black Brazilian had an endearing legacy for Ethiopians. When the Great Emperor Menelik defeated Italy at the Battle of Adwa, the one and only black newspaper in Brazil promptly changed its name to MENELIK! This is recorded in history – all vermin who hate Menelik eat your hearts out. Menelik figures larger than life and the little ferret minds of his detractors could not encompass it. The world far beyond them recognizes Menelik as the embodiment of BLACK PRIDE. Brazilian music (rumba, samba, salsa etc) is authentically black- so is the Black American music of Jazz, soul, blues etc. which gives color, meaning and pizzazz to the American way of life. It is hard to imagine America without its vibrant black population. We, the black people of the world living in the US, should be eternally grateful for Black Americans because it is their struggles which allowed us to come here. It is my hope and prayer that Brazil may take the Olympic opportunity to lift its black population and allow it to emerge from the shadows. In this endeavor I hope that Brazil succeeds.
During this Olympics Egypt had over 100 athletes. Ethiopia had 35. Our richer neighbor and fierce competitor, Kenya had 85. Ethiopia participated in two events: track and field and swimming. For swimming we had one man and one woman but both did not advance (for the record we had one participant in the winter Olympics, in Turin Italy in 2006) But the Olympic spirit must be fading for many African countries since they compete in fewer events and are illuminated at the earliest stages if they venture out beyond their true and tested fields When Ethiopia first entered the Olympics she had participated in two events as well- a sad commentary on how sports has stood still in Ethiopia for the last 56 years. Another sad fact is that there were twice as many Ethiopians (compared to the Ethiopian contingent) who participated in this Olympics under different flags. We are becoming the people of the Diaspora!
Now with tribalism introduced by the primitive TPLF in the sports arena as well, they may bring down Ethiopian sport into the gutter. Ethiopia has become the poorest country in the world, whatever the Weyane say. Millions are starving and hundreds die each day in the capital city due to starvation. When the Tigreans gloat about their extraordinary “good fortune” non-Tigreans (except for a few hundred HODAMS) have become የበዪ ተመልካች (observers of the feast)
Addis Ababa where our athletes train has become the dirtiest capital city in the world. The air polluted, the roads congested and with the highest per capita car accident fatality in the world. Even the weather of famous Bekoji, home of our athletes, is said to be rapidly changing for the worse. With the disappearance of Meles maybe the Tigrean tribal era will come to an end. If he is still alive I want him to repeat and emphasize the famous phrase of Ato Temuachu a character in one of Bitweded Mekonnen Endlkachew novels አልሞትኩም ብየ አልዋሽም (I will not tell a lie and say that I am not dead)