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N Touch
Wednesday 21 March 2018

Sport a tool for world peace

NOTHING in the Kyoto Treaty, nor any amount of pressure from environmental groups could have persuaded China to cut down on air and other pollution as it drove its industrialisation policy.

The economic embargo against Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s was ineffective, but yet apartheid fell and Nelson Mandela walked free.

Who would have thought that the people of Iraq could come together to dance and cheer in the midst of the wars being fought there. And what was the only thing that made Haitians dance joyously in their streets?

China is now vigorously cleaning up Beijing. They are shutting down factories which pollute, they are reducing the number of vehicles in Beijing, and thousands, if not millions, of Chinese are planting trees around the city.

What force swept through Beijing, causing the Chinese to make such an about-turn regarding their environment? No, it was not threat of war, nor economic sanctions. It was, plain and simply, the Olympic Games.

In order to host the Olympic Games, China had to clean up its environment. A group of people, without militia, without the power to impose economic sanctions, told the Chinese government that if the 2008 Olympic Games were to be held in Beijing, the environment had to be improved. Just so!

Not a shot was fired, not a threat of violence made. This is the power of world sport. But this was not some tree-hugging group imposing an undesirable ultimatum upon China. This was a group genuinely concerned about the effects of pollution on the health of the athletes.

Athletes are humans with very highly tuned engines. Oxygen makes these engines run, and if the oxygen is reduced by pollutants, the athletes will perform poorly, and the effects of competing there may be long lasting.

So, China did for the Olympic Games what it would not do for Kyoto or for Greenpeace.

And the true beneficiaries are not the visiting athletes, or the Games. The true beneficiaries are the people of China. Not only will their lives and health be improved, but because of their involvement in this clean-up effort, they will have developed an awareness to keep on improving their environment, and their health.

Apartheid in South Africa was condemned by most nations in the world. South Africa was banned from the United Nations and all its working agencies.

Economic sanctions were imposed upon South Africa, and yet apartheid prevailed. They were banned from the Olympics, and then one-by-one, the Worlds Sporting Organisations banned South Africa from competing, and banned any athlete or team which competed in or against South Africa.

The South African athletes began abandoning their country, and sought citizenship elsewhere, in order to satisfy that driving urge to compete.

The South Africans paid huge sums of money to athletes — including a group of West Indian cricketers who were legally painted white — to come and compete there.

Eventually the isolation in sport broke apartheid, and South Africa freed Mandela and allowed free elections and a black government, under President Mandela, was elected. South Africa was subsequently given the rights to host World Cup Rugby, World Cup Cricket, and next year, World Cup Football. When South Africa, with its still mainly white rugby team, won the Rugby World Cup in France last month, the whole of South Africa rejoiced. Who can disagree that it is sport that is bringing Blacks and Whites together in a country once so divided?

The wars in Iraq, and there are different wars being fought there, have almost destroyed all civil society. However, under the most difficult conditions they kept their football team in training.

When Iraq, handicapped as it was, won the Asian Nations’ Championships, beating Saudi Arabia in the final, all of the wars stopped, during the match, as Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd all became Iraqi.

All waved the flag proudly, and even the astonished Americans sent there to fight, found themselves cheering Iraq on. When the victorious team returned, they toured the country, and there was no threat of violence.

Haiti is a country living in misery. Its people have been abused by dictators for centuries.

Yet when Haiti won, in succession, the Caribbean Under-16 Championships in August 2006, and the Digicel Caribbean Cup last January—both tournaments hosted here in TT, Haitians danced in the streets for days.

Is there any doubt that sport, if given its chance, and used for world peace and the environment, can save the world? The answer is everywhere but TT, where sections of our media still live in the 19th century.

Who would believe that TV-6, showing “live” the KFC Final between TT and Jamaica, would cut the programming to show local news?

Jamaican viewers however, did not suffer this indignity.


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