Saturday, December 29, 2012

Emperors of Japan: A Divine Lineage



This was written on December 20, 2012, to commemorate Emperor Akihito's 79th birthday, which was celebrated on December 23, 2012. Since Akihito is the 125th Emperor of the traditional line of Japanese Emperors, I thought of publishing it here as the 125th blog post of this blog.



King Farouk I of Egypt reportedly said after his abdication in 1952, that “The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five kings left-the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts and the King of Diamonds.” If he had indeed said these words, this shows his inadequate knowledge in history and politics. The first kings of England appeared in the 10th Century in Wessex and the monarchy of England has not been continuous. Playing cards was started in China in the 9th Century. However, in another country, the same imperial family had been in power for reportedly more than 2600 years when Farouk I supposedly uttered those words.

The current monarch of that dynasty, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan, celebrates his 79th birthday on December 23, 2012. Born in 1933 to Emperor Hirohito (Showa Emperor) and Empress Kojun, he was the first son and the fifth child of the royal couple. Therefore, he became the crown prince when he was born. He experienced the Second World War as a small boy and was evacuated from Tokyo in the height of the American bombing of the city. The fact that he was not an adult may have had a role in Emperor Hirohito’s decision of not abdicating after the end of the war.

After the war, Akihito was tutored on English and Western manners by Elizabeth Gray Vining, who had a lasting impact on the young prince. In 1952, his formal investiture as the Crown Prince was held in Tokyo. Crown Prince Akihito married Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, in 1959. She was the first commoner to be married into the royal family in its entire history.

Emperor Hirohito and Empress Kojun (seated) with Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko (standing). (The wedding of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess in 1959)



Legend has it that the imperial line is 2672 years old, easily making it the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. Akihito is the 125th Emperor in this line. It is true that there are no written records to prove the existence of the earlier Emperors. The first non legendary Emperor appears in the 6th Century A.D. Therefore, even if only the non-legendary period is considered, the imperial line has a recorded history of more than 1500 years.

According to legend, Emperor Jimmu, the first to ascend to the throne in 660 B.C., is a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess Ameterasu. This divinity has been one reason for the longevity of the imperial family in power. Although Emperor Hirohito ‘renounced divinity’ the fact remains that the Imperial family of Japan is well above the other families of Japan. The writer and imperial authority Shichehei Yamamoto once wrote that “According to Japanese law, all citizens are required to have their names and abodes officially registered with the authorities. However, the Emperor and the members of the Imperial Family lack both a family name and a family register. For that reason, when Empress Michiko married the then Crown Prince [Akihito], her name was crossed off from her family register.” Therefore, even though the Imperial Household Law is subject to the Constitution of Japan, in practice it seems that it is not the case.

Another reason for the longevity of the Imperial Family is their lack of real political power. The Japanese Emperors, while revered by the people, have had little power throughout the history. For Centuries, until 1868, the country was effectively ruled by military leaders known as shoguns. Emperors were enthroned or abdicated according to the whims of the Shogun. However, as the Imperial Family was divine, the shoguns could not afford to chose an Emperor from another family.

The last of the Shogunates was the Tokugawa Shogunate, which was overthrown in 1868 by the Meiji Restoration. This supposedly saw the power returning to the Emperor. But, as a matter of fact, the Meiji Emperor was used by the families which overthrew the Shogunate to legitimize their rule. Under the Meiji Constitution of 1890, the Emperor was to take advice of the Prime Minister on all political matters. After the end of the Second World War, the powers of the Emperor were curtailed even more.

Although the Emperor does not have any political power many Japanese revere him. The lack of political power itself may have helped for the Emperors to preserve that reverence. They have not mingled with the common people except for in dire or critical situations. The Meiji Emperor travelled around the country in 1868 to strengthen the new regime. Emperor Hirohito travelled around the country after the Second World War. Emperor Akihito, while at times trying to bring the Imperial Family closer to common people, has also kept his distance. His televised speech after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 was the first ever prepared televised speech by the Emperor, which also showed the magnitude of the disaster. In this speech, he urged his people not to give up hope. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko later visited people who were in a temporary shelter.

Emperor Akihito has expressed his regrets about the Second World War, travelling to Saipan in 1995 and various War Memorials around Japan. Around four years ago, before the 20th anniversary of his enthronement, the Emperor expressed concern over the fact that the Japanese were forgetting the War. He reportedly said that, “What I am rather more concerned about is that history might gradually be forgotten. The 60-plus years of the Showa Era taught us many lessons. I believe it is essential for us to learn from the historical facts and prepare ourselves for the future.”

Japan is currently entangled in maritime border disputes with several countries and has just elected one of the most nationalist legislatures in its recent history. Whether the Japanese people share the concerns of their Emperor is a question only time can answer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Japan Votes in a Confused Election



Around two fifth, if not more, of the Japanese electorate, is either unwilling to vote or are undecided as to whom they should vote for in the country’s election. These include a large fraction of its younger population. Japanese society is ageing rapidly and politics has been largely an old people’s affair in most of its modern history.

The current election has become a confusing affair because of more than a dozen political parties involved. They have come to the forefront because both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party (DP) have lost their popularity. The Japanese people, disappointed with the LDP, handed over the power to the DP three years ago, to be disappointed even more. However, many people are not prepared to call back the LDP to govern them.

National Diet Building of Japan (2009), Wiii, Wikimedia Commons



Some of the new parties are just weeks old in name but not old when it comes to the people involved. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) is a new party only because it is the result of the merger of two other parties. The eighty year old popular former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, left his job to assume the leadership of a reformed “Sunrise Party.” He promptly merged it with Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party. The resultant alliance retained the name JRP and is led by Ishihara, a vocal nationalist. Meanwhile, a large splinter group of the Democratic Party parliamentary group has joined hands with the popular governor of Shiga Prefecture, Yukiko Kada, to form “Tomorrow Party.” While the latter has not shown much promise, the JRP is set to become one of the bigger parties in the new lower house in the Japanese Diet.

Despite its low popularity, the LDP is poised to become the largest party in the newly elected lower house of the Diet. The Japanese Diet, or the National Kokkai, is a bicameral legislature. The lower house, or the House of Representatives, has 480 members, out of which 300 are elected in single member constituencies and the others are elected in a proportional representative system across eleven block districts. Despite the decline in popularity, the LDP is the single most popular party in Japan today. Therefore, it will most probably win the majority of the 300 single member constituencies in the election and will also win a substantial portion of other 180. Even if it fails to win a majority, the LDP could form a coalition government with the support of moderate right wing parties such as the New Komeito Party.

The main issues of concern to the voters in this election are the economy, the future of nuclear power and the prevailing regional political environment, dominated by the ongoing maritime border dispute with China. The Japanese voters are at a loss when they try to figure out which party stands where about certain-especially economic-issues.

The Japanese are in a dilemma when it comes to nuclear energy. They do not want to live with it, but cannot go without it. Despite the fact that the support for nuclear power nosedived after the Fukushima disaster, the zero nuclear parties, who want to see Japan phasing out nuclear energy completely, enjoy little support. The main reason is that these parties, spearheaded by the Tomorrow Party and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) have not been able to propose viable alternatives to nuclear power.

The quest for energy sources is the primary motivation in pursuing an aggressive stance over the maritime boundary issue. This has rejuvenated the nationalists in Japan, such as Shintaro Ishihara, who is so anti-Chinese that he denies the occurrence of the Nanjing massacre. The 75th anniversary of the event was commemorated by China just three days before the Japanese go to polls and the Chinese people consider the event as a ‘forgotten holocaust.’

However, the average Japanese is reluctant to jump into the bandwagon of extreme nationalism of the types of Ishihara. Their alternative is the leader of the LDP, Shinzo Abe, who has also taken up a hawkish attitude over the issue. Nevertheless, Ishihara remains a relatively popular figure. A survey carried out by Yomiuri Shimbun between 23rd and 25th of November indicated that twenty percent of the respondents preferred him as Japan’s next Prime Minister, although the JRP as a party is not that popular. It is true that the Yomiuri Shimbun is a conservative newspaper and has predicted a much higher percentage of votes for the JRP than the surveys by other organizations. But Ishihara's ideas have struck a cord with a certain section of the electorate and it might play a part in helping the LDP to regain power.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Right Wing Parties to Make Inroads in Japanese Election


Politics makes strange bedfellows. For example, consider Tokyo's popular former governor Shintaro Ishihara and Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka. The former merged his Sunrise Party with the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) of the latter, despite serious policy differences between the two, such as on the future of nuclear energy in Japan. After the merger, the elderly Ishihara was appointed the president of the party which was led until then by Hashimoto. The JRP, the only national party in Japan which is based outside Tokyo is hoping to be a serious contender in the December 16 election for the House of Representatives in the Japanese Diet.

Shintaro Ishihara in 2006, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam York, Wikimedia Commons

Third parties such as the JRP have been able to exploit the vacuum created by the unpopularity of both the leading parties, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Despite being unsatisfied with the three year rule of the DPJ, the majority of the electorate do not wish to see a return of the LDP. The LDP ruled Japan almost continuously from the 1950s, except for a brief period in 1993-1994 when they lost power, until it was decisively defeated by the DPJ.

Opinion polls suggest that the the DJP and LDP unable to muster even half of the votes between them and more than one third of the voters are still undecided on whom to vote. Therefore, the third parties have a lot to gain from the elections. Many of the small parties are on the political right, seeking the revitalization of Japan. However, except this declared ambition, there is little consensus between them. This has created apprehension over the stability of the government which will be formed after the elections.

However, with the left wing parties largely marginalized, the lower House of the Diet which will be elected will pull Japan's politics to the right. The increased role of the nationalists such as Ishihara, who has a vehemently anti-China policy, will not be conducive towards diffusing regional tensions.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Osama bin Laden still a Factor in U.S. Elections


Almost exactly eight years ago, America went to polls to elect a president. What was expected to be a tight race, ended in a relatively comfortable victory to the incumbent George W. Bush. America’s most wanted man and the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, had an impact on the election through a video tape that was released days before. Apprehensive of their security, some voters swayed to the Bush camp, giving him an advantage in the eleventh hour.

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, Wikimedia Commons

It is eighteen months since the demise of Osama bin Laden. His once feared Al-Qaeda has suffered defeat after defeat. However, the once feared bin Laden is still a man who still has an influence over American politics. If it was not the case, the National Geographic Channel would not have premiered “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden” just two days before America chose a new president.

Directed by John Stockwell, the movie has been produced by Weinstein Company of Harvey Weinstein and Voltage Pictures. As one of the writers and executive producers of the movie, Weinstein plays a key part in the movie. As National Geographic Channel (NGC) President Howard Owens stated “[T]he success of this premiere would not have been possible without Harvey's driving force and support for this film and our network.” The fact that Weinstein was an ardent supporter and a key fundraiser of president Obama’s reelection campaign was a reason for the Republicans to complain. Adding salt to their injury, the film used several archive footages of Obama himself.

However, the NGC, which premiered the film, is primarily owned by one of the most conservative media tycoons, Rupert Murdoch. The concern for the Channel was to attract the maximum possible number of viewers, which the film achieved, despite millions of homes still not having electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. With 2.7 million people watching the show, it was by far the best rated NGC show in 2012 and the sixth highest rated show in the entire 15 year history of the channel. David Lyle, CEO of the channel was very pleased. “We are overwhelmed that the viewers across the country responded en masse to this socially relevant, factually based and entertaining film.” It is clear that if the film was featured after the election, it would not have generated this magnitude of interest.

While some critics have praised the film, others have strongly criticized it. Writing to the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley argued that “[A]s a movie it’s not nearly as gripping as it could be, given how harrowing and suspenseful the actual events were on the night of May 2, 2011.”

However, the film has been made to impress the viewers, generating a sense of pride in the American public. It could not have come at a better moment when the Eastern United States is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In the movie, the culmination of “Operation Neptune Spear”, the death of bin Laden, is followed by total silence, after which the time 1.20 a.m. is shown on the screen, which made me recall the popular TV series 24. Thereafter, the voice of the Commanding Officer of the operation is heard as he informs the White House and the Intelligence team involved in the operation that, “[F]or God and Country, Geronimo is KIA.” The film aptly ended with the other most famous phrase to come out of “Operation Neptune Spear.” President Barak Obama declares that “justice has been done.”

Following the operation, Obama also claimed that bin Laden raid is the “most important single day of my presidency.” Just before the election, opinion polls showed that the majority of the possible voters believed that Obama will be a better Supreme Commander than Romney. While economy was a key concern, security concerns may have also played a part in the reelection of Obama. Even in his death, Osama bin Laden has played his part in American politics through “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden.”

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why do we do Quizzing?


This article appeared in the souvenir of the 22nd "Blue and Gold Quiz" held by the General Knowledge Club of Royal College on October 30, 2012.



I was honoured when I was asked to contribute to the souvenir of the Blue and Gold Quiz in 2012. Since the Blue and Gold is all about quizzing, I decided to write on this topic when it was suggested. Why do people do quizzing? Why do we do quizzing?

Photo: Souvenir of "Blue and Gold Quiz 2012" by Ramesh Lakruwan.

Quizzing is a game which tests your knowledge in various areas. It’s simply a matter of answering questions thrown at you. Obviously, the more you answer, the more you will score. I have been asked many questions at various quizzes. Yet, when I was asked why I take part in quizzes, I was searching for an answer. With a fair bit of brainstorming, I came up with some answers. However, this may not be a complete list.

Anyone with a fair bit of intelligence can take part in quizzes. But, not all intelligent people are good quizzers and all quizzers are not having a born talent for it. Also, even though practically any sane person can participate in quizzes, it is hard to find a really good quizzer. The main reason is that to be a successful quizzer you have to have a passion for it.

What factors kindle the passion for quizzing? There can be several. Sir Francis Bacon stated one such factor, although not in the same context, in 1597, when he said “knowledge is power.” A knowledgeable person has self confidence and is ready to face the challenges of life. It may help them in their careers and even personal lives. On a personal note, the fact that I have some general knowledge has helped me in numerous competitive exams. General knowledge has become a part of our life.

Obviously, the competitiveness drives a quizzer to take up the challenge. It is also about social interaction. How good it is to interact with different people from different walks of life and yet have a common passion for quizzing? To compete with them and win will be an aspiration which drives on any serious quizzer. The excitement one feels after winning an open quiz or a school level quiz is matched only by a similar success. A success at an open quiz will have some financial benefits. But the recognition, fame and all other perks resulting from a victory will drive any quizzer towards that goal.

However, the most important factor which drives on many quizzers including me is the fun of it. Of course, it is hard work. But, interacting with colleagues, studying, inquiring, discussing, challenging each other, celebrating success, recalling the blunders we made over the years, contemplating the future strategy after a failure are all part of quizzing and part of the fun. Winning is fun. That excitement is worth all the hardship that goes to quizzing. But, even if he or she does not succeed, a passionate quizzer will never lament. At the end of the day, the knowledge we acquire and the fun we have are worth a fortune.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Five Countries win their First Ever Paralympic Medals in 2012 London Paralympics


The 2012 London Paralympics was the "greatest paralympic games ever" according to Philip Cravern, the president of International Paralympic Committee (IPC). About 4200 athletes from 164 National Paralympic Committees (NPC) including 14 newcomers took part in 502 events in 20 sports. Therefore, the 2012 Paralympics saw the highest number of athletes and NPCs taking part in history. Also the interest it generated was unprecedented.

The 2012 London Paralympics generated unprecedented interest for the Games in five countries for a reason of their own. Athletes from Chile, Ethiopia, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan won their first ever Paralympic medals, thereby making history in their countries. Interestingly, all the five athletes were men.

On September 3, Christian Valenzuela, a 29 year old, visibly impaired athlete from Chile, took part in the T11 1500m final and missed a medal by a whisker. But, four days later, he competed in T11 5000m final and comfortably won it with a time of 15:26:26, a personal best. T11 events are for athletes with serious visible impairments and they use a guide to compete. Valenzuela's guide was Christopher Guajardo. (watch the video here) This was a welcome medal for the South American nation which had failed to win a medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

If Chile can be proud of her athlete, the Fijians can be doubly proud. As the Fiji Times reported, Iliesa Delana, a 27 year old athlete from their small island state "jumped into history" when he won the F42 high jump event. In his event, he jumped 1.74m with one leg, recording a personal and regional best. This was the first ever medal for any Fijian in any Olympic Games, not only the Paralympics. Also, it was the first gold medal in Paralympics for any South Pacific nation. "I am deeply honoured and like many here today to speak on all our behalf in thanking Iliesa Delana in his outstanding performance in winning a gold medal in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London," President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau could state with no hesitation.

Ethiopia has always been a notable nation in middle and long distance races in athletics. However, they have been conspicuously absent or has been a low key participant in Paralympics. Although they started taking part in Paralympics in 1968, they have been absent more than they were present in the Games. Even when they arrived, they fielded one or two athletes only. In 2012, they fielded four athletes including a female athlete. Wondiye Fikre Indelbu, a 24 year old T46 middle distance runner from Ethiopia, won the silver medal in the men's T46 1500m race to give his country the first ever Paralympic medal. We can hope that Ethiopia will be a more active participant in the Paralympics in the future.

Sri Lanka's Pradeep Sanjaya, an Army soldier wounded in late 2008, won the bronze medal for the men's T46 400m event giving the island nation its first Paralympic medal. Sri Lanka has performed commendably in the Asian level but this was their first success at the Paralympic level. (If you have not read my post on Pradeep Sanjaya, you can do so from here)

Therefore, out of the participants who won the first Paralympic medals for their countries in 2012, four were in track and field events. The only other athlete to win the first ever medal for his country was 23 year old Uzbek judoka, Sharif Khalilov. He won the silver medal in men's 73 kg judo.

References

1. Owen Gibson, The Guardian, Paralympics closing ceremony review: an emotional and fiery finale, Sep. 10, 2012.

2. Gold for Chile, chileno.co.uk

3. London2012.com, Christian Valenzuela

4. London2012.com, Men's 5000m T-11

5. Daniel Boyle, Chile’s Cristián Valenzuela Takes Fourth in Paralympic 1500m Final, Sep 3, 2012.

6. Rashneel Kumar, Delana Jumps into History, Fiji Times, Sep. 04, 2012

7. Timoci Vula, President Congratulates Delana, Fiji Times, Sep. 13, 2012

8. London2012.com, Wondiye Fikre Indelbu

9. London2012.com, Sharif Khalilov.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sri Lanka wins First Ever Paralympic Medal


Pradeep Sanjaya, from Sri Lanka Army, has entered the country's sports history in flying colours as the first ever Paralympic medal winner for the country. He took part in the T46 400m race. The final was held on September 4, 2012. (early morning of September 5th, Sri Lanka time). The event was won by Gunther Matzinger of Austria with a time of 48.45 seconds. The Brazilian athlete, Yohansson Nascimento came second with a time of 49.21 seconds and Pradeep Sanjaya won recorded a time of 49.28 seconds to come third. This was an improvement from the time of 49.82 seconds he recorded at the heats earlier in the day. In this heat, he came second behind the Rwandan athlete Hermas Muvunyi, who came fifth in the final. These times were far better than his 50.56 seconds time recorded in the selection trials for the Paralympics 2012 held in Kuala Lampur.

Pradeep Sanjaya was born in April 1986. He is a Lance Corpral of Sri Lanka Army. He is paralyzed in his left arm after he fell victim to a LTTE motar blast in Kilinochchi. This was the very last days of the battle for the Northern city which served as the administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After recovery, he started taking part in Para Games in the Army and also internationally. He has consistently performed well in both 400m and 200m events. In December 2010, he won the T46 400m event in Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China with a time of 51.83 seconds. This shows that he has steadily improved on his timing at this event from 2010 onwards as his times in 2012 are significantly better.

In the selection trials in Kuala Lampur, Pradeep also won the 200m event establishing an Asian record with a time of 22.98 seconds. However, in the same event at London 2012 Paralympics, he could only come seventh in Heat 3 of the first round with a much worse time of 23.40 seconds.

References

1. Sri Lanka Army website, Army’s Pradeep Sanjaya Joins History Winning First Ever Bronze in London Paralympic Games - 2012 Sep. 5, 2012.

2. Newsfirst.lk, My dream came true, says Pradeep Sanjaya, Sep. 5, 2012.

3. Times Online, Paralympics: 400m runner Sanjaya gives Sri Lanka’s maiden medal Sep 5, 2012.

4. london2012.com, Men's 400m - T46

5. london2012.com, Pradeep Sanjaya Uggl Dena Pathirannehelag

6. london2012.com, Men's 200m - T46 (Round 1)

7. Ada Derana, Pradeep gives Sri Lanka first gold in Asian Para Games Dec. 17, 2010.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Lecture on "The Role of the Small Island State in the Global Tapestry" by James Alix Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles


August 21, 2012: The visiting President of the Republic of Seychelles, H.E. Mr. James Alix Michel, delivered a lecture on "The Role of the Small Island State in the Global Tapestry" at Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Colombo, Sri Lanka, this afternoon. The event was attended by dignitaries including the Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka and Seychelles, Hon. Prof. G. L. Peiris and Hon. Mr. Jean Paul Adam respectively, Mr. K. Amunugama, Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka, Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Executive Director of the LKIISS and Minister Hon. Mr. Rajitha Senaratne.

Seychelles is a small island nation with an area of just over 450 square kilometres and home to 85,000 people. It gained independence from the British in 1976 and was a one party socialist state from 1979 to 1991. James Alix Michel, the 68 year old President of Seychelles has been serving various ministerial positions from 1977 and in 1996 became the vice president of the country. From 2004, he has been the president of Seychelles. He has overseen a significant economic development mainly due to the tourism and fisheries sectors.

The proceedings of the public lecture got underway at 5 p.m. The welcome speech was delivered by Mr. Abeyagoonasekera, Executive Director of LKIISS. He emphasized the importance of the event to the LKIISS as it was the first occasion in which a Head of State was delivering a lecture at the institute. Furthermore, he declared the importance of the topic on which H. E. the president of Seychelles was to speak as Sri Lanka and Seychelles has many similarities including natural beauty, fisheries resources and proximity to emerging markets.

Following Mr. Abeyagoonasekera's speech, Sri Lanka's external affairs minister Prof. G. L. Peiris rose to make some introductory remarks. He said that Mr. Michel's speech was important in three aspects. Firstly, as Mr. Abeyagoonasekera had already mentioned, it was the first time a Head of State was delivering a lecture at the LKIISS. Secondly, Mr. Michel's contribution to education and environment of his island nation had been recognized even internationally. Also, his experiences in the private sector, especially in the tourism sector, before coming to public office had helped Mr. Michel to improve the country's economy. Prof. G. L. Peiris emphasized the experience of Mr. James Michel by stating that there was practically no ministerial portfolio he has not held during his long service as a political leader of the country.

However, the third and the most important factor for the importance of the lecture was the relevance and pragmatic importance of the topic Mr. Michel was to speak on. Prof. Peiris was confident that Sri Lankans could broaden their knowledge by listening to Hon. Mr. Michel as both the countries shared common interests such as tourism and other leisure activities and threats such as piracy.

Rising to speak after Prof. Peiris's remarks, Hon. Mr. James Michel drew attention to the importance of treating all nations with equanimity in world politics. He stated that "no man or no country has a monopoly over ideas for all the problems." Island states, he further stated, should work together to develop synergies to deal with challenges in the volatile global political arena.

Islanders have a risk of isolation and a sense of disconnection which has to be overcome for their nations to prosper. Island nations could develop trade and other connections. The Oceans surrounding them should be viewed as an Ocean of opportunity rather than a source of isolation. Although international trade rarely reach small island states, there were other aspects that can be developed. Fisheries was one such area which can be developed. The president of Seychelles drew attention to the fact that much of the profit from fisheries was reaped by developed countries although much of the fishing is done in the southern Oceans. He was confidant that increased cooperation between island states would help them to increase their benefits also.

Oceans, as Mr. Michel argued, were not to be exploited, but explored. Seven out of ten coral reef hotspots and a considerable number of richest areas in Ocean biodiversity were in small island states. Therefore, these states should perceive the Oceans as spaces of development and research. Mr. Michel made his view clear that island nations should take control of the Blue Economy.

Island states however, had their limitations. As Mr. Michel pointed out, "All islanders know where the land ends." The most valuable resource they possessed were the human resource. This epitomized the importance of education for development. Mr. Michel declared that "we must not think small." In that aspect, small island states were taking a more vocal stand on issues affecting them in the global arena. The ultimate goal of these endeavours should be the establishment of an egalitarian world order.

Seychelles, as its president mentioned, was taking her own initiatives in trying to find solutions for problems faced by small island states. The Seychellois believe that the Indian Ocean region should be used in a sustainable manner with a long range plan. The country had declared 50% of its land area as nature reserves, making it the highest percentage of land declared as reserves in any country. The president seemed to say that in that aspect his country is much bigger than many bigger countries.

Then Hon Mr. Michel turned his attention to international security and piracy. He declared that every Seychellois was praying for the safe return on their two compatriots held hostage in Somalia. He also mentioned that he was aware of the plight of Sri Lankans who were held hostage by pirates. Indian Ocean region should be a region of peace and development and not a source of anarchy. Sri Lanka's experience in countering terrorism was important for the Indian Ocean region countries in their quest to counter threats such as piracy.

Thereafter, the president of Seychelles turned to international affairs. He emphasized the importance of regional cooperation such as in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation. South-South partnerships should be developed. Also, he made clear his interest on the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of State meeting to be held in Sri Lanka. Mr. Michel put forward the intention of his country to seek a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council by 2017 as a move to strengthen the role of island states in global tapestry. He declared that "all nations matter; big or small."

Hon. Mr. James Michel reiterated his vision of a circle of friendship in the Indian Ocean region. Sri Lanka was important to his country as the two nations shared common desires of increasing trade, investment of its peoples and increasing prosperity. Concluding his speech, Hon. Mr. Michel stated that "we are proud to stand together to champion this movement."

Image taken by me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Olympic Games as a Political Weapon


Rule 50.3 in chapter 5 of the Olympic Charter states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” However, the magnitude of the Games and the interest it generate has inspired some nations as well as individuals in utilizing the Olympics as a political tool. The Summer Olympics have seen protests, boycotts, walkouts and even terrorist attacks over the years.

Olympics for International Recognition

Nations and de facto states aspiring international recognition have seen the Olympic Games as a platform to further their claims. As Olympics are seen as a world event, participation in them as a separate entity is perhaps a step forward in full international recognition.

The first instance where such an event occurred was in 1908 London Olympics when the Grand Duchy of Finland participated separately from the Russian Empire and the Irish participated separate from the United Kingdom in certain events. The Finnish athletes refused to march behind the Russian flag at the opening ceremony and marched without a flag.

Two years before, in the 1906 Intercalated Games (which was considered as an Olympic event then), two Irish athletes had protested the raising of the British flag at the victory ceremonies after winning gold medals. Peter O’Conner and Con Leahy had their own green colored Irish flag raised instead of the Union Jack.

During the Cold War, The tension between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) or West Germany created some controversies. The GDR was not recognized by many countries until early 1970s. For them, participation in Olympic Games as a separate team was an important goal in their campaign for international recognition. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not allow them to compete separately until 1968 Winter Olympics. Instead, the GDR athletes were asked to compete as part of a United Team of Germany with a compromise flag and anthem. The anthem used was Beethoven’s melody to Schiller’sOde to Joy”, which was the last part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Even in 1968 Winter Olympics, the compromise flag and anthem were used by both teams. It was only in the 1972 Summer Olympics that the separation of the two states was complete with them adopting their respective national flags and anthems.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) boycotted the Games for a different reason after her initial appearance in 1952. The Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) was against the IOC decision to recognize both the COC and the Olympic Committee in Taipei. In 1956 the IOC allowed the Taiwanese team to take part in the Olympics albeit under a different name, Formosa. The use of alternative name instead of “Republic of China” was not enough to mollify the PRC and it withdrew from the games. In 1958, they walked out of the IOC. The issue was only resolved in 1979. The PRC participated in 1980 Winter Olympics. In 1984, both Chinas were at the Olympics, with Taiwan represented as “Chinese Taipei.”

On some occasions, certain countries have been either not invited or banned from the Olympic Games. After the First World War, the IOC, then dominated by the French, did not invite Germany for the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. However, within a few years, Germany was able to win a bid to host the Olympics. Meanwhile, until the end of the Second World War, the USSR and the IOC mutually neglected each other.

The emergence of numerous independent states in Africa and elsewhere after the end of colonialism did not help the prospects of South Africa and Rhodesia at the Olympics. South Africa was banned after the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Apartheid in 1962. This resolution itself was staunchly supported by the newly independent African states. South Africa was not to return to Summer Olympics until 1992. However, from 1964, South Africa took part in the Paralympics, until the Dutch parliament barred her from taking part in 1980.

It was the threat of a boycott by many African nations which forced the IOC to ban Rhodesia from the Olympics in 1972. The IOC decided on a 36-31 vote to ban the African country days before the opening ceremony. Four years later, 22 African nations boycotted the Games after the IOC failed to take action against New Zealand. The Africans protested against a tour of South Africa undertaken by the New Zealand Rugby team.

Olympics for National Prestige

Success in Olympic Games is always a source of national pride and free propaganda for a country. It is largely through Olympics that small states like Jamaica have become well known in the world. However, more larger and powerful nations perceive the Games as an opportunity to show their superiority. While this is common for any large nation, the former Soviet Union can be considered as a classic example. In late 1940s, when they decided to take part in international sporting events such as the Olympics, they believed that “victories over ‘bourgeois’ states would demonstrate the vitality of the Soviet system.” However, the USSR did not send athletes for the 1948 Olympics, uncertain as to the level of their athletes. From 1952, the Soviets did take part and until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War tensions would trouble the Olympics from time to time.

It is common knowledge that even the general public has followed, is following and will continue to follow the Olympics medal table to decide which country is the “Superpower in Sports”. The USA and the USSR were the great rivals until the collapse of the latter. After enjoying a spell of unrivaled superpower status in sports as well as other spheres, the USA is now being challenged by China.

Local rivalries are also common between different states. For years, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany was denied the opportunity to compete as a separate team. Once they were granted permission to do so, they actually surpassed the performances of the West German athletes and some of their Olympic records still stand. However, it is suggested that some East German athletes were aided by performance enhancing substances.

However, it should be noted that success in sports, while being a source of immense national pride, could not save both the USSR and the GDR from their failure as a nation.

1936 Berlin Olympics

Berlin had been awarded the 1936 Olympics before Adolf Hitler came to power. Some nations decided to boycott the Berlin Olympics and the newly elected Popular Front government in Spain organized an alternative “People’s Olympiad” which could not be held as the Spanish Civil War broke up. The United States was also considering boycotting but its Olympic Committee president, Avery Brundage, was against a boycott. Whatever may have been his motive, his decision did not help Hitler’s objective of establishing the theory of “Aryan Supremacy.” Not only did the USA lead the medal table; the star athlete, Jesse Owens, was a Black American.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics also saw a political protest at the podium by two Korean athletes. Korea was at the time a province of the Japanese Empire. The best marathon runner from the empire was from Korea. Sohn Kee-chung won the marathon a fellow Korean, Nam Sung-yong, won the bronze medal. They stood on the victory podium with bent heads as the Japanese anthem was played.

1956 Melbourne Olympics: Blood in the Water

The 1956 Summer Olympics was held in December as it was held in the Southern hemisphere. It was held in the wake of two international crises and it was evident from various boycotts and tensions. Three countries each boycotted the Games as results of the two crises. The Suez Canal crisis prompted three Arabian states (Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon) to boycott the Games. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland boycotted protesting the presence of the Soviet team after the Soviet crackdown in Hungary.

But the tensions rose during the water polo contest between Hungary and USSR. The players were increasingly violent as the game progressed. Hungary was leading the game when it was stopped and awarded to them when the situation was threatening to go out of control. The match has been named “the Blood in the Water match.”

1968 Mexico City Olympics: Deaths Outside, Fists Inside

The 1968 Mexico City Olympics could be described as the first Olympics held in a developing country. The country had been under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for nearly four decades. As the spotlight moved to Mexico due to the impending Olympic Games, students of Mexico took to the streets. The government responded by shooting them in what was to be known as the Tlatelolco massacre. British journalist Robert Trevor, who arrived in Mexico City to cover the Games, ended up reporting about “the most terrifying night in [his] life” just ten days before the Olympics started.

Once the games started, political protest in USA, Mexico’s northern neighbor, reached the Olympic Stadium. Two African Americans, Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos won the gold and bronze medals respectively in men’s 200m sprint. At the victory ceremony, they raised their fists giving the black power salute when the US national anthem was being played. Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist also joined them in wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges. The OPHR was an organization of mainly Black American athletes formed in 1967, initially to organize an African American boycott.

1972 Munich Olympics: Death inside the Olympic Village

The 1972 Munich Olympics is remembered for the terrorist attack by the Black September group which claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes and officials. This prompted some athletes to leave the Games but the Games were not suspended. Avery Brundage, the IOC President famously declared that “the games must go on.” He was also criticized for equating the Munich massacre with the banning of Rhodesia from the games.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict has been the source of some tension at the Olympics but it exploded in 1972. There has been no such terror attack on an Olympic village before or since Munich.

However, unlike the case of African countries threatening to boycott the Games over issues related to South Africa and Rhodesia, Arab countries have never organized a substantial boycott against the participation of Israel at the Games, even though many Arab countries did not recognize the State of Israel for a long time. Even in the notable case of 1956, only three countries took part in the boycott. A likely reason for this difference is perhaps the attitude of the Western countries. While they have been generally supportive of Israel, the West was generally critical of the Apartheid in South Africa and the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia. The African countries could count on the sympathy of a substantial number of Western countries as well as almost all Eastern bloc countries. However, these sympathizers were not ready to join such a boycott in solidarity with the Africans. The Western bloc or the Eastern bloc needed a reason affecting them more directly and involving key players in Cold War politics to organize such a boycott.

Palestine was granted membership in the Asian Olympic Committee in the 1980s. It was only after the Oslo Accord that it was granted the membership of the IOC. In 1996, a Palestinian team took part in an Olympic Games for the first time in Atlanta.

1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles

The USSR gave a reason for the Western bloc to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics by invading Afghanistan in late 1979. More than 60 nations joined in the boycott of the Olympic Games, many but not all of them joining the boycott led by the United States. Only 80 nations took part in the Games, making it the Summer Olympic Games with the lowest participation after 1956 Summer Olympics. The Eastern bloc countries led by the USSR boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in reply. A notable exception was Romania, which ended up second in the medal table after winning 20 gold medals.

Politics after 1984 Olympics

The last occasion when several countries took part in an Olympic boycott at Summer Olympics was in 1988. North Korea boycotted the Games held in Seoul, South Korea. Cuba, Ethiopia and Nicaragua also boycotted out of solidarity with North Korea and there were a few more absentees. However, it was a great success. These Games were the last Summer Olympics where USSR and GDR took part. The Berlin Wall fell the next year and the GDR was reunited with West Germany in 1990. The USSR collapsed in 1991 and the newly independent states competed at Barcelona Olympics the following year as the Unified Team. It was informally called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Team. The Unified Team led the medal table with 45 gold medals.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics saw a terrorist attack, the Central Olympic Park bombing. This claimed two lives and injured more than a hundred. In 1998, the US Federal authorities charged Eric Robert Rudolph with the bombing.

Four decades after the Mexico City massacre, human rights activists were once again protesting the awarding of the Olympics to a country ruled by an authoritarian regime, China. Tibetan activists also staged huge protests and even attempted to disrupt the Olympic torch relay.

In 2004 Olympics in Athens, Arash Mirasmaeili, an Iranian judoka, was eliminated after failing to make the correct weight before a bout against the Israeli, Ehud Vaks. However, he was quoted as saying that he “refused to face his Israeli rival in sympathy with the ‘oppressed’ Palestinian people” Iran does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Iran was once more in news as they protested the logo of the 2012 London Olympics, threatening briefly to boycott the Games charging that at the logo represented the word ‘Zion.’ However, Iran quietly dropped the threat of boycott and no change was done to the logo.

London Olympics were more notable for several issues concerning a reemerging threat in Europe, racism. Just prior to the Olympic Games got underway, a Greek female athlete was banned from the Games for her comments in the social media website Twitter which mocked African immigrants and expressed support to a far right party. As it was no lesson to be learnt, a Swiss footballer followed her example and followed her out of the Olympics, by posting racist comments on the South Koreans after the Swiss team was beaten by them. Just days after, a German female rower left the Olympics after it was revealed that her boyfriend had ties to a neo-Nazi group.

Although the end of the Cold War helped ease much of the political tension associated with the Olympic Games, it was not completely immune to political influences. With the recent racist incidents, a new threat seems to be emerging to undermine the Olympic spirit.

References

1. International Olympic Committee, Olympic Charter (In force as from 8 July, 2011) p. 91 http://www.olympic.org/Documents/olympic_charter_en.pdf (Accessed: Aug. 06, 2012)

2. Olympic Committee of Ireland (OCI), OCI History, http://www.olympicsport.ie/about/3022-oci-history.html (Accessed: Aug. 07, 2012)

3. Riordan, J. The Rise and Fall of Soviet Olympic Champions, Olympika, Vol II (1993) pp. 25-44. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/Olympika/Olympika_1993/olympika0201c.pdf (Accessed: Aug 06, 2012)

4. Lewis, M., Obituary: Sohn Kee-chung, The Guardian, 30. 11. 2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2002/nov/30/guardianobituaries (Accessed: Aug. 07, 2012)

5. Corwin, M., Blood in the Water at the 1956 Olympics, Smithsonian.com, 01. 08. 2008., http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/blood-in-the-water.html (Accessed: Aug. 07, 2012)

6. BBC, “The Most Terrifying Night of My Life”, 02. 10. 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7646473.stm (Accessed: Aug 07, 2012)

7. Zirin, D., “The Explosive 1968 Olympics”, International Socialist Review, Issue 61, September-October 2008, http://www.isreview.org/issues/61/feat-zirin.shtml (Accessed: Aug 07, 2012)

8. Weiner, E., “The IOC Wrong Again: Munich Victims Should be Honored”, The Examiner, 22. 07. 2012, http://www.examiner.com/article/the-ioc-wrong-again-munich-victims-should-be-honored (Accessed: Aug. 08, 2012)

9. U.S. Department of Justice, “Eric Rudolph Charged in Central Olympic Park Bombing”, 14. 10. 1998, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/1998/October/477crm.htm (Accessed: Aug. 07, 2012)

10. BBC, Mystery over Iran Judo ‘Protest’, 15. 08. 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3562808.stm (Accessed: Aug. 08, 2012)

11. CBSNews, “Greece Expels Olympic Athlete over Racist Tweets”, 25.07.2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-33747_162-57479553/greece-expels-olympic-athlete-over-racist-tweets/ (Accessed: Aug. 08, 2012)

12. CBSNews, “Swiss Olympic Soccer Team Boots Player for Racist Tweet”, 30.07.2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-33747_162-57482228/swiss-olympic-soccer-team-boots-player-for-racist-tweet/ (Accessed: Aug. 08, 2012)

13. CBSNews, “Ties to Neo-Nazi Group Prompt German Rower to Leave Olympics”, 03.08.2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31751_162-57486224-10391697/ties-to-neo-nazi-group-prompt-german-rower-to-leave-london-olympics/ (Accessed: Aug. 08, 2012)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 London Olympics Tennis: Wimbledon Replay between Federer and Murray


On July 8, 2012, Roger Federer and Andy Murray competed at the final of the Men's Singles final at 2012 Wimbledon Championship in which the Swiss won 4–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–4. On August 4, just under a month afterwards, at the same venue (All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club) the two men will meet for the fight for an Olympic gold. Federer already has one Olympic gold for the Mixed Doubles event, but for Murray this is the first chance for Olympic glory.

The Olympic Men's Singles contest had 64 men from 34 nations competing in it. The reigning Champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from the competition in July. There were no big surprises, although a second round match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France and Milos Raonic of Canada produced an epic 3 hour and 57 minute contest on July 31, 2012. It was then the longest three set men's singles tennis match in the Open era (from 1968). But, this record was to be eclipsed in just three days, on August 3.

That day, in the first Semi Final, Roger Federer beat the much younger Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in an epic battle to secure a place at the final. This was Federer's the ninth Semi Final at the Centre Court at Wimbledon and he has won all of them. However, he went down in the first set to the Argentinian. It took the 31 year old Swiss a staggering 4 hours and 26 minutes to defeat his opponent 3-6, 7-6, 19-17. This epic clash broke the record for the longest three set men's singles tennis match in the Open Era set by Tsonga and Raonic just three days ago. Also it showed that even at 31, Federer is still a fit man at his best of form.

Andy Murray was roared on by a vociferous, euphoric home crowd at Centre Court in the second Semi Final against an opponent no less than the current World Number One, Novak Djokovic. But the 25 year old Scottish tennis player and the British crowd had the better of the 25 year old Serbian. Murray defeated him 7-5, 7-5. (Incidentally, Murray is just a week older than Djokovich. He was born on May 15, 1987 while the Serbian was born exactly seven days later).

While Murray, Djokovic and del Potro may get another chance at Olympic gold in 2016 and even in 2020, Federer may never get another chance. Therefore, he will do his level best to make sure that he wins the gold for himself and his beautiful nation.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

And the First Gold Medal Goes to.... China!!!


China has taken an early lead in her bid to defend the top position in the Summer Olympics medal table which they reached four years ago. The 23 year old shooter Yi Siling "shot straight into the history books" as she beat Poland's Sylwia Bogacka narrowly to clinch the gold medal in the Women's 10m air rifle event. A fellow Chinese, Yu Dan, came third in the event.

It was another shooter, Xu Haifeng, who shot straight into the history books by winning the Men's 50m pistol event at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. It was the first gold medal in that edition of the Olympic Games and was also the first gold medal won by a Chinese from either the Republic of China (ROC) or the People's Republic of China (PRC). In that event also, the bronze medal was won by a Chinese, Wang Yifu.

The ROC, had taken part in Olympic Games in 1932, 1936 and 1948. With two Chinas existing from 1949, the International Olympic Committee permitted both Chinas to compete in the Helsinki Games in 1952. While the PRC participated, the ROC boycotted the games. However, the PRC did not win any medals. What became the two Chinas conflict was not resolved until 1979 and the PRC participated in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games after a 32 year absence.

It was fitting that a Chinese first won an Olympic gold in the same city where a Chinese competed for the first time in the Games. With 15 gold medals, China was ranked 4th in the medal list in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Their tally was amply helped by Li Ning, the "Prince of Gymnastics" who won six medals including three golds. It was this same Li Ning who came "flying through the air" to light the Olympic cauldron at Beijing in 2008.

With the USSR and her allies participating in the Olympics after the boycott of 1984, Chinese rank went down to the 11th place with just 5 gold medals in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. However, they returned to the 4th place in 1992 and retained it in Atlanta four years later. From 2000, they improved their rank one place per an Olympic Games. The Chinese reached the third place with 28 gold medals and 51 medals overall in 2000. Four years later, they were ranked second with 32 golds and 63 medals overall. With 51 gold medals, China led the medals table in 2008 when they hosted the Summer Olympics.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jamaican Athletes at Summer Olympics (1948-2008)


Jamaica took part in Olympic Games for the first time in 1948 while still a British colony. The Caribbean island nation has been a part of every Summer Olympics since then and also has taken part in a few Winter Olympics. In 1960, it was a part of the British West Indies team and in the other instances they have taken part as an independent team. For a nation with a very small population, Jamaica has made a lasting image, especially in the track events at the Olympics. Their performances at these events reached a zenith in 2008 Beijing Olympics where the Jamaican athletes mesmerized the world with their performances.

Over the six decades from London in 1948 to Beijing in 2008, the Jamaicans have won 55 medals in 16 Summer Olympiads. Out of these all but one have been won in athletics. The lone medal for any other event was won by David Weller in cycling, for the Men's 1 km time trial. Apart from another bronze medal won by James Beckford for Men's Long Jump at Atlanta in 1996, Jamaican Olympic medals have come from track events.

This little island was the best performer out of 14 new participants in the 1948 London Olympics, winning one gold and two silver medals. Arthur Wint won the first ever gold for Jamaica in Men's 400 m while his compatriot Herb McKenley won silver. Wint also won a silver medal in 800 m event. An injury to Wint may have denied both of them the gold medal for 400 m relay. However, Herb McKenley had become the only athlete to have reached the finals of sprint events at the same Olympics.

Four years later at Helsinki, another Jamaican, George Rhoden, once more denied "Hustling Herb" McKenley the gold medal in 400 m event. However, along with Wint, Rhoden and Leslie Liang, they won the 400 m relay this time.

The medals would then dry up for a certain time until 1968, when the Olympics were held in Latin America. Lennox Miller won the only medal for his country while becoming the second fastest man on earth by winning the silver medal at 100 m event. Four years later at Munich, his bronze medal was the lonely success once again for the Jamaicans.

Donald (Don) Quarrie was the lonely Jamaican hero of 1976 Montreal Olympics; and what a hero he was. He won the 200 m gold medal but was denied the 100 m gold medal by the Trinidadian Haseley Crawford who passed the finish line an agonizing 0.02 seconds before Quarry. A surprising 32 years would pass before a Jamaican man would reach a 100 m final although their relay team won the 100 m relay in Los Angeles in 1984.

It was now time for the "Queen of the Track" to start her rein. She was definitely the most appropriate woman to become the first Jamaican lady to win an Olympic medal. At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, 20 year old Merlene Ottey won a bronze medal for Women's 200 m sprint, first of many bronze medals which would earn her another name, "Bronze Queen". Four years later in 1984, she 'defended' the third place at 200 m while winning the same place at 100 m. She failed to defend the titles in Seoul in 1988. With this performance, one may have wondered if the boycotts of 1980 and 1984 helped her win medals. However, with her age, she became much better competing with much younger athletes much more successfully. In 1992, she regained her 200 m "bronze title" at Barcelona. The city of Atlanta witnessed her win silver medals for both 100 m and 200 m sprints in 1996. Four years later at Sydney, she once again won a medal (what else but a bronze) for the 100 m sprint.

Meanwhile, it was in Atlanta that Deon Hemmings won the gold medal for an event for which Jamaica was much less known before, hurdles (400 m Women's). Four years later, she would win silver.

The Queen of Jamaican athletics, Merlene Ottey, left the country after a dispute with the Jamaican officials. However, her Olympic career was far from over. In 2004, she would once again compete, this time wearing the colours of her adopted country, Slovenia. She did much better than many of the younger contestants.

One young lady who DID run better than Ottey was a 22 year old Jamaican, Veronica Campbell. She won the gold medal at the 200 m sprint and the bronze medal in 100 m sprint. Also, she was a part of the 100 m relay team which won the gold medal.

Beijing 2008 was THE Jamaican Olympics. The Jamaicans totally dominated the s100 m and 200 m sprints and if not for an error in baton change in the women's relay, it would have been a complete sweep, something another country except the United States could have achieved. Nevertheless, it was an unprecedented achievement by a country with a population of under 3 million.

Many expected Usain Bolt to win the 100 m event and he lived up to, or even exceeded, the expectations. He had exploded to the limelight after ousting Asafa Powell from the position of world record holder just three months before the Olympics. On 16 August, the world saw Bolt bolting ahead of the rest of his challengers (if they could be called as such) and ending up with a new world record of 9.69 seconds despite 'jogging' during the last 30 m. His actions raised some criticism but no one could deny that Bolt was to be the fastest man on earth by far.

Image: Usain Bolt had a comfortable lead over all his opponents.

PhotoBobil, Flickr



Usain Bolt became the first ever Jamaican man or woman to have won a 100 m gold medal at the Olympics. This seems to be a strange fact given their dominance of sprint events today.

Just one day later, on August 17, the 100 m women's team became heroes on par with Bolt. Three ladies from giant USA reached the final and so did three ladies from little Jamaica. The Jamaicans bagged three medals with Shelly-Ann Fraser winning the gold medal with a timing of 10.78s. Both Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart were awarded silver medals with identical timing of 10.98s. No bronze medal was awarded. The Americans left empty handed.

Bolt won the 200 m title with another world record. Veronica Campbell-Brown (The self same Veronica Campbell after her marriage to fellow sprinter Omar Brown) defended her title in 200 m. The 100 m men's relay team won the relay easily, (I bet you guessed it) with another world record. If not for an error, the women would have done the same thing.

Jamaicans have returned to London with the Olympics after 64 years. The Olympics is a much larger event than what was in 1948. Jamaica is a much larger player in world athletics arena than in 1948. The Olympics are here to stay for a long time after 2012. As it seems to be, so are the Jamaicans.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Lecture on "The Changing Role of India in South Asia" by Hon. Mr. Jairam Ramesh


The Minister of Rural Development, Drinking Water and Sanitation of the Government of India, HE Mr. Jairam Ramesh delivered a lecture on the topic "The Changing Role of India in South Asia" at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) in Colombo on Thursday, July 12, 2012, while he was on a short visit to Sri Lanka.

Born in 1954, Jairam Ramesh attended St. Xavier's College, Ranchi, when he was small. Later, he entered the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-Bombay) and completed his B. Tech in Chemical Engineering in 1975. He also studied at Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2004, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament from Adilabad district. He was the Minister of Environment and Forests of the Indian Government for two years from 2009 and in July 2011 he was handed over the Ministry of Rural Development. Later the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation was also handed over to Hon. Ramesh.

Opening the event in the afternoon of July 12, 2012 at BCIS, Chairman of the Academic Board of the BCIS and Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sunimal Fernando said that Hon. Ramesh's lecture was an important event as both Sri Lanka and India were developing rapidly. Sri Lanka, like India, was a different country from what was just a few years back. Therefore, more integration and exchange of ideas was essential.

After Mr Sunimal Fernando's initial remarks, it was the turn of Professor W. I. Siriweera to welcome the gathering. He surprised many of the audience by revealing that Hon. Jairam Ramesh, who looked in perfect health that afternoon, had been hospitalized just a few days earlier. But he did not want to miss the visit to Sri Lanka. Professor Siriweera admired Hon. Ramesh's courage, commitment and consideration.

Thereafter, Hon. Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Senior Minister of International Monetary Cooperation and a personal friend of Hon. Mr. Jairam Ramesh rose to speak. He stated that the world was now looking at Asia, especially China and India. The way out of the present economic morass seemed to be these two economies. This was inconceivable 30 years ago when the world described India as having a "Hindu Rate of Growth".

India is modernizing. Its middle class is growing. Dr. Amunugama stated that this is the opportunity for new openings. It is time to discard the old baggage of troubles and misunderstandings and look at the new prosperity. Dr. Amunugama described Hon. Jairam Ramesh as a symbol of this modern India. He praised the courage of his friend in implementing bold steps especially during his tenure as the Minister of Environment. Instead of paying lip service to all the buzzwords in politics such as environment, disarmament and gender equality, Mr. Ramesh was a bold implementer of what he believed was right.

After Dr. Amunugama's speech, Hon. Mr. Jairam Ramesh rose to speak. He started his address stating that he was pleased to have started the day at an event at an institution named after a distinguished Sri Lankan (the late Hon. Lakshman Kadiragamer) and to end the day at another institution named after another distinguished Sri Lankan, late Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Mr. Bandaranaike was well known in the political circles of India for his favourable relationship during the 1940s and 1950s with both the Indian government and its leader Sri Jawaharlal Nehru.

Minister Jairam Ramesh argued that the changing role of India in South Asia was a result of a larger paradigm shift of how India perceived Asia and vice versa. He stated that India had always been concious of her role in Asia. It was way back in 1947 when Nehru took the initiative by convening an Asian Relations Conference. However, according to Mr. Ramesh, it is the Asians who forgot India. Until 1990, Indian policy was "look to the east and go west". It had changed today to "look to the east and go east". He supported this argument by recalling the changing perception of India with respect to China, the ASEAN states, countries in North Asia such as South Korea and Central Asia. It is this backdrop that India's changing relations with South Asia was to be viewed.

Hon. Mr. Jairam Ramesh stated three main elements which he saw as crucial for the change in India's role in South Asia. The first and the most visible aspect was a belief that there was a prospect of unilateralism. This is a change from the usual insistence of reciprocity. India, being a large country, could at times be magnanimous without waiting for the small countries to reciprocate. However, some of his later statements made clear that there was still a long way to get free of the reciprocity factor.

The second factor was trade and more importantly, investment. Trade opens doors that usual diplomacy could not open. Mr. Ramesh argued that the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement was one such event. It was natural for a small country to be afraid of swamping by a larger country. Even India has a fear of Chinese goods swamping her markets if more trade opportunities are opened between the two countries. However, the free trade agreement between India and Sri Lanka suggests otherwise, argued Mr. Ramesh. Before the agreement, India's exports to Sri Lanka had been ten times that of Sri Lanka's exports to India. During a period of five years ending with 2010, the Indian exports to Sri Lanka was just five times that of the latter's exports to the former.

Investments are far more crucial for trade partnerships. It is a two way street. Sri Lanka's exports were growing partly due to Indian investments in the country while one of the larger investments of a regional company in India is that of a Sri Lankan apparel company. India has allowed Bangladeshi companies to invest in India a few years back and will most probably give the permission for even Pakistani companies to do so. Hon.Mr. Ramesh argued that while trade can be imbalanced, it can be balanced by increasing investment. It will help the huge trade deficits the South Asian countries have with India.

The third factor affecting the change in India's relations with South Asia is the reasons for regional and sub-regional cooperation. The main reason for such cooperation is energy. India is and will be an energy hungry nation. It has invested in neighbouring countries such as Bhutan and Nepal to increase their hydro power output and enable them to export power to India. Bhutan is currently earning 300 million US Dollars annually through exporting electricity. Meanwhile in Tripura, power generation projects are thought to be beneficial for both the North East of India and Bangladesh.

Water also remains an important factor for cooperation in South Asia. Hon. Jairam Ramesh acknowledged that it was a highly contentious political issue. The flooding in the rivers of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will be affected by the catchment areas of the rivers in those states, some of them situated in Nepal. What Nepal is to India is similar to what India is to Bangladesh in this aspect as Bangladesh is downstream from India.

Although India could be magnanimous because of its size, all these cooperation has to be on a give and take basis. Here, the one factor that stymies the increasing cooperation was the lack of concern for legitimate security interests. This is a greatest concern for India.

Despite this, from early 1990s, India has changed its role in South Asia. This new outlook has survived several regime changes also. It is expected to continue to grow and prosper.

After the lecture, the Chairman of the BCIS, Mr. Rajah Kuruppu, delivered the vote of thanks. The event was attended by the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan High Commissioner in India and other dignitaries.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

South Sudan Football Team to Take on Uganda


South Sudan, the newest member in FIFA is preparing to play their first international match in Juba Stadium on July 12, 2012, coinciding with its first independence anniversary. For the friendly match to be played in the capital city, they have invited their neighbours to the south, Uganda.

A year ago, on July 10, 2011, just a day after the country became independent from Sudan, South Sudan football team played a game against a Kenyan club, Tuskers FC. Although the newcomers scored within ten minutes, they were ultimately defeated 3-1. In August, they drew a game with an Ugandan club with scores of 1 all.

These results do not indicate that the South Sudanese would pose a strong challenge to the Ugandans. Although South Sudan has some football clubs which took part in Sudan Premier League before the separation of the country, they were of comparatively lower standards to the best clubs in the north. Therefore, as South Sudan Football Association (SSFA) president remarked in an interview with FIFA, although they do not have to start from scratch, there is still a long way to go. South Sudan lacks a premier league of her own. Starting one will be an essential step for the development of the sport. Development of infrastructure is also very important.

International experience is important for the South Sudanese in their bid to field a strong team by the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. According the SSFA president Chabur Goc Alei, about a hundred players from South Sudan are playing for clubs in the North and are willing to play for their country. Their participation will add valuable experience to the newly established team. Currently, almost all the players in the national squad are locally based and lack international experience.

South Sudan football team is currently coached by Zoran Gjordjevic, a 60 year old Serbian who has coached many clubs and a few national teams in the past, including Sudan. His most notable achievement as a coach was in 2010 when he saw the Bangladesh team win the gold medal at the South Asian Games. Gjordjevic was appointed as coach of South Sudan just weeks ago in late June 2012.

Out of the sovereign nations which were either created or ended international isolation during the 21st century, Afghanistan has made several notable achievements in sports. Its cricket teams and football teams have reached a level which was unthinkable a decade ago. Whether South Sudan will equal or surpass their achievement is to be seen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rwanda Celebrates 50 Years of Independence


With an area of just 26,338 square kilometers accommodating a population of just over 10.7 million by 2011 estimate, Rwanda is the smallest country with a population exceeding 10 million. The population density is 407 people per square kilometer. The population has increased by a staggering 2.6 million, or over 30% from 2002 figure of 8.1 million.

This explosion of the population was a key factor in the escalation of racial rivalry. From 1934 to 1989, the population had increased from 1.6 million to 7.1 million. The rivalry between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis culminated in 1994 with the Rwandan Genocide, which was an unbridled massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus.

From 1884, the area now belonging to Rwanda was ruled by the Germans as a part of their most valued colony, the German East Africa. In 1916, during the First World War, it was occupied by the Belgians. From early 1920s, it was part of the Belgian mandate, Rwanda-Urundi. The Belgians were much more involved in the affairs of Rwanda than the Germans were. It was they who identified the identity card system in 1935 which later cost many Tutsis their lives. Before 1935, there was not much difference between the two groups and the well off Hutus could become Tutsis. Not anymore.

Tutsis were less numerous but relatively more wealthy and Hutus were generally poorer. Tensions between the two groups were escalated in 1959 when Hutus attacked Tutsis killing thousands during the 'Rwandan Revolution'. Three years later, Rwanda was separated from Burundi and on July 1, 1962, Rwanda became an independent Republic.

Ethnic rivalry continued with a cycle of violence which saw exiled Tutsis attacking from neighboring countries and Hutus attacking the Tutsis at home. Many Tutsis who were exiled found themselves in Uganda where the Milton Obote regime resented their presence. Things improved somewhat for them after the 1971 coup by Idi Amin. Meanwhile, attacks on Tutsis in Rwanda were also reduced after Juvenal Habyarimana took power in a military coup in 1973. A main reason for this was the improving economy.

The exiles organized the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) in 1979. The Rwandese exiles became an important component in the Ugandan Bush War between Milton Obote and Yoveri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA). After the victory of the NRA in 1986, an exiled Rwandan Fred Rwigema became Uganda's deputy minister of defense and deputy army commander in chief while Paul Kagame became the acting chief of military intelligence. In 1987, the RANU became the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

In 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda, commencing Rwandan Civil War. Neither party could gain the upper hand but it helped to lessen the power of Habyarimana. Rwanda was forced to come to the negotiation table and the two belligerents signed the Arusha Accords in August 1993.

However, this accord was resented by the extremist Hutus. These organizations were becoming extremely active and militant by early 1994. On April 6, 1994, when the plane carrying Juvenal Habyarimana and the President of Burundi Cyprien Ntariyamira was shot down in Kigali, the Hutu extremists initiated a genocide which claimed nearly a million lives of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Although the RPF was accused of the attack on the plane, the more likely explanation is that the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists, possibly within the Rwandan Armed Forces.

While the genocide was at full intensity and the international community doing practically nothing to curb the violence, the RPF once again launched an attack on Rwanda. This time, there was no stopping them. The Hutu dominated government was swept out of power as the RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994.

From July 1994, the RPF has been governing the country. Even before he became president in 2000, Paul Kagame was seen as the man wielding power in Rwanda. He has been accused of curtailing press freedom and human rights violations. In 2006, the French indicted him for the alleged involvement in the assassination of Habyarimana and Ntariyamira in 1994. Generally, the relations with France has been on the decline under the RPF and it has approached more towards the English speaking world. Rwanda became one of the few non-English speaking members of the British Commonwealth and is also improving its relations with the East African Community.

The challenge of balancing its foreign affairs will be on their minds. There are a considerable Hutu exile community, mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the differences with them and the governments in Kinshasa made the Rwandans involve in the First and Second Congo Wars. Relations with the DRC are however improving.

The quality of life in Rwanda has improved from where it was in 1994 but there is a lot more to be done. The increasing population will be a challenge facing the government. Rwandan government is spending more for health and education than 15 years ago. Literacy rate has passed the 70% mark but only 5% enroll for tertiary education. Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS is also an issue of concern but not as much as some of the other African countries. Rwandan economy is based on subsistence farming with around 90% involved in it. Rwanda's main foreign income is through tourism, mineral exports and cash crops such as coffee. Mineral exports have gone down recently due to the world economic downturn. The main challenge of the Rwandan governments in the future will be to ensure economic stability in the face of increasing population.

Image: Map of Rwanda from CIA World Factbook.

Mexico City: A Red Island in Mexico


Mexico City or the Federal District of Mexico is a contradiction in that Latin American country. It allows abortion on request, a limited form of euthanasia and same sex marriage. It is largely free of the drug violence and other crime rates have also gone down. From 1997, the mayor and the local legislature were elected directly and both institutions had been controlled by the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). They are bound to continue that control for yet another six years despite the fortunes of the party has gone down in many parts of the country. The Catholics have vehemently criticized the Mexico City government for the liberal laws they have introduced, sometimes alleging that the PRD is doing more damage than the drug cartels. Despite this, Mexico City is a red island among the largely Catholic country.

Between 2006-2012, the Head of Government of the Federal District and therefore the focus of the criticism of the Catholic Church, was Marcelo Ebrard. He can not run for a second term according to Mexican election laws. Instead the PRD candidate for the July 1, 2012 mayoral election is the Attorney General of the Federal District, Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa. Three other candidates, all women, are contesting against him, but he is leading the polls by a staggering margin. He is expected to gain around 70% of the votes, leading all others by more than 50%

His three challengers include a former governor of Tlaxcala, Beatrice Paredes of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who came third with just over 20% of the vote in the Mexico City election six years ago. She is now 57 years old and was the governor of Tlaxcala from 1987-1992, becoming only the second Mexican woman to be a governor of a State. Later, she also served as a president of her PRI party.

The National Action Party (PAN) candidate for mayor is Isabel Miranda de Wallace, a 61 year old social activist. An educator by profession, she became a social activist in 2005 after her son was abducted. She created an organization "Alto al secuestro" ("Stop Kidnappings") and in 2012 earned the National Human Rights Prize. Meanwhile, the New Alliance Party candidate for mayor is a former legislator, Rosario Guerra Diaz.

As the Attorney General of the Federal District from 2008 to early 2012, Mancera can boast of the achievement in reducing the crime rate of the city. The recent shootout at the Mexico City airport between the police and members of the drug cartels was a rarity in the city. Mexico City has become a refuge for those seeking safety from violence.

The biggest challenge facing Mancera if he is elected as expected will be to preserve the safe haven in Mexico City. Around 13,000 security cameras monitor the city and the police force has been effectively led. Despite this, worrisome signs are seen here and there. It is alleged that several drug lords reside within the fancy neighborhoods in the City. On the other hand, these drug lords may not want to become too conspicuous by expanding their work into the city where they live peacefully themselves. It is too early to predict the future of Mexico City under Mancera but it is apparent that he will do his best to preserve what has been achieved during the past 15 years under the PRD in the largest capital city in Central America.

Image: Dennis Mojado, Evening rush hour in the Zocalo district of Mexico City.

The Largest Soap Opera in Mexico: General Election 2012


On July 1, 2012, 80 million Mexicans will be eligible to vote in the presidential and legislative assembly elections. Also, some governorships and mayorships are also for grabs, most notably the mayorship of Mexico City.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the "perfect dictatorship party" which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000 is bound to return to power through its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. Despite losing some popularity in the last few weeks, he is leading the polls comfortably.

Peña Nieto was the governor of the State of Mexico which surrounds the capital Mexico City between 2005-2011. Married to a popular soap opera actress, Angelica Rivera, this telegenic man, who would turn 46 later this month, has been a key factor in turning the whole election campaign into a kind of a soap opera. A Mexican president elect will have a lot of challenges to face, most importantly managing the drug wars which had claimed more than 50,000 lives from 2006. Unfortunately, as in many countries, it is not the hard political facts but the personal mud slinging which has driven the campaign for presidency and also some other races.

There are three other candidates in the race for presidency, including the man who claimed that he was robbed of the victory in 2006, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He is in a distant second this time. The governing National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota is at a very distant third place at the moment and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre from the New Alliance Party is the other candidate.

There are fears of irregularities in the election mainly raised by Lopez Obrador. The PRI has presence in many states and it is feared that they may manipulate the vote. A large margin would ensure that the accusations of vote rigging less credible. But, the reputation of the PRI in this aspect was been tarnished during their long rein in power for the Mexicans to forget it too soon. Meanwhile, despite the long running drug wars, the drug cartels still are quite powerful in certain regions and can affect the outcome of elections in local regions. Increasing power endowed to the governors and mayors has meant that they have been able to create personal fiefdoms in certain regions. That has been a notable negative fallout in the democratization of Mexico.

The unpopularity of the PAN which governed the country for 12 years also means that the right-wing party has been unable to inspire the people. For many Mexicans, their 12 year rule has been a disappointment. If not, they would have never opted so strongly for the PRI.

Image: Enrique Peña Nieto - World Economic Forum on Latin America 2010, Copyright World Economic Forum www.weforum.org / Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Knight from Barbados: Former West Indian Cricketer Wes Hall.


"Remember Wes, if you ball a no-ball, you'll never be able to go back to Barbados!"

Those were the words of West Indies cricket captain Frank Worrell, who was also originally from Barbados, before Wes Hall balled what was to be the last ball of the epic tied test cricket match against Australia. With two balls to be balled, Australia had one run to get with one wicket in hand. Hall made sure he did not ball a no-ball and the match ended with a run out.

Born in Barbados on September 12, 1937, Wesley Winfield Hall is almost 75 years old. He was one of only 9 people chosen to be created Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II in the Queen's Birthday Honours on her diamond jubilee year.

At his prime, in late 1950s and early 1960s, many a batsman must have trembled when Wes Hall ran up to ball at them. At 6'2, he was quite a giant. Despite using a long run up, Hall was known for his stamina. Once in a test match against England at Lord's, he balled unchanged from one end for 200 minutes.

Beginning his career in a tour of India and Pakistan in the 1958-59 series, Wes Hall became the first West Indian bowler to take a test cricket hat-trick at the third test with Pakistan. He and fellow Barbadian bowler Charlie Griffith created havoc in many test matches with their pace bowling until mid 1960s. Eventually, his age caught up with him and his performance level suffered. He retired from test cricket in 1969 and from first class cricket in 1971.

Known to be a good humoured man, Hall was a very popular cricketer during his playing years. After retirement, he engaged in social activities and in the 1980s he got involved in Barbadian politics. Appointed to the Senate, he was elected to the House of Assembly from the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The DLP won the election and formed a government and Wesley Hall was appointed Minister of Tourism and Sports in 1987. Wes Hall was reelected to the Assembly in 1991. He is credited with developing the sports tourism of Barbados while serving as the Minister of Tourism and Sport. For his achievements, Hall was endowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

For two years from 2001, Wes Hall was the Chairman of the West Indies Cricket Board and in that capacity was instrumental in attracting the 2007 World Cup to West Indies.

Wes Hall is also ordained a minister in the Pentecostal church. With his knighthood, he will be known as Reverend Sir Wesley Hall.