Wednesday, February 29, 2012

India, Dow & the Olympics

Much has been said about Dow Chemicals's sponsorship of the London Olympics. As two private organisations they are entitled to enter into any legal contract as they please.

There is of course a moral dilemma for Indian athletes at the London Games. Should they participate in an event that has accepted money from a company responsible for the most deadly chemical disaster in history? One that occured in India; one that continues to maim & kill.

I think the athletes should participate. But I also think there are ways to make a strong statement.

Why should we go? Well, for one, the Olympics were and always will be, first and last, about Sport. There is great honour in competing for your flag, even if you don't win. There is great pride in winning.

Indian athletes stand a better-than-ever chance of a good medal haul this year. Our boxers and wrestlers are in promising form. Our archers did well at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth games. Our shooters are world class. Our hockey team is rampant. In tennis and in badminton, we can be world champions on a good day. Play we must. Win we can.

Also, staying out of the London Games will invalidate all the sacrifices made by these athletes who have struggled to get here for their whole life, not just the past four years.

So what about Dow? There are many ways to make a statement.

No one remembers 'not seeing' the US contingent at the 1980 Moscow Games. But everyone remembers the powerful image of Tommie Smith & John Carlos raising black gloved fists on the winners' podium at the 1968 Mexico games. We remember that image because they came, they won and they expressed themselves powerfully.

India's athletes, who are well aware of the moral dilemma they find themselves in, can do something similar.

For starters, they can attend the opening ceremony with black armbands. Guaranteed press coverage the next day.

They may also play with these armbands. For sports where this can obstruct the athletes' performance such as swimming or gymnastics, etc. no one will complain should they choose not to wear them.

And, perhaps, a black armband on the winners' podium will resonate most of all.

India must go to London. India must also protest Dow's tainted history and its attempts to whitewash this. I believe both are possible.

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