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.


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.