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February 03 2014

Will Orcas Be Put on Display at Sochi?

Orcas jumping

Two “transient” orcas near Alaska's eastern Aleutian Islands. Photo credit: Robert Pitman/NOAA (public domain)

This article and a radio report by Andrea Crossan for The World originally appeared on on January 31, 2014 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

How do you hide something that weighs as much as six tons, is 20 feet long and requires hundreds of pounds of food every day?

That's the mystery researchers and conservationists are trying to solve, as they search for eight orca whales they believe were captured in Russian waters.

Rumors surfaced that two of the whales were going to be put on display at the 2014 Winter Olympics. And that ignited a firestorm.

An online petition, widely circulating on Twitter, demanded that the Russian company White Sphere not put the orcas in a dolphinarium in Sochi. At last count, the online petition had 400,000 signatures.

There were numerous reports that the Russian company had captured the orcas in the Sea of Okhotsk and that at least some of the whales were in holding pens near Vladivostok. The Russian Fisheries Agency didn't respond to questions regarding quotas for orca captured in Russian waters.

A male orca is seen near the Commander Islands in the Russian Far East.

“We have information from within Russia that two of them were shipped to China,” said Erich Hoyt, a research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “We have confirmation that two of them have gone to Moscow. However, none of these four [other] orcas are anywhere on display.”

But there's no proof that White Sphere has the whales — or has any plans to display them at Sochi. A spokesperson said the company doesn't “deal with the capture of wild animals or the transport of them.” The spokesperson said the company was aware of the online petition and expressed concern about the uproar.

It's believed the two Russian orcas that went to China will be displayed at a new Chinese theme park called Ocean Kingdom. Ocean Kingdom features the world's biggest aquarium and advertises a massive collection of sea life, including beluga whales and whale sharks. But it doesn't advertise having orcas on display. Ocean Kingdom wouldn't comment on whether it planned to display orcas.

There has been a strong backlash to marine parks keeping orcas in captivity. It may be, in part, due to the impact of the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish,” which examines the 2010 death of an orca trainer at SeaWorld. It also highlights the methods used to capture wild orcas.

“Definitely you can see that marine parks around the world are being much more covert about what they're doing with dolphins and orcas,” said Tim Zimmermann, associate producer and co-writer of “Blackfish.” “Ten years ago, I think you would have had [marine parks] advertising and proudly saying they would be displaying killer whales. But these days, it seems like a much more covert operation. We'll only know the killer whales are there when they suddenly appear in the pools.”

Andrea Crossan is a Boston-based senior producer for The World. She follows all things Canadian and has a dog the size of a small horse.

February 02 2014

13 Olympic Memes as Sochi Games Approach

As the Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching (the opening ceremony is this coming Saturday), RuNet Echo takes a look back at some of the funnier jokes that the Russian online community made about the logo, the torch, and other Olympic accouterments during the years of preparation for the games.

1. The logo itself has been the butt of various memes, the most ubiquitous of which is its pairing with a “saw” mascot, as a play on the verb “to saw,” a Russian slang term for “embezzlement.” This is, of course, contextualized amid years of accusations of wasteful spending and embezzled funds during the construction process:

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

The friendly embezzling saw. Anonymous image distributed online.

2. A more succinct joke comes at the expense of the easily parodied font:

“A f*cking shame” reads the modified Olympic logo. Anonymous image found online.

3. Another Olympic accusation of corruption — this is one on behalf of Russia's students:

“The Olympic flame burned your stipend” reads the caption of this alternative logo. Anonymous image found online.

4. A 2010 competition to design a mascot to go with the logo, organized by Russia's Olympic committee, resulted in several meme-worthy entrants. This one utilizes the ancient RuNet “Превед медвед” (“Preved medved”) meme. (This meme was at one point so widespread, it has its own KnowYourMeme entry.)

“Preved!” says the bear. Anonymous image distributed online.

5. Bears are an easy sell for Russian-hosted Olympics — ever since the lovable 1980 mascot. This entry into the 2010 contest uses the well known “Pedobear” meme:

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

Skiing-kuma. Anonymous image distributed online.

6. Fans of Lovecraft had their own approach:

Ktulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

Cthulhu for President (of the Olympics)! Anonymous image distributed online.

7. And fans of the classic Soviet kid's cartoon “Cheburashka,” their own (albeit similar):

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

Cheburashka fhtagn! Anonymous image found online.

8. The most popular entry (although it later turned out it was part of an astroturf campaign to raise contest popularity) was the Arctic hypno-toad nicknamed Zoich, created by cartoonist Egor Zhgun.

2014 sort of looks like ZOIЧ, a mix of English and Russian characters.

9. The mascots that were eventually selected, drew accusations of plagiarism both from Russia's last Olympics:

“Plagiarism is when you take someone else's thing and make it worse.” One of new mascots side by side with the 1980 Mishka the Bear. Anonymous image found online.

10. And from foreign Olympics:

“F*cking shameful,” reads the caption. Salt Lake Olympic mascots on the right. Anonymous image found online.

11. The Sochi Olympic torch relay, plagued as it was with the flame constantly going out [Global Voices report], also became the butt of jokes. Some pointed out its similarity to a Vodka logo:

“Russian” brand vodka looks suspiciously like the Olympic torch. Anonymous image found online.

12. Others noted the similarities between this bearded relay runner holds his torch, and the way Chechen guerrillas hold their guns:

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

Olympic terrorists. Anonymous image found online.

13. Perhaps the harshest meme of them all, this Olympic Bingo sheet has been translated from the Russian original by RuNet Echo. Various versions of the meme are widespread on Russian imageboards and forums. All deal with some form of failure on the part of the Russian hosts. This, folks, is Russian fatalism at its most depressed:

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Anonymous image translated by RuNet Echo.

Russians are fond of self deprecation. Hopefully the 2014 Winter games will prove them wrong.

January 31 2014

Old Video of Official Slapping Chinese Tennis Star Li Na Goes Viral

Video of Chinese tennis star Li Na, fresh off her Australian Open win, being slapped in the face by an official during an award ceremony of the China's 2001 National Games has gone viral on the Chinese web, sparking public anger about officials’ abuse of athletes.

In the video, Li is awarded a bronze medal from Jiang Xiuyun, the head of the national tennis team, who places the medal around Li's neck, then slaps her. 

Though local media outlets quickly followed up on the story with an explanation that the “slap” was actually an intimate gesture to cheer Li up, many did not buy the story. Li does disappointed when she receives bronze on stage, but appears taken aback by the “intimate gesture”, quickly bringing her hand up to touch her slapped cheek.

According the Jiang, she split Li and her teammate up during the match, which made Li unhappy. The gesture was an attempt to rid Li of her emotion. 

The sport system, managed by the Culture, Education, Health and Sports Committee on both national and provincial levels, is notorious for their attitude towards athletes. Citing the video, a non-profit organization worker, “Cai rang duo ji”, expressed irritation on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo for the humiliating action against Li:


Why didn’t Li Na express gratitude to the motherland? The common fate of Chinese is growing up in servitude and with insults. Nobody will love the motherland enslaving and insulting him or her whether successful or not.

His tweet won many echoes in the comment section. “Longxi Yize” wrote:


This is a society which calls rape love.

Another Weibo user, Jingya, watched the video and could not believe that it was an intimate gesture:


I just watched the video. I would never believe that it was friendly encouragement. If it was an intimate gesture, you would caress the face, how could you raise your hand up high and slap it instead? The facial gestures from people next to Li Na also tell what had happened.

Netizens also took the video as an explanation of her poker face during her homecoming ceremony when she received a six-figure cash award from local officials. Li remained stone-faced throughout the event. 

Li Na left the national team in 2002 and began to play on an international level. Her triumph at the Australian Open provided Chinese authorities with a chance to show off the country's soft power. The welcoming ceremony was staged in her hometown with the presentation of 800,000 yuan (130,000 US dollars) to her as a gift from Hubei authorities.

Li Na's expression during the award presentation in the Wuhan airport was interpreted as a reject to political performance. Image uploaded by Lawyer Yuan Yulai from Weibo.

Li Na's expression during the award presentation in the Wuhan airport was interpreted as a reject to political performance. Image uploaded by Lawyer Yuan Yulai from Weibo.

Local news reports revealed that she had refused to attend any public function at first, but the authorities sent staff to Guangzhou airport and escorted her to Wuhan airport, where the ceremony took place. But when she met with her former tennis trainer from Hubei and received the prize from the provincial leader, she did not show any gratitude in front of the cameras.

The Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces are not happy about her performance. A Global Times’ January 29 editorial criticized Li has been mystified by some as an icon of “individual success” in order to undermine the authority of the national sport system. The Xinhua news agency also stressed that Li's success has been sponsored by the state.

Lawyer Yuan Yulai posted a photo of her straight-faced response to the ceremony and pointed out that her refusal to act is more important than the Australian Open championship:

我个人认为,@李娜 的不装,比获得澳网冠军的意义更大。

I personally think that Li Na's refusal to perform has greater meaning than winning the Australia Open.

Many joined the discussion and interpreted her cool performance:


“Attending Happiness”: Thank you Li Na. Let the shameless government officials confront the real people. Let the ass-kissers have a good look at their stinky faces.

专治细胞缺水:80万是狗粮,想让李娜做政治道具。 穿道具很拘束,令人窒息。换哪个自由了的人都不开心

“Expert in curing cancer”: the 800,000 yuan [award] is dog food with an attempt to turn Li Na into political tool. The performance costume is suffocating. Anyone with a free heart will not be happy about it.


“The red and green brick time”: I wasn't paying attention to her in the past. Now I feel that she should be written into the Chinese sport history books.


saitpluto87: Some said Li Na is an ill-mannered person. But our society needs this kind of person to do away with the culture of the government and promote social progress.

作家-天佑: 每个公民都有不向领导媚笑的权利。

“Writer-Tianyuo”: Every citizen has the right to refuse to perform for the entertainment of the leader.

This post is co-authored with Oiwan Lam

January 29 2014

Blogger Unveils Sochi Corruption Website

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

The costs of the Sochi Olympics according to Alexey Navalny. Screenshot.

Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny joined the Sochi anti-corruption campaign this week, launching an interactive website outlining what he calls the “true costs” of the Olympic preparations in Sochi. 

Navalny tweeted, linking to the website:

How much did the Olympics cost?  Who paid for it?  Who stole, and how much?

With increased western scrutiny of the games, Navalny’s latest campaign was instantly covered in the New York Times, and other English-speaking media outlets shortly thereafter. Pro-Kremlin blogger Stanislav Apetyan (twitter handle @politrash) took the speed as a sign of some sort of foul play, or a collaborative effort:

An article in the New York Times goes up within 15 minutes after Navalny’s post: It's like some kind of magic!

Photographer Ilya Varlamov shot back:

@politrash this is perfectly normal. These types of things are distributed to the media in advance, as an exclusive story. What is the problem here?

According to Apetyan [ru], the problem is that this means the story was created for foreign consumption — implying that Navalny is chasing foreign attention. Varlamov, though, claims [ru] that Navalny gave the story to pro-government Russian media as well, but they haven't published anything about it. Another twitter user criticized Navalny on merits, saying:

@varlamov @politrash the main question here is how much was spent on Olympic venues and the hosting of the Olympic games, and how much on regional infrastructure projects.

Navalny alleges that has Putin lied about the cost of the Sochi Olympic projects, when he claimed that it had cost 214 billion rubles (or roughly 6.5 billion dollars). Navalny claims that the actual figure is several times that, at $46 billion. (A previous project launched by opposition politician Boris Nemtsov found the spending had reached $51 billion.) The argument [ru] of the pro-government bloggers is that the 6.5 billion was indeed spent on the “Olympics proper” while the rest was spent creating infrastructure in Sochi — roads, utilities, and airports. All things that will be useful in one of Russia's few resort regions.

Navalny's numbers are pieced together from various public sources, as he says [ru], after much trial and tribulation. But the project did not just focus on Olympic construction projects, but also on the people he says benefited the most from the embezzlement. They include the Governor of Krasnodar Region (where Sochi is located) and his son-in-law; President Putin’s judo partner, billionaire Arkadiy Rotenberg; the oligarch Vladimir Potanin; and the CEO of state-owned Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. And that, to some, is the real scandal.

Sports as a Vector of Peace in Burkina Faso

The National Department of Sports and Entertainment in Burkina Faso published a report on the role of sports as a vector of peace and development in Burkina Faso [PDF in fr]:

Les programmes sportifs bien conçus renforcent les capacités humaines de base, créent des relations interpersonnelles et inculquent des valeurs fondamentales et des aptitudes à la vie pratique. Ils constituent un précieux outil de promotion du développement et de renforcement de la cohésion sociale. Collectivement, les avantages de ces programmes constituent un puissant moyen pour combattre l’exclusion sociale.

Sports programs that are well-designed can strengthen human capabilities, they create human bonds and instill core values ​​and skills needed to face daily life. They are a valuable tool to promote development and strengthen social cohesion. Collectively, these programs are a powerful tool to combat social exclusion.

January 28 2014

China's Tennis Superstar Li Na Awarded 800000 RMB by Home Province

The Chinese local authorities’ decision to award 800,000RMB(130,000USD) to China's tennis superstar Li Na has cast a cloud over the athlete’s homecoming, shortly after her stunning triumph at the Australian Open.

The prize money was quickly captured in news headlines in China, generating a wave of mockery and criticism directed at local officials, whose move appeared to be at odds with President Xi Jinping’s pledge to fight extravagance and cut back on government spending.

Li’s second Grand Slam Title came with 2.4 million USD worth of the reward, and given her endorsement deals with brands at home and abroad, she is arguably the highest paid female athlete in China.

In local TV footage, the poker-faced Li was shown posing for pictures with a local government official. The two held a red board in which the amount of the prize money was printed. According to Chinese individual income tax law, the 800,000RMB prize money awarded to Li is tax-free.

Li Na (Photo from Weibo)

Screenshot from Sina's official sports channel 


Li’s brief meeting with local provincial officials at the airport of Wuhan, where she is from, was largely symbolic. The 31-year-old athlete remained silent during the welcoming ceremony, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. 

Li Na quickly rose to prominence after winning the 2010 French Open and since then has remained a beloved figure in China for her lighted-hearted personality. She now has some 22 million followers on China's most popular microblogging Sina Weibo. 

Many netizens in China questioned local authorities's decision over the reward money:

Zhongguo Weishengwu from Jiangsu wrote:


Li Hongzhong gave Li Na 800,000RMB on behalf of the provincial government. If the money was from the leader himself, it was nothing debatable, but if the money came from taxpayers, who gives you authority to do so? The work of Li Na is essentially commercial sports, and for her team and her family, she has to fight in the battlefield. How was her championship connected with you? And where were you when she went solo? Where were you when she had no money for her knee surgery? Where were you?! 

 A prominent sports commentator Huang Jianxiang commented


Hubei government's decision to award 800,000RMB to Li Na wouldn't have created so much criticism 20 years ago. This is the progress of the society. However, the mindset of the officials pretty much stagnated as in the past: Each good personalities and good deeds have to be linked to the government, and government officials have to come out to send their greetings and congrats. In fact,  in certain areas, the less government inquiry the better, let the market have the say, which will be much more beneficial to the country and the public than bothering the mayors, it's particularly true in terms of sports industry. 

 LeeAng1015 wrote:


Does Li Na really need the 800,000RMB? Why do (officials) use money to express everything?  Where was this 800,000 from? It was our common people's money, was it for show by the government?

China News Service, a semi-official newswire, offered rare criticism:


It does not make much sense that the local government uses public finance to award a professional athlete. First, the government should strictly make and implement its budget, is there such a budget for 800,000RMB as award money? Second, the spending of public finance must be conducted in accordance with public principles, namely, they must be spent for public service, a professional athlete's championship, how is that related to public interest?    

January 25 2014

Super Bowls: Olympic Toilet Humor

“Sochi: if we are going to sh*t ourselves, might as well make it pretty.” Anonymous image distributed online.

Early this week, as all eyes were on the growing Ukrainian protests and photographs of barricades, BBC's Steve Rosenberg tweeted a different sort of picture, writing:

The photograph of the two toilets, extremely close together and lacking any sort of barrier, was retweeted over 1,000 times, and caused much hilarity on the RuNet, becoming another symbol of the preparations for the Sochi games, which are seen by many as inept and corrupt. Did someone “economize” on building cabins? Or does the problem lie in deficient planning? Then there is the association between the games and Russia's worsening treatment of homosexuals, which led one blogger to tweet:

As a response to criticism of Russia for infringing on the rights of sexual minorities, Olympic Sochi gets the first ever gay toilet

Most of the jokes were visual, however. Arguably, the funniest was this tasteful mashup of the subject with the “red pill, blue pill” scene from The Matrix:

“Make your choice, Neo” Anonymous image distributed online.

Other approaches were also funny, if a bit heavy-handed. There was the transparently political jokes about the Putin and Medvedev political “tandem”:

Dual leaders for dual toilets. Anonymous image distributed online.

Dual leaders for dual toilets. Anonymous image distributed online.

And a sports reference:

Biathlon target practice? Anonymous image distributed online.

Biathlon target practice? Anonymous image distributed online.

The Sochi public relations team obviously could not leave this without comment, and so, Elena Greenberg, one of the team members, made a post [ru] on her Facebook account explaining that in reality Russian Olympic prep was not quite so bad. Greenberg wrote that the bathroom in question was in process of being turned into a storage closet, and the toilets were in fact about to be removed. Allegedly, the toilet cabins were already taken down when Rosenberg took his fateful picture. Greenberg posted a photograph of another bathroom, ostensibly in the same building, which looks completely normal:

According to Greenberg this is a bathroom one floor down from the “tandem” toilets.

Turning a bathroom into storage is a slightly odd explanation, but reasonable to anyone who has had experience with Soviet and post-Soviet public spaces. Of course, not everyone believed Greenberg. The were the standard accusations [ru] that the explanation was made up after the fact — as a way to “cover up” the toilet scandal. Others [ru] called attention to the fact that the bathroom has one one toilet paper dispenser (even though there are markings on the right wall where presumably there was another one at some point). Others still said [ru] that if situation did indeed play out like Greenberg says it did, its even worse — because it means that poor planning resulted in an extra bathroom.

Are the “toilet-gate” conspiracy theorists correct in their paranoia? Does it even matter if they aren't? The prevailing narrative of the Sochi games is already one of bureaucratic ineptitude — it will take a truly stellar performance during the Olympics to buck it.

January 22 2014

Who Bears the Cost of Russia's Olympics?

A photoshopped logo of the Sochi games with a saw mascot. In Russian, the verb

A photoshopped logo of the Sochi games with a saw mascot. In Russian, the verb “to saw” can mean “embezzlement.” Anonymous image distributed online.

Accusations of corruption continue to plague Sochi Olympic preparations. And with only two weeks to go before the opening ceremony, concerns are mounting. The stadium where the opening ceremony is set to take place is rumored to still be under construction, and journalists who are already there have complained about roads damaged by rain and mudslides. Additionally, Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak told President Vladimir Putin on January 9 that the power grid was still not operational (though he claimed that it would be completed by 25 January). Meanwhile, the International Skiing Federation president said that the high cost of the Olympics in Sochi (allegedly $55 billion) set a “bad example” for future host cities. 

The Kremlin has been quick to defend its pet project. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who is responsible for overseeing the preparations, stated that the International Olympic Committee had not had a single complaint about the preparatory work. He also claimed that the total cost of Sochi [ru] was less than the cost of last summer’s Universiade in Kazan, Tatarstan.

President Putin also decided to go on a charm offensive [ru], meeting with journalists from the Britain, the United States, Chinese, and Russian television for a group interview. During this interview American journalist George Stephanopoulos addressed the rumors of corruption. Putin cleverly deflected the question, first saying that the media had deliberately misinterpreted the statement by the ISF president accusing Russia, to sell more papers. Further, he opined that he had seen no evidence of corruption or embezzlement:

[...] если у кого-то есть конкретные данные о коррупционных проявлениях в связи с реализацией сочинского олимпийского проекта, мы просим предоставить нам эти объективные данные. Мы будем рады и благодарны и используем эту информацию для того, чтобы наводить порядок в этой сфере.

[...] if anybody has concrete evidence about corruption in connection with the implementation of the Sochi Olympic project, we ask for this objective data. We will be glad and thankful and will use the information in order to restore order in this sphere.

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who had previously written a white paper [ru] on corruption in Sochi, and has alleged that more than half of the budget for the Olympics has been embezzled, shot back:

Надо помнить, что главным инвестором в Олимпиаду стали российские пенсионеры, учителя, врачи и военные. Именно они заплатили за всю эту аферу и фестиваль воровства.

We must remember that the main investors in the Olympics are Russian pensioners, teachers, doctors, and soldiers. They paid for all this fraud and the festival of theft.

Russian pensioner -- the

A Russian pensioner — the “General sponsor of the 2014 Olympics.” Anonymous image distributed online.

Putin’s charm offensive may be too little, too late.  Nemtsov’s Facebook post spread across [ru] Russia's own social network, VKontakte. An impromptu poll at the bottom of the page asked: “What is [Deputy PM] Kozak hoping for?” Nearly 80% answered that Kozak is hoping that people are brainless idiots.

January 10 2014

Tributes to Footballer Akeem Adams After Sudden Death

On Wired868, Lasana Liburd in Trinidad & Tobago, excoriates the officials who he felt did not do enough to assist the late footballer Akeem Adams while the young athlete was still alive.

Above, a video tribute to Adams by his club, Ferencvaros.

January 08 2014

Dakar Rally Coming to Tupiza, Bolivia

Many Bolivians are excited that the Dakar Rally off-road race will pass through their national territory. On her personal blog, journalist Fabiola Chambi showcases what tourists that may arrive to her hometown of Tupiza would want to see, as well as some of the prime watching spots along the route [es].

December 30 2013

Sport et politique en Ukraine

Juché sur un camion, le jeune retraité des rings Vitali Klitschko — âgé de 42 ans —, agite un drapeau ukrainien au milieu d'une foule compacte de manifestants. Prise le 1er décembre, place de l'Indépendance à Kiev, la photo a fait la « une » des journaux à travers le monde, tandis que les chaînes d'information européennes et américaines diffusaient en boucle cette même image, symbole de la contestation contre le président ukrainien Viktor Ianoukovitch. Lire aussi Sébastien Gobert, « L'Ukraine se dérobe à (...) - Le lac des signes / Europe, France, Ukraine, Union européenne, Mouvement de contestation, Personnalités, Politique, Sport, Corruption

December 24 2013

Emptying Russia's Prisons to Fill the Seats at Sochi 2014

Some of Russia's newly freed, prominent former political prisoners. From left to right, Maria Baronova, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Some of Russia's newly freed, prominent former political prisoners. From left to right, Maria Baronova, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Many Russian bloggers believe that the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next year played a major role in the amnesty last week that freed both the “Arctic Sunrise” Greenpeace activists and the famous Pussy Riot rockers, as well as the pardon handed down to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who immediately fled Russia to Berlin. Putin, the theory goes, is eager to save face and avoid an Olympic boycott by world leaders, though five of the other seven G8 countries have already indicated that their leaders will not travel to Sochi next February (France, Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and perhaps even Germany).

The Higher School of Economics’ Yulia Galyamina wrote on her Facebook wall:

Путин пытается сделать хорошую мину перед Олимпиадой в Сочи, мотивы его низменны, но несколько свободных человек – это все равно счастье.

Putin is trying to put on a good face before the Olympics in Sochi. His motives are base, but I can think of a few now free, very happy people who couldn't care less about that.

Not everyone embraced the idea that the amnesty and pardon were an effort to rescue the Olympics. Commenting on past rumors that a third set of charges awaits Khodorkovsky and the fact that his mother is elderly and in poor health, Kiril Rogov wrote on Facebook:

Все “третье дело” и болезнь матери – были обыкновенным шантажом, с помощью которого у Ходорковского выбивали согласие на помилование. На кону восе не олимпиада и не возможность широкого жеста под новый год, а – как всегда – деньги.

Everything about a “third trial” and an ill mother was just ordinary blackmail, which [the Kremlin] used to beat Khodorkovsky into submitting to the pardon. At stake was not the Olympics or the possibility of a broad New Year's gesture, but—as always—money.

Oleg Makarenko, blogger fritzmorgen, was also skeptical that Putin freed Khodorkovsky because of the Olympics.

Версия «Олимпиада» представляется мне смешной. На Олимпиаде лозунги «свободу Ходорковскому» популярностью не пользовались бы в любом случае, там протесты будут, в основном, под девизом «слава Содомии»….

Плакаты о Ходорковском на фоне радужных флагов выглядели бы совершенно нелепо. Очевидно, причина не в Олимпиаде.

The “Olympics” version seems ridiculous to me. At the Olympics, slogans advocating “freedom for Khodorkovsky” would not have generated much popularity in any event. There will be protests [in Sochi], but mostly under the slogan: “Glory to Sodomy”….

Posters of Khodorkovsky against the backdrop of rainbow flags would look absolutely ridiculous. Obviously, the reason is not the Olympics.

Makarenko went on to suggest that an anti-corruption crackdown will begin in the spring, after the Olympics in Sochi, and Khodorkovsky’s release is a message to future prisoners that Putin is willing to negotiate.

Kommersant journalist Olga Allenova bemoaned:

Само по себе это освобождение перекроет все нарушения прав человека в РФ, весь беспредел в Сочи, всю жуть на Кавказе, – олимпиада владимировна пройдет под бурные аплодисменты, все приедут, даже француз, а ВВП может спокойно править еще мильен лет, вообще не парясь ни о правах, ни о свободах.

В итоге он опять выигрывает.

Как всегда.

Это просто невероятно, как они научились это делать.

By itself, this release will override all human rights violations in Russia, all the lawlessness in Sochi, all the horror in the Caucasus—the Olympics of Vladimir will be held under a storm of applause, everybody will come, even the Frenchman, and VVP can comfortably rule a million more years, never being bothered about either rights or liberties.

In the end, he wins again.

As always.

It is just unbelievable how they learned to do it.

For his part, Khodorkovsky says he opposes a boycott of the Olympic games, stating:

As to Sochi, my position is that it is a sports festival; it is a festival for millions of people and perhaps we should not spoil it. Another thing is that we should not make it into a personal festival for President Putin — perhaps that would not be right either. However, I would not ruin a festival for millions of people.

Meanwhile, Russia's silver medalist political prisoner, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, demanded a total boycott of the Olympics, in comments to journalists following her release from prison on December 23, 2013:

Now, however, I am calling for a boycott, for honesty, I am calling for all of us not to sell ourselves for all this oil and gas that Russia can give. I am calling for all humanistic standards, traditions, and regulations to be applied — the norms that Europe is promoting.

The true reasons for Khodorkovsky's sudden release and the amnesty that freed the final two members of Pussy Riot remain a mystery. If the theory is correct that these acts of mercy are tied to a Kremlin effort to salvage “Sochi 2014,” it will be important to watch the next few weeks, to see if any Western leaders change their minds about attending the Winter Games.

December 23 2013

After 44 Years, Southeast Asian Games Returns to Myanmar

Opening ceremonies of the 27th Southeast Asian games in Myanmar. Photo from official Facebook page of SEA Games

Opening ceremonies of the 27th Southeast Asian games in Myanmar. Photo from official Facebook page of SEA Games

After 44 years of long absence, South East Asian Games has once again returned to Myanmar. The last time Myanmar hosted the game was in 1969 in Yangon. The opening ceremony for the 27th SEA Games was held in the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw on December 11 with the international media describing it as Myanmar's ravishing coming out party. Actually, the government has conducted an aggressive SEA games awareness promotion in the country many months before the event. To add a little bit of spice to what international and domestic media have reviewed, here are what netizens inside the country have been commenting throughout the games.

The opening ceremony was enthusiastically received and acclaimed by many people. Aye Chan Mon shared[my] an article dedicated to the opening ceremony of the SEA games.

The 27th SEA Games opening ceremony was celebrated on 11th December. I'm not saying this because I am a Myanmar. But I am very proud as a Myanmar citizen for holding the ceremony with such splendor. It has been many years that we have been afraid doing any events in the country. I would like to say that now we have seized our chance to reconstruct our dignity as Myanmar.

However, there are also people who tend to think negatively and are posting on Facebook to criticize. Everyone has the freedom to criticize. I could not do anything but feel sad to see the criticism by our own people.

Instead of blaming among ourselves, I turn away to discover what international media are saying about the ceremony. [...]

Then the article described the reviews written by the foreign media such as Malaysian Insider, Asia One, The Times of India, The Chronicle Journal and Bangkok Post. At the end, the author concluded by saying:

[...] Anyway if we look at the international reviews, there are more praise than criticism that we have performed beyond their expectations. Let's think of this successful celebration of this ceremony as opening a door to the international community or the beginning of our path away from the dictatorship or our official announcement to the world.

Official mascot of the 27th SEA Games

Official mascot of the 27th SEA Games

Demo Wai Yan wrote in his blog[my]:

[...] We can see that there are many different views on the 27th SEA Games which we can have in our own land after 44 years. But we need to distinguish between our views.

Our athletes are trying very hard to bring their best for the game that is being held in our own land. Today the competition of Myanmar athletes is not like making a propaganda film of the military regime but they are trying all they can for the country's image. In this moment we have to support the athletes whether they win or lose. [...]

Meanwhile, a minor riot broke out near the stadium in Yangon on December 16 when Myanmar lost to Indonesia 1-0 in football and could not make it to the finals. Naturally, there was a huge public disappointment on the performance of the Myanmar football team. Zaw Htet Han expressed[my] his thoughts about the riot:

There is vandalism even in the countries that are successfully practicing democracy. And there are also pyromaniacs. Forget about the immature question whether Myanmar deserves democracy. Every single country in the world deserves 100 percent democracy.

Myanmar's performance in the games reflected[my] the country's weaknesses, according to Khin Maung Nyo:

At the moment, I am seeing things differently. I see that the football match (especially the ones we lost) represent our weaknesses in economy and administration. It reflects the gap in our expectation and the reality, and our need for the development of human resources in different fields. This cannot be done within a day or a night. It takes time.

On the other hand, the women football team was cheered by everyone for their giving their best even though they only got a bronze medal instead of gold. Myanmar Political Jokes congratulated[my] the women's team:

Although they lost unfortunately after the penalty shoot out, it was obvious that they have given their best for the country. We are very proud of the Myanmar women football team. It was a very exciting match for the thousands of audience in the stadium, in front of the TV and living abroad. It feels almost crazy to watch both team playing intensely. Actually the Myanmar audience are not blind about winning or losing. Audience knows if players have really tried. And we are not afraid to face the failure.

People did not lose their mind for no apparent reason when Myanmar lost to Indonesia the other day. The audience who went to the match knew that the Myanmar men's football team had played not seriously enough to win the game. This is why 60 millions fans were angry.

Today even when the women team has lost the game, we are very proud of them. They have tried all their best until the end for the country.

Ye Htut also praised[my] the team:

Thank you, young heroines for making Myanmar audience happy.

Their coordination, team spirit and selflessness are the examples that not only the footballers but also all of us should take.

After the closing ceremony, he also highlighted[my] the victories of ethnic athletes:

[...] 180 of the medals were obtained by the ethnic athletes such as Kachin, Kayar, Chin, Mon, Shan and Rakhine. When we said that we are going to have these games, people from both inside and outside the country have doubted if we would have the ability. They asked whether Myanmar athletes would be able to do that.

Now, together with all the ethnic people in the country, we have proven that they are wrong.

With this kind of spirit, let us journey to the future country.

December 22 2013

Bangladesh Breaks Human Flag, National Anthem World Records on Victory Day

The world’s largest human national flag of Bangladesh being created at the National Parade Ground in Dhaka on 16 December, 2013, marking the Victory Day. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (16/12/2013)

The world’s largest human national flag of Bangladesh created at the National Parade Ground in Dhaka on 16 December, 2013, marking Victory Day. Photo by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (16/12/2013)

On 16 December, the 43rd Victory Day commemorating the triumph of Bangladesh over Pakistan in the country's Liberation War in 1971, Bangladesh broke two world records. The first one was forming the world's biggest “human” national flag. 27,117 volunteers from the Bangladesh Army, educational institutions and the general public stood with red and green placards to form the flag in Dhaka's National Parade Ground. The flag was visible for 6 minutes and 16 seconds.

The second record was the largest number of people singing the national anthem simultaneously, with more than 300,000 people at exactly 16:31 on 16 December singing “Amar Sonar Bangla” marking the exact moment that Pakistani forces surrendered. Many people from Bangladesh and also from different corners of the world joined in the event, which was held in Suhrawardi Uddan, the precise location of Pakistan's surrender.

Mahbub Ashrafi caught the singing on film and uploaded in YouTube:

Pakistan held the previous record for the largest human flag. 24,200 people held up green and white boxes at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore on 31 October, 2012. India held the previous record for singing the national anthem, with 121,653 people singing simultaneously.

Tens and thousands of people have joined in singing Bangladesh's national anthem at Suhrawardy Udyan on the Victory Day in Dhaka.  Image by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (16/12/2013)

Tens and thousands of people joined in singing Bangladesh's national anthem at Suhrawardy Udyan on Victory Day in Dhaka. Photo by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (16/12/2013)

Most Bangladeshis were particularly proud and happy about these world record feats, thanking organizers for the good news. Ishtiaque Ahmed hailed the news:

Thanks to the 27,117 volunteers for the world's largest human flag. Red and green winning the world, yes we can!

Sk. Soyeb Hasan recorded behind the scenes how the human flag event was organized and uploaded the footage to YouTube:

Abir Hasan was proud to be Bangladeshi:

It is claimed that up to three million people died in the Bangladesh genocide during the struggle for independence in 1971. This is also a record. Cyber Association of Bangladesh remembered that horrible fact with these two records:

গিনেস বুকে বাংলাদেশের সবচেয়ে বড় মানব পতাকার কথা আজ অনেকেই ইতোমধ্যে জেনে গেছেন।

আমি আরো একটি তথ্য দেই – গিনেস বুক অব রেকর্ডস অনুযায়ী ১৯৭১ সালে বাংলাদেশে সংগঠিত গণহত্যা বিশ শতকে সংগঠিত হওয়া নৃশংসতম পাঁচটি গণহত্যার মধ্যে একটি ।

কার্টেছিঃ একেম সাঈদ

You have already heard about these two Guinness Book of World Records milestones.

Also to note – According to the same records, the Bangladesh genocide in 1971 is one of the five most cruel genocides of the world.

Courtesy: AKM Sayeed

People sing the national anthem at 4.31pm, the exact moment when the Pakistan army surrendered on this day in 1971 at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (December 16, 2013)

People sing the national anthem at 4:31 p.m. at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (December 16, 2013)

Bangladesh got their independence by fighting a nine-month long liberation war and winning against Pakistan. Blogger Maruf wrote:

সবচেয়ে বেশি ভালো লাগছে যে, এই মহান বিজয় দিবসে আমরা পাকিস্তানের গড়া রেকর্ড ভেঙ্গে বিশ্বজয় করলাম। পাকিস্তানকে আমরা আরও একবার পরাজিত করলাম।

I am pleased with the fact that on this auspicious day of victory we have broken Pakistan's record. We have once again defeated Pakistan.

Farhan Bashar participated in the national anthem singing event at Suhrawardi Uddan. He shared his experience:

What a pleasant feeling bestows on my heart as I sing our enchanting national anthem and declare my unity with the positive force of independence & victory loving people of my country. May all the independent & liberation opposing forces go and burn in inferno.

December 10 2013

“Digital Hooligans” from Iran Attack Messi's Facebook

Leo Messi's Facebook page

Argentinian footballer Leo Messi's Facebook page

“Digital hooligans” from Iran bombarded thousands of insulting and threatening comments in Persian on the Facebook page of Argentinian football player Lionel Messi as the World Cup groups were determined on Saturday. Argentina, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Nigeria were polled together.

Many of the comments use very foul language.

Many Iranians published comments and tweets calling the cyberattack shameful.

Kargadan tweeted [fa]:

Zuckerberg [Facebook's founder] and the Iranian government, should hand in hand clean out Facebook's page of Iranians to save our honor.

Sooskak tweeted [fa]:

It's good that Facebook is filtered [in Iran].

Baridya tweeted [fa]:

If the Islamic Republic collapsed today, it would take 15-20 years for this people's culture to improve.

Blogger 5Char published [fa] a screen shot of insulting comments and says it is typical of a generation that grew up under Islamic Republic.

Another blogger, Andarbab says [fa]:

These people try to make up for their inadequacy with slogans and insults. They are the same people who chant “Down with the USA” yet wish to get a US Green Card. They insult Messi, yet wish to get a souvenir fan photo taken with him.

December 05 2013

Direct du gauche

Raymond Famechon (1924-1978), onzième enfant d'une famille ouvrière du Nord, échappe à l'usine en montant sur le ring. Il sera champion d'Europe en 1948. Jake LaMotta, le fameux « Raging Bull » dont l'autobiographie inspirera le film éponyme de Martin Scorsese, est né dans le Bronx en 1922 ; (...) / États-Unis, Pologne, Histoire, Judaïsme, Afro-Américains, Pauvreté, Sport, Bande dessinée - 2013/12

December 04 2013

Football, Building Social Cohesion in Niger

Football tournament organised in the region of Tahoua, Niger. Republished with permission from Mapping for Niger blog

Football tournament organised in the region of Tahoua, Niger. Republished with permission from Mapping for Niger blog

Niger is twice as large as France in area, composed of eight regions and six different ethnicities. It was also the country with the lowest Human Development Index in 2012. These factors make for a fragile social fabric in Niger, due perhaps to increasing inequalities and heterogeneous demographics. Sport is at times an ideal vehicle to reinforce social links in Nigerian communities. This is why the community of Kalfou in the department of Tahoua organise an annual football tournament, bringing together various clubs from around the region.

Hamzajaba, a member of the Rising Voices’ project Mapping for Niger, participated in this tournament. He says [fr]:

Ce tournoi a été organisé par un ressortissant d’un village appelé « Guidan Toudou ». Le tournoi est composé de huit (8) villages qui sont répartis en deux poules A et B. La poule A est composée de : Guidan Toudou, Alibou, Toudouni et Tounga et la poule B est composée de : Samo, Karaji Sud, Guidan Gara et Galmawa. [..] la finale a opposée Guidan Toudou& Karaji Sud avec un score de 3 buts à 0 en faveur de Guidan Toudou suite au forfait de Karaji Sud. Ce tournoi s'est déroulé dans une parfaite ambiance, pleine de faire play et l’objectif a donc été atteint. J’ai rencontré pas mal des jeunes et même des collègues avec qui j'ai été au collège. Guidan Toudou a gagné le trophée avec comme récompense 70 000 FCFA; le 2ème, Karaji Sud, a été recompensé de 40 000 FCFA et le 3ème Galmawa 20 000 FCFA. Toutes les équipes qui ont participé ont bénéficié d’un ballon.

This tournament was organised by the village group Guidan Toudou. The tournament is composed of eight (8) villages who were divided into two groups, A and B. Group A is composed of: Guidan Toudo, Alibou, Toudouni and Tounga and group B is composed of: Samo, Karaji Sud, Guidan Gara and Galmawa. [...] the final placed Guidan Toudou and Karaji Sud with a score of 3 goals to 0 in favor of Guidan Toudo, following a forfit from Karaji Sud. This tournamet took place in a perfect ambiance, full of fair play and thus the objective was obtained. I met quite a few young people and even some colleagues with whom I attended secondary school. Guidan Toudou won the trophy with 70 000 FCFA as a reward; the second, Karaji Sud, was awarded 40 000 FCFA and the third Galmawa 20 000 FCFA. ALl of the teams who participated received a football.

Le département de Tahoua, cartographié par le projet Mapping for Niger

The department of Tahoua, mapped by the project Mapping for Niger. See the larger map here.

Football has always been a passion for Nigerians. One of the most well known celebrities in Niger is a former footballer, Moussa Kanfideni, who was the captain of the national team in the '80s. His name was immortalised in the the creation of the first training center for future leaders in football, the Souley Académie Sports (SACA-Sports). Ousmane Keïta explains the role of this training center and foodball [fr] in general in the education of young Nigerians:

L’ambition de la Souley Académie Sports est claire : combler un grand vide en contribuant non seulement à la formation du champion, mais aussi de l’intellectuel de demain. En d’autres termes, le centre vise à forger le citoyen modèle, préparé pour évoluer dans l’adversité, la concurrence.

The goal of the Souley Académie Sports is clear: to fill a large gap and to contribute not only to the training of champions, but also to the intellectuals of tomorrow. In other words, the center aims to form a model citizen, prepared to perform in the face of adversity, competition.

Tournoi de football dans le département de la Tahoua, Niger. avec la permission du projet mapping for Niger

Football tournament in the department of Tahoua, Niger. Republished with permission from Mapping for Niger.

Other academies, like Atcha académie [fr], have created programs to target the schooling of young people through sport. Equally, the technical center of the Nigerian Federation of Football (FENIFOOT) was recently established in the north of Niamey, the capital of Niger. News blog A Niamey explains the goals of this center [fr]:

Les premiers pensionnaires du centre sont au total 52 jeunes talents, de moins de 15 ans, qui ont été présélectionnés sur l’ensemble du territoire national. le Niger compte sortir de ces jeunes formés l’équipe nationale qui va représenter le pays à la Coupe d’Afrique des moins de 17 ans prévue en 2015 à Niamey.

The first members of the sport center are in total 52 talented youth under age 15, who were preselected through the national territory. Niger counts on these young trainees of the natinoal team who will represent the country in the uner-17s African Cup in 2015 in Niamey.

The national team is also a vehicle for solidarity and national mobilisation. The following video is a message from members of the Nigerian football team about the famine in Niger:


November 21 2013

PHOTOS: The Thrill and Agony of World Cup Qualifying Matches

A few do-or-die matches to qualify for the 2014 World Cup were played worldwide last week in Africa and Europe. Despite the of-repeated claim that those games are just that, games, how people behave before and after some matches show that there is a little more at stake that what everyone would like it to be.

Here are reactions caught on film from four of those deciding matches, which ended in complete elation for Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and France, while Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ukraine and Tunisia saw their hopes of heading to Brazil vanish with the final whistle.

Algeria vs. Burkina Faso

Algeria qualified thanks to a late goal scored on Burkina Faso in additional time.

The crowd in Algiers felt the World Cup fever, as seen in this photo by Twitter user Bilel.:

Photo taken in Algeria, we are totally invested in this #AlgeriainBrazil, my face!

Algerian bloggers added humor to the joy of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil:

The tension during the first leg of the match-up on October 12 led some supporters to resort to racial insults towards the black referee, as captured in these screenshots by Paulin Diasivi:

During the match Burkina vs Algeria, some racists tweets by Algerian supporters

Côte d'Ivoire vs. Senegal

Côte d'Ivoire was also involved in late game drama when they managed to tie Senegal in Dakar 1-1 to qualify. The joy was visible in the team's dance as the game came to an end:

Côte d'Ivoire pull out a win after 90 minutes of play, the Elephants will go to Brazil

Brazil, here we come

Cameroon vs. Tunisia

Cameroon's World Cup play-off win over Tunisia was less dramatic with a 4-1 victory. Still, there was a bit controversy as Tunisia claims that two Cameroonian players were not eligible to play. Yaoundé, the economic capital of Cameroon, nevertheless was still beaming with pride after the win:

Cameroon is heading to the World Cup

Given the political dissidence in Tunisia, some supporters may not be as sad as expected with the elimination of their national team. The current government is quite unpopular within  the country's secular community because of stricter religious measures, and a win for the country's football team could have been seen as a win for the government : 

Cameroon 4-1 Tunisia, the hypocrites on “Twitter” [ed's note: pretend to be sad while cheering the elimination of Tunisia] vs. ”at home”, fess up now…LOL 

France vs. Ukraine

France had the deepest hole to climb out of to qualify after they lost the first leg 2-0 against Ukraine. In an miraculous come back, France won 3-0 in the second leg of the match-up, prompting raucous celebration from French fans and shows of despair from Ukrainian supporters:

Tonight, the stadium was shaking! The images from the crowd #Brazil

November 20 2013

Jamaica's Drug Testing Programme Under the Microscope

The controversy surrounding Jamaica's drug testing program for athletes has continued with a recent investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The investigation was spurred by concerns raised by former Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) executive Renee Anne Shirley in a Sports Illustrated article in August:

There can be no doubt that the tiny island of 2.7 million is the world's preeminent sprint factory. And now the island needs a world-class anti-doping operation to go with its achievements on the track.

Following a meeting with WADA officials, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Neisha Headley released a statement affirming the government's commitment to upgrading its program, based on the recommendations from WADA:

These include the invitation to an established NADO to work with JADCO at an operational level, an acknowledgement by the Minister to undertake a legislative review of anti-doping law in Jamaica, along with the evaluation of JADCO’s governance and management structure. The Minister has indicated that an additional budgetary contribution of eight million Jamaican dollars…is to be made to JADCO to assist with these advances. The Minister has also confirmed that most of the vacant posts in operations have been filled.

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Paul Wright from JADCO expressed great concern about the test results from Jamaican athletes:

Remember, all of these results except one were caught by Jadco. The problem is these people were tested positive in competition. That means, months before, you know the date of the test and the approximate time of the test.

So, if you fail an in-competition test, you haven't only failed a drug[s] test, you have failed an IQ test.

This could be the tip of the iceberg to have so many positives coming in competition.

However, Jamaica Olympic Committee President Mike Fennell said that many of the comments being made about the drug testing programme are “uninformed”:

We have some weaknesses that have been corrected.
The integrity of our testing programme has been proved and, therefore, this is just something we are going to strengthen. Work is being done to get outside assistance to see not just how we can not just strengthen the work of JADCO but raise the bar in terms of their professional activities and efficiency.

There was further controversy when a Wall Street Journal piece questioned the credentials of Dr. Herb Elliott, head of JADCO since 2012 and Jamaica's head doctor for the 2008 Olympics.

Initially Elliott dismissed the report and threatened possible legal action:

The man said I have no degree, no medical degree and no graduate degree. He claimed he called the Columbia University and they said they don't know anything about me, which is what a lot of universities would tell you if you just call because I haven't given them permission to give anybody anything.

Elliott later said that he was willing to resign in order to save JADCO

“In the interest of JADCO and Jamaica, I would resign. I don't know if I would do it right away, because I don't want anybody to feel that I did anything wrong and, therefore, that is why I am resigning.”

Track and Field's world governing body, the IAAF, has distanced itself from WADA with deputy general secretary Nick Davies calling the WADA criticism “excessive”. According to IAAF President Lamine Diack, Jamaican athletes were in fact among the most highly tested group of athletes in the world. Interestingly,  Jamaica sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the IAAF male and female World Athlete of the Year awards on Saturday night.

@Ricaaduh said he was always wary about the country vesting so much importance in sport success:

@uNcLe_IvAnn figured that if Jamaican athletes are tested so heavily abroad, then it should not matter how much they are tested by JADCO.

Donovan White implored Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to get involved in the situation:

Wayne Jolly responded that the authorities are not approaching the situation with the seriousness it warrants:

@JahMekYaGal was surprised that Dr. Elliott could have had such a long career with allegedly questionable credentials:

Tyrone Christopher was not convinced by Elliott's claims that he cannot remember when he earned his degrees:

Grace felt that with all of the other problems the country is facing, funding JADCO should not be the greatest priority:

Martyn Lewis took a more facetious look at the situation:

Ka'jue Ensemble was skeptical about reports that Dr. Herb Elliott planned to sue the Wall Street Journal:

What? JADCO Chairman Dr Herb Elliott has plans to sue Wall Street Journal? Really? Okay moving right along cause not one thing coming out of that so tell me something new.

Dennis McIntosh felt that the challenges are the result of institutional problems and not necessarily the fault of individual athletes:

I don't think that fingers should be pointed at the athletes, but at the organisations that have apparently not been providing what is needed by the athletes and what is required by the international bodies…

We have produced WORLD CLASS ATHLETES, through their individual and collective had work and sacrifice….They deserve WORLD CLASS ORGANISATIONS, INFRASTRUCTURE, SUPPORT, FACILITIES AND LEADERSHIP!

November 17 2013

Does Tennis Pro Viktor Troicki's Doping Ban Go Too Far?

Viktor Troicki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Viktor Toricki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

A Serbian world-class tennis player who was suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for missing a standard doping test earlier in 2013 was banned from entering a Belgrade arena to cheer on his teammates in the Davis Cup finals, a move that has caused fans to question the fairness of the sport's anti-doping system. 

Viktor Troicki first received an 18-month suspension from competing in any events for his missed doping test, but fought the charges, citing that he had already given a urine sample that tested negative for banned substances. He succeeded in having the penalty reduced to 12 months in early November, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport stated that there was no indication that Troicki “intended to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system.” 

The young tennis pro was also banned from attending matches, including the Davis Cup semi-finals that the Serbian national team played in September, while his appeal was still under investigation.

A New York Times special report [en] summarized the events and added some interesting insight:

Initially suspended for 18 months by the International Tennis Federation, Troicki had his penalty reduced on appeal to one year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week. But that qualified victory still feels like defeat to him, and his case has generated a range of strong opinions at the top of the game, with Andy Murray and Roger Federer expressing support for the antidoping system in tennis and Troicki’s close friend and teammate Novak Djokovic bitterly ripping into it.

However, even after the suspension was reduced and the investigation against him officially closed, Troicki was again banned from attending the Davis Cup finals [sr], which took place in Kombank Arena in Troicki's hometown of Belgrade on November 15, 2013. The Serbian Tennis Federation (TSS) decided to support the ITF's decision fully by banning Troicki from entering the arena even as a spectator with a paid ticket, which Troicki was planning to do in support of his teammates who were playing in the finals that evening. Some media sources even claim that the TSS distributed photos of Troicki to Kombank Arena security and at the doors to make sure the tennis player was recognized and not allowed to enter with or without a ticket.

Regardless of the suspension and doping charges, or the personal opinions of Troicki's colleagues, fans are now questioning whether both the International and the Serbian Tennis Federation have the legal right to limit one's physical movement in this manner. Many on social networks, discussion boards and in comments on online articles regarding this matter are accusing the ITF and TSS of having broken basic civil rights laws when they banned Troicki from attending the match as a spectator from the bleachers along with other fans.

Dejan Nikolić, a journalist and founder of the popular Serbian satirical news site, posted a public comment on the matter on his Facebook profile:

Fascinantna mi je ova situacija, ako je tacno, gde Troickom biva ograniceno kretanje kao gradjaninu zato sto ga je neka sportska organizacija suspendovala. Mislim da je to pitanje za ustavni sud, Strazbur i jos pokoju instituciju za ljudska i gradjanska prava.

Jedna je stvar ne dozvoliti da ucestvuje na turnirima, sasvim druga ogranicavati slobodu kretanja.

I find this situation fascinating, if true, in which Troicki's movement as a citizen is being limited because he was suspended by a sports organization. I think this is a matter for the Constitutional Court, Strasbourgh and a few other institutions for human and civil rights.

It's one thing to not allow him to participate in tournaments, entirely another to limit his freedom of movement.

Among the 52 comments on Nikolić's post, there were those who cited that ITF rules state that players who are penalized by the organization are also banned from any related tournaments and sporting events. Most commenters, however, questioned how the ITF or any other sports organization could have the authority to ban anyone, including sanctioned players, from purchasing a ticket and attending such events as a citizen.

Similar comments can be found on online articles in several other languages, and it isn't just Serbian tennis fans who are complaining and noting the same thing. In response to a short article on Italian tennis portal with the news that Troicki was not allowed to enter Belgrade's Kombank Arena as a spectator, reader Francis said:

allora ne dico un’altra di scemenza ribattendoti che quanto dici mi pare molto strano… nel senso che l’atp o l’itf o la federazione serba possono non considerare valido il pass da addetto ai lavori e vietare l’accesso ai settori a loro destinati; vietare l’ingresso con regolare biglietto pagato vorrebbe dire una palese limitazione della libertà individuale.

Now they say more complete nonsense that when said seems very strange to me – in the sense that the ATP or ITF or Federation of Serbia could consider a pass not valid and prohibit access to areas they are intended for, prohibit entry with a regular paid ticket would mean blatant limitation of individual freedom.

Another reader on the same article, Andy86, added:

Francamente mi pare una cosa veramente che non sta ne in cielo ne in terra… lui è squalificato piu o meno giustamente (non sta a me dirlo) per quello che riguarda la sua attività agonistica, ma che ora non lo facciano entrare allo stadio, mi pare veramente fuori dal mondo..

Frankly one thing strikes me that truly isn't in the heavens nor the earth – he was disqualified more or less justly (it's not up to me to say) for things regarding his sports activities, but now to not allow him to enter the stadium, it strikes me as truly out of this world..

Neither the ITF nor the Serbian Federation have responded to the questions raised by the public, nor have they made any statements as to what might give them the authority to ban any player from purchasing a ticket for a tennis event and not be able to use it as a spectator.

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