Plea to sportsmen and women: be generous losers and gracious victors

The Rio Olympic Games ended on Sunday. The athletes are on their way home, some with medals and many more empty-handed. The media too have packed their cameras and microphones and left.

The Rio Olympic Games ended on Sunday. The athletes are on their way home, some with medals and many more empty-handed. The media too have packed their cameras and microphones and left.

In a way life is returning to normal.


Brazilian politicians can now return to their quarrels about power and corruption, and go after each other with all the viciousness they have held in check for the last three weeks. In the favelas it will be life as usual. Poverty will bite. Gangs will prowl the streets. The next generation of world-class footballers will hone their skills in their dusty streets.


The media will now look for more exciting stories. They are almost certainly sniffing out the next hot scandal and itching to splash it all over the place. Many have already turned to conflict areas and begun showing us the horrors in their gory details.


Rwandans will not care much that the games have ended. We didn’t have much interest in the outcome anyway. Yes, we had competitors but not much hope that they would bring home medals. But it is not impossible. If Francine Niyonsaba, a girl from the neighbourhood can get a silver medal in the 800 metres, it is possible for one right here to equal or better the feat next time.

Others like us will forget about the games and only remember them a few months before the next ones start and then begin training. You already know the results.

Those in the habit of winning medals will start preparations for the next games immediately. They are already plotting how to raise their medals tally. See how the Chinese are angry that they are only third in the medals table in Rio with a ‘paltry’ 70, 18 less than four years ago in London and 30 less than at home in Beijing in 2008. You can bet they will have a bigger haul next time.

That’s how it always is.

In recent times all major sports events have been preceded by controversy and scandal, especially if they are held away from Western Europe or North America. The Rio Games were no different.

There was the news of widespread, state-inspired doping among Russian athletes which led to a ban for all their track and field competitors. A blanket ban was only avoided because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed the buck to the respective federations.

Kenyan athletes narrowly survived the ban. Good thing they did, too, because they sort of redeemed Africa.

International sport has become scandal-ridden and must be cleaned. There are scandals in world football, athletics, tennis, cycling and even cricket. This ranges from corruption, to doping, match-fixing and gambling.

The increase in cheating indicates a diversion from the original motive: attaining excellence through competing and winning fairly. Now it is winning at all costs. And then there is the money factor; sport has become big business and attracts honest investors as well as crooks.

Long before the games started, there were media reports about the unsuitability of Rio as a venue. First there was the Zika threat. But once the competition began there was hardly a mention of it. In fact the only place Zika was mentioned was in Florida in the USA.

Then there was talk of germs in the bay where boat racing and sailing were to take place. It turns out no one has complained of any infection from the germs.

To cap it all was the fear of insecurity. Robbers and gunmen were supposed to be lurking in every shadow, at every street corner and in the hallways of hotels. Muggings and robberies were said to be a common occurrence.

In the event, there were none. The only one reported was a fake one made by US swimmers after a night’s good time.

Similar scare stories were told about South Africa before the 2010 football world cup. The scare then was insecurity.

In the Beijing Olympics in 2008 the story was about air pollution.

These scare tactics are the media equivalent of jeering and booing rival competitors from the stands by home fans. They are meant to unsettle host nations by showing them to be inferior, and scare away some of the star athletes. It doesn’t always work, but still it is done.

In the midst of all this, athletes still do their thing. They compete and sometimes win and other times don’t. The good ones show real character and embrace fellow competitors as fellow humans, each seeking to excel, not as deadly rivals.

They have understood what Plato said was the purpose of sport: teaching good character, and Pope Pius XII added: sport develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser and gracious victor.

Future Olympic Games and other sports should strive for this ideal. It cannot be achieved through cheating, jeering (whether from the stands or newsroom) or scare-mongering.

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