Monday, February 6, 2006

Paul Farhi’s Turn to Be An Absurdist

Turinolympics_1Paul Farhi, a Washington Post staff writer, took on the Winter Olympics yesterday in as shortsighted, ignorant, mean-spirited and just plain stupid an article as I’ve read in . . . I don’t know, quite a while anyway; "Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete."


I can’t remember the last time I took off after an editorial piece, but this one made me steam. It would have to be termed editorial, it’s certainly not journalism. Farhi charges the Winter Games practice


  • Elitism (not enough representatives from the hot and deserty parts of the world)

  • Exclusion (where are Tonga, Paraguay and Burundi?)

  • The triumph of the world's sporting haves over its have-nots (unforgivably, some have snow and some have-not snow)

But Paul is so far off-track that I really had to do a double-take to make sure his piece wasn’t something from The Onion, slipped into the Sunday Outlook section of the Post, just to see if we were paying attention.


Not one to waste printers-ink, Paul tees off as follows in the second paragraph;

“What the Winter Games are not is a truly international sporting competition that brings the best of the world together to compete, as the promotional blather would have you believe. Unlike the widely attended Summer Olympics, the winter version is almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations. In fact, I'd suggest that the name of the Winter Games, which start Friday, be changed. They could be more accurately branded ‘The European and North American Expensive Sports Festival.’"

Well gosh, Paul, to complain that all that bobsledding, ice skating, skiing and cold-weather frolicking takes place in cold weather seems a bit on the obvious. That’s where people grow up doing such things.


The NHL is saturated with hockey players from the Czech Republic (a relatively poor country of only 10 million) for the simple reason that hockey is the national sport and almost every kid plays it. It’s not racist or exclusionary that it was Czechs instead of Burundians that knocked off Russia for an Olympic Gold Medal.


Ease up.


“Ethiopia, a nation of 73 million, will send its first "team" to a Winter Olympics this year -- a single skier,” complains Paul. On the other hand, in case Farhi missed it, Ethiopia was 28th in the world in terms of medals at the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Switzerland was 47th, no doubt due to the exclusionary inequity of short summers in Switzerland.


What’s your point, Paul? Did you just knock off this piece about the unfairness-of-it-all at Turin because you were bored, a deadline approached, you had to write something?


EthiopianskierrobeltekleRobel Teklemariam, the single Ethiopian skier Paul mentions, was born in Addis Ababa in 1974, but moved with his mother to New York when he was nine. At twelve, he enrolled at a boarding school in Lake Placid, NY, host city to the just-past 1980 Olympic Winter Games. Surrounded by Olympic emblems commemorating the 37 nations and 1,072 athletes that participated in the XIII Winter Games, Robel immersed himself into skiing at the age of 12.


Maybe Paul missed that part of the single Ethiopian skier story. Being their lone entry in the Winter Games is more a matter of snow than it is exclusion. Robel was neither interested nor able to ski in the desert.

Duh, another Olympic moment!


Six countries have won two-thirds of the medals since the Winter Games were introduced in 1924. Outraged by this, Farhi points out that in the much deeper and more inclusive Summer Games, the top six have barely cornered more than half the gold, silver and bronze. Half isn’t all that much less domination than two-thirds, but the identity of those six pretty well demolish Paul’s argument.


Soviet Union (Russia), the United States and Germany are common to both lists. The rest of the winter-six, Norway, Finland and Austria (all European countries) are displaced in the summer-list by France, Britain and Italy.


Gee, gosh . . . three more European countries.


By those standards, Paul would probably have us demolish the Olympics, give the whole thing up as racist, elitist, exclusionary and dominated by the haves of the world to the detriment of the have-nots.


In the-Olympics-according-to-Paul,

“The more telling factors are economic. Would-be Winter Olympians need years of training, coaching and competition if they're going to make it to the Games. All of these things require massive sums of money. A bobsled (or bobsleigh, in official IOC-speak) costs about $35,000, to say nothing of what it costs to build an Olympic-caliber bobsled run. A pair of speedskates might be relatively cheap, but how many countries have speedskating rinks? Most nations, even those with plenty of snow and cold, simply can't afford such extravagances.”

Let's hear it for more speedskating rinks to poor countries.


I guess that’s why Zimbabwe wins so many foot races. All their athletes need are feet.
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There are lots more Things That Make Me Nuts, all of them on my personal web site.