Winter Olympics open - Turning a blind eye to sports’ ruin

If yesterday’s weather forecasts were accurate then today parts of the country will, appropriately, lie under snow just as the Winter Olympics open in South Korea. In what seems a particularly apt challenge the Pyeongchang games have been named as a “peace Olympics”.

A competitor in the Women's Biathlon in training during a preview day at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

This moniker must refer to geopolitical difficulties exacerbated by President Trump’s gunslinger diplomacy and Kim Jong-un’s willingness to play along in this chest-beating double act — chest-beating that seems like more like something from a wrestler’s ham-it-up handbook than something from one of the great, peace-centred works of diplomacy.

That moniker cannot refer to the peace of mind of the majority of competitors who know they must not only beat their opponents on the track but their chemists in their Frankenstein labs as well.

The scale of the doping is spectacular. International Federation Ski (FIS) data collected over the first decade of this century suggests that close to one-in-three medals, including 91 gold medals, were won by athletes whose blood tests hint that more than hard work and exceptional talent are in play.

Leaked FIS data shows that 13 of those who entered the 50km cross-country skiing event at Sochi in 2014 had given blood tests that suggested they may have doped. Almost unsurprisingly Russians took the first three places.

Essentially, and so very tragically, the Winter Olympics are as tainted as any other international sports jamboree where huge sums of money are involved — not to mention the vanities of demagogues only too happy to sacrifice athletes to aggrandise their country’s self-image — just as Russia will do with this summer’s soccer World Cup.

Ireland sends a team of five to Pyeongchang and under the old Corinthian values that shaped sport for so long — superficially at least — they must be offered every best wish so they might perform at their very best.

However, ubiquitous doping and the rising stink of corruption around nearly every international sports event — Qatar World Cup anyone? — suggests that it may be time to review that old dodge dressed as a principle — that sport and politics do not mix.

Today they seem joined at the hip; mutually supportive bedfellows happy to celebrate resurgent nationalism in some of the world’s darker corners.

Which, as it will when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visits the White House next month, raises a straightforward enough question: Is participation an endorsement?

Is it really possible to turn a blind eye, to look away and pretend that all is kosher when it so obviously is not?

Even in a country unshakeably committed to neutrality that seems high-mindedness turned into deliberate foolishness — one we seem happy to indulge because in terms of international sport there are so few alternatives.

As the Boomtown Rats warned in a slightly different context all those years ago: “It’s a rat trap and you’ve been caught”.

If parts of Ireland are under snow today people will use everything from fertiliser bags to dustbin lids as toboggans.

If there is a budding Beat Feuz among them is it too much to hope that he or she might, in the fullness of times, have a chance to compete in credible, honourable competitions?

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