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30 May 2012

Syria: taking time off from the massacres to do some sport

No bans or boycotts in the Olympics.

By Steve Baxter

As the Olympics loom, the eyes of the world turn to London.

But there’s a real prospect that some of the cheering spectators could be those who have been responsible for some of the atrocities that have shocked the world. 

There’s something sickening about the prospect of Syrian VIPs taking a hard-earned break in London from organising massacres in order to pose for grip-and-grin photos.

The horrifying images of the events in Houla and elsewhere won’t go away. Nor should they. While Syria’s athletes weren’t responsible for those scenes, there is more than a whiff of suspicion that the state they represent may well have been.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) leapt out of the blocks to warn Britain that the nation state’s powers were limited when it came to who it could and couldn’t admit through its borders at the time of the supranational sports jamboree.

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Priorities, priorities. Let’s not spoil the party, let’s not make waves. Don’t mix sport and politics, they say.

But if anything could taint London’s party, it would be the presence of those who brought about these crimes against humanity. Expelling diplomats is one thing, but how much of a message does that really send? 

As Londoners have already learned, whether it’s VIP bus lanes or missiles on roofs, we don’t have much of a say about what happens in our own country or city when the Olympic circus comes to visit: we just have to put up with it, smile and don’t abuse the sacred logos.

These aren’t ‘our’ Olympics. The torch may be being relayed around these islands, but we have no say in who can and who can’t attend – be they nations who refuse to allow female athletes to compete at all, or nations responsible for death and destruction.

Elsewhere, the jailed oil tycoon Mikhael Khordokovsky has called for Russian officials to be barred from the attending the fun in London.

Whatever its relative merits, that plea is likely to be rejected, too. This is the post-boycott Olympic era: no bans, no boycotts, it’s all about the sporting endeavour, we’re led to believe.

Even if that is true, there’s a real chance that ‘our’ Olympics could provide a backdrop for despicable regimes to obtain a sliver of legitimacy on the world stage by their presence in London. Perhaps that’s a price worth paying for getting the event here at all; perhaps it isn’t.