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Monday, January 24, 2022

Sports: Peace?

Sporting the diplomacy


How a flag mistake at the Olympics was played down – evidence of IOC's deliberate ignorance of global issues
SRAY AGARWAL | Issue Dated: September 2, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : International Olympic Committee | WRONG SOUTH KOREAN FLAG | LONDON OLYMPICS |

Historically, sports events, akin to wars, have extensively been used to settle scores between nations and to showcase one's supremacy and power. Sportsmen and armymen are considered the flag bearers of national prowess. But with time, fortunately, sports events are gradually morphing into antidotes for such historical rivalries and are being organised with objectives of bringing nations closer and providing them opportunities to reconciliate and reunite.

However, some of the times, in attempts at making the sports event larger than life, the very essence of global camaraderie is blatantly ignored. Amongst all sporting events organised worldwide, one that binds all alike is the Olympics overseen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Recently, in the London Olympics, during the women's soccer match between North Korea and Colombia, the organisers showed the South Korean flag, which led to an immediate disruption and discontent among players. The North Korean players decided to abandon the match and only agreed to resume the game after hours of negotiation. If one were to assume that the flag incident was simply an inadvertent happening – which it could well be – then one needs to simply imagine how Israel would feel if after their team winning an Olympic medal, a Palestinian flag were waved 'by mistake', or if a Pakistani flag were labelled as Indian in an Indian award ceremony. In other words, heads should have rolled in the Korean mistaken flag waving incident – which didn't happen – and the Olympics organising committee should have realised the impact that such a simplistic mistake can have on global relations. In the past, similar so-called "honest mistakes" by organisers have even led to conflicts between nations. In 1969, a disrupted soccer match between El Salvador and Honduras led Domino-like to bombings and even war. A badly organised soccer game (in Khartoum) between Egypt and Algeria re-ignited the friction between these nations. Nevertheless, sporting events do bring nations closer. It was all due to the 1971 ping-pong diplomacy that brought Chinese and American players together.

The FIFA World Cup, ICC World Cup and many other world championships have worked visibly towards global harmony. The IOC is not far behind. In 1999, they established the International Olympic Truce Foundation and the International Olympic Truce Centre to promote peaceful principles – using sports to establish contacts between communities in conflict and to create windows of opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation. To that extent, IOC should immediately go for a public apology in the flag incident and form panels that keep a tab on critical cultural sensitivities during events. All it takes is an apology to win a nation back.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017