August 30, 2008

Don't mention the Olympics

Whilst my homeland has been enjoying a bumper Olympic haul and celebrating hosting the next Games, my adopted home of Greece has not been basking in the Olympic afterglow. Having sent their biggest ever contingent of athletes to an overseas Games, the Greeks returned with just four medals - their worst performance since 1992, and well down on the 13 and 16 picked up in Sydney and Athens respectively.

It was events off the field that bought most of the doom'n'gloom though. In the four months leading up to the Games and during them, fully 15 Greek athletes failed drugs tests, including Athens gold medal winner Fani Halkia, and 11 members of the weight-lifting squad.

And that's not to mention the long-running saga of Katerina Thanou, banned from appearing in Beijing by the IOC for bringing the Olympic Movement into disrepute for the missed drug test and motorcycle accident fiasco that preceded the Athens Games. For her part, she maintains that she has never failed a drugs test she actually attended.


There is talk of new legislation to cut-back on athlete's benefits if they are found guilty of doping offences. In something that sounds more like 50s USSR policy rather than a modern EU meritocracy, currently under the Greek system, it appears athletes who finish in the top eight in Olympic Games, Mediterranean Games, World Championships, Paralympics or European Championships are entitled, upon sporting retirement, to a guaranteed job in the police, army or civil service, and entry to University without having to sit exams.

Whether this proposed legislation will see the light of day is another matter. In 2005 Dimitris Vagionas was head of Greek's national anti-doping efforts, and he reported to parliament that Greece was one of Europe's leading exporters of anabolic steroids. The only action that seemed to follow was that he was forced to step down following death threats.

August 27, 2008

The giants of basketball - missing stunt photo!

Sadly I missed out on a brilliant photo, because I couldn't get my camera ready in time. We were walking through the Venetian Casino's Shopping Mall in Macau, when we came across this chap on stilts.


The thing was, at the time, the casino was holding a mini-basketball competition between the USA, Turkey and Lithuania. As the stilts-man walked around, towering over the Chinese, he was being followed by two of the Lithuanian basketball team, who basically were only fractionally smaller than the guy on stilts. I have never seen such big people in all my life, and to see them walking behind a chap on stilts who only just equalled their height was hilarious. photo. D'oh!


March 27, 2008

Welcome to the McOlympics

With the recent scenes of protest in Tibet, and the interruption to the flame-lighting ceremony here in Greece, much of the focus on this year's Olympic Games will be to do with Chinese politics and the China's appalling human rights record. Which means that, for a change, attention won't be focusing so much on the commercialisation of the Olympic movement.

There was something slightly sad about being in a culture as potentially deeply alien to us as China, and finding that McDonalds was the official fast food of the Olympic games. Despite that, the American athletes are still bringing their own food.



Still at least the beer will be Chinese ;-)


March 24, 2008

Tombs of the fighting crickets

Without a doubt one of the oddest displays in the Macau museum was that of the fighting crickets. Now, who knew that cricket fighting used to be a big sport in this area? Apparently huge sums of money changed hands based on the outcomes of these mighty bouts between the insects. There were some video clips of the battles in action - basically two crickets stuck in a bucket whilst men jabbed at them to rile them up so that they would fight. Fortunately, it seems the crickets were too stupid to realise that they could team up and form an army of super-fighting crickets.


What was really strange about the display though, was that it featured some of the champion crickets from the 1960s. Perfectly pickled. You can't imagine David Beckham in formaldehyde in a museum in the future, but here were the sporting heroes of 1960s Macau. Some were just out in the open, whilst others were confined to elaborate tombs that had been constructed for them by their distraught owners. All rather odd.

Still, I shouldn't be making judgments about the relative merits of Chinese and European culture - the museum itself was adamant that it wasn't going to do it. Virtually the first thing that greeted you was a big sign explaining the philosophy of the museum.

"When two civilizations encounter each other for the first time, they are likely to differ in respective degrees of their diversity, complexity and potency. It is not our purpose to review the diversity, complexity and potency of Chinese and European civilizations during the beginning of the sixteenth century."

You then entered the museum through a corridor where the comparative achievements of European and Chinese civilisation were displayed opposite each other in glass cases. It was all carefully arranged to diplomatically keep the two in step with each other!


Of course, the main sports that I write about are football or special events like the 2006 World Cup or Euro2008, but living in Greece, we get to see some other sports as well. Especially if the Greek team happen to start doing well.

A lemon tree of our own

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