As the controversial and conflict-ridden Rio de Janeiro Olympic games began at around 5.00 am (Sri Lanka time) today with the biggest ever worldwide television audience of about three billion people, our thoughts go to the Olympic Motto, ‘Citius - Altius – Fortius’ which means Faster - Higher - Stronger. It was the Dominican Priest Henri Didon who first expressed the words at the opening ceremony of a school sports event in 1881. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) heard the words that day and adopted them as the Olympic motto. It expresses the aspirations of the Olympic Movement not only in its athletic and technical sense but also from a moral and educational perspective.
As for moral and educational perspectives, major questions prevailed not only in Rio but all over the world as the Olympic Games began in the aftermath of the biggest ever doping scandal in sports history. Russia, one of the sport’s super powers, was at the centre of the doping scandal but Russian officials claimed they won their first victory on Thursday even before the spectacular opening ceremony. A total of 271 Russian athletes have been cleared to take part in the Rio Olympics, Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov told reporters in Rio. The IOC confirmed the number in a statement issued later.
The news meant 118 competitors of the 389-strong Russian team have been banned from competing at Rio. But it’s still a victory for a nation that the independent World Anti-Doping Agency slammed for having what it called a state-sponsored doping programme. Critics had called for the entire team to be banned to show systematic cheating was unacceptable. A three-member IOC panel had assessed which athletes from Russia could take part after the World Anti-Doping Agency report last month.
Hundreds of Russian athletes were in Brazil for the Games when the announcement was made on Thursday. Many began moving into the Olympic Village while others began the trip home. Earlier on Thursday, The International Boxing Association confirmed that all 11 Russian boxers had been cleared to compete by the IOC panel. The International Judo Federation also stated that all Russian athletes would be able to compete. The International Shooting Sport Federation also cleared 18 Russian shooters to compete at Rio. But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Weightlifting Federation had already decided that no Russian athletes could take part in their sports during the Games.
A number of Russian athletes were also banned from swimming, rowing and canoeing, although there was no blanket ban on competitors from the country in these sports.
With Vladimir Putin’s Russia virtually at war with United States and Western Europe over issues connected to Ukraine and Syria, the Western powers are known to have pressed hard for a blanket ban on Russian athletes because of the magnitude of the doping scandal before the Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia in 2014. But IOC President Thomas Bach decided that there would be no blanket ban though most analysts believe that when Russian athletes stand on the winners’ podium in Rio there would be serious questions as to whether it was a sporting and moral victory or one empowered by the sophisticated intake of banned energy enhancing substances.
Amid many other negatives including the deadly Zika virus which provoked many sports personalities to stay away from Rio and the Olympics one of the major positive features is the participation for the first time of a team representing refugees. With the total number of refugees worldwide exceeding 50 million -- the highest since World War II -- The team of 10 refugee athletes who will compete at Rio 2016 were welcomed with cheers, music and dancing when they arrived in the Olympic Village on Wednesday. The refugee team will compete under the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem will be played in their honour. Whatever happens or does not in Rio, we hope that at the end of the games we would be able to say with the well-known American sportswriter Grantland Rice - For when the One Great Scorer comes To write against your name, He marks not that you won or lost, But how you played the game.