Turkey is one of three finalists for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Its chief competitor is Tokyo. Madrid, because of Spain’s financial woes, remains a long shot. The Turkish press often reports endorsements of its bid, most recently by former London mayor Ken Livingstone and also by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, whose unprofessional endorsement seemed motivated more by a desire to make himself popular in Turkey than by U.S. policy.
Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s European Union minister, has argued that bestowing the Olympics on Turkey would further Turkey’s European Union drive by undercutting European prejudice. This is ironic because, during a trip to Bulgaria in 2011, a senior aide to Bağış dismissed the Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s criticism of Turkish policy toward Hamas and Israel by questioning whether he had Jewish blood. Perhaps it is not Europe where prejudice is so ingrained.
One of the bigger, nonpolitical stories of the summer has been the decision by Lance Armstrong to drop his fight to clear his name in proceedings before the US Anti-Doping Agency which accuses him of using “banned blood transfusions, the blood booster EPO, testosterone and other drugs” to help win his record seven straight Tour de France titles. The affair is in many ways a tragic one, since Armstrong, a cancer survivor who is doing admirable charity work via his own foundation, has been one of the most beloved and admired athletes of recent times–certainly the only cyclist to break through to popular adulation in the United States.
He was not repentant in announcing that he would no longer fight the charges that will lead to him being banned from the sport and stripped of his titles. He called the proceeding “an unconstitutional witch hunt” and said the process was “one-sided and unfair.” He did raise some legitimate questions about the process, and in particular about the lack of physical evidence and that belated nature of the proceedings, coming after his retirement and many years after the acts in question. But by all accounts the USADA had compiled overwhelming evidence of Armstrong’s infractions from among his own former teammates. All legal proceedings are subject to some doubts, but on the whole I believe the process is one that Americans can be proud of even if it brought down one of our sporting icons.
It’s no secret that Israel isn’t an Olympics power: It came away from the London Games without a single medal, and since its inception, it has won only one gold and seven medals overall (making it one of very few countries with more Nobel Prizes than Olympics medals). What is less well known is that Israel does much better in the Paralympics, which begin today: There, it has won more than 300 medals overall, 113 of them gold.
First and foremost, of course, that’s a testament to Israel’s cutting-edge medical care, developed in response to the grim necessity of having to treat far too many victims of war and terror. But it’s also a testament to Israel’s priorities: Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence–as it should.
From the moment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned down the request to commemorate the deaths of Israeli Olympians killed in Munich forty years ago the tone was set for how the games would portray the international community. The Olympics are meant to spotlight sportsmanship and patriotism, but have given the games and many of their participants black eyes on the world stage.
The anti-Semitism exhibited by the opponents of the Munich moment of silence weren’t the only instances we’ve seen so far. Members of the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to Israelis. Commentators on Al-Jazeera derided Israel as the Israeli delegation entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. The Palestinian Olympic chief applauded the IOC’s decision to forgo a moment of silence for the Munich 11. Israeli swimmers were left without a security detail at a training camp outside of London, even in the wake of the Burgas terror attack. The London Olympics’ website couldn’t quite understand where the city of Jerusalem lies, first awarding it to “Palestine” as its capital, leaving Israel without a seat of power. The list of offenses against the Jewish state unfortunately goes on, and equally unfortunate, given how much time is left in the Olympics, there will no doubt be more to follow.