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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 August 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 AUGUST 2016 25 COMMENT NIGEL CROWTHER As a professor of classical studies, I've noticed some remarkable differences and similarities between the modern and ancient Olympic Games. The medals, the torch relay and events for females didn't exist in the ancient games, but the four-year cycle and the concept of a major sports spectacle still continue. Yet while both versions have purported to observe fair play, there's one ‘tradition’ that's a strong holdover from ancient Greece: allegations of bribery, some of which were documented more than 2,000 years ago. PAID TO LOSE OR SWITCH SIDES Even in a founding myth of the ancient Olympics, bribery played a central role. According to the poet Pindar, the king of Pisa bribed Hermes' son Myrtilus to tamper with his opponent's chariot wheels. During the ancient Olympics, athletes, their fathers and trainers made oaths not to "sin against the games". But some didn't take this oath as seriously as others. For example, the travel writer Pausanias wrote about how, in 388BC, the boxer Eupolus bribed his three opponents at Olympia. The officials punished all four contestants. Sixtysix years later, a pentathlete named Callippus offered his competitors money to throw the contest in his favour. And, according to the philosopher Philostratus, trainers often lent money to athletes at high rates of interest for the sole purpose of bribery. Meanwhile, some Olympic contestants competed for city-states other than their own as a result of bribery, or assumed bribery. After his Olympic victory, the runner Sotades of Crete was bribed to compete for the rival city of Ephesus. In response, his home city expelled him. In the fifth century BC, wealthy residents of Syracuse enticed Astylus of Croton to compete for their city and, a century later, the runner Dicon of Caulonia. In the former case, the citizens of Croton turned Astylus' house into a prison and destroyed his statue. Today, some athletes will actually try to gain residency in different countries, often to improve their chances of participating or winning. According to the Daily Telegraph, 11 per cent of the athletes who represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics were born abroad and were dubbed "plastic Brits". At Sochi 2014, a Singaporean competed for Thailand, an American Italian couple for Dominica, and a German for Mexico. LAYING DOWN THE LAW Modern officials can disqualify cheating athletes and bar them from competition. In ancient times, there was also a disciplinary system in place, but in some ways, it wasn't very robust. In 12BC, the father of the Olympic wrestler Polyktor attempted to bribe the father of a rival. Pausanias wrote about how the judges fined the fathers but not the sons. And athletes could still retain their victory even if they'd been caught breaking the rules – not exactly the best disincentive to cheating. On the other hand, ancient officials could flog and fine wrongdoers, using the money to shame them publicly by commissioning statues of Zeus called Zanes. As Pausanias explained, these bronze figures were then displayed outside the Olympic stadium, with the names of the miscreants inscribed on their bases. The purpose of these elegiac verses was to ensure that people would "remember their shame for all time", and other competitors "would be discouraged from cheating". All who entered the stadium had to pass by what we might best describe as a ‘Hall of Shame’ – at least 16 sculptures with inscriptions that warned fans and competitors not to give money for the purpose of gaining an Olympic victory, but to win by "speed of foot and strength of body". The statues lasted for more than 500 years (at least until the second century AD, when Pausanias described them), while the bases of the Zanes can still be seen today. BUYING THE JUDGES Yet public shaming, oaths, bans, floggings and fines couldn't prevent bribery at Olympia. Even the judges weren't beyond reproach. The Olympic judges (Hellanodikai) had the reputation of acting fairly, even in the face of verbal harassment by athletes and spectators. Like competitors, they, too, swore to abstain from bribery. Nonetheless, there are examples of judges expressing conflicts of interest and making decisions where kickbacks may have been involved. Take the controversial judgment about the runner Leon of Ambracia in 396BC. According to the Greek historian Cassius Dio, the judges accepted a bribe of one million sesterces (about US$5 million today) from the Emperor Nero to allow the ruler himself to win in numerous events at the Olympics. Of course, the judges were probably put in a bind: if they rejected the bribe, they may have risked losing their lives. THE MORE THINGS CHANGE … Fast-forward 2,000 years, and little has changed. Even the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in a 1999 confidential report, admitted that "bribery within the Olympic movement goes back decades". Just this past year, a Russian track and field athlete who had been caught trying to tamper with a urine sample allegedly attempted to then bribe the doping control officer. In February, two Kenyan athletes claimed that the chief executive of Athletics Kenya asked them each for a $24,000 bribe to reduce their suspensions. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, a French judge admitted being pressured to vote for the Russian skaters in order to secure an advantage for France in the pairs ice dancing competition. In 2004, IOC vice president Kim Un-Yong, who was involved in both the Seoul Olympics and the Salt Lake City scandal, was found guilty of receiving $700,000 in gifts and bribes. Every two years, IOC members will vote on which city will host the Olympic Games. As cities present their case, a modern problem has been ‘vote buying’. (The ancient Greeks never faced this problem as the Olympics always stayed in one venue – Olympia.) A leading member of the IOC claimed that "bribes of up to a million dollars have been demanded from cities bidding for the games". Without reference to any specific Olympics, unofficial agents offered to deliver 25 IOC votes to competing cities (out of a total of 105) for $1.8 million. The most egregious example of bribery is the Salt Lake City scandal, in which leaders of the bidding committee were accused of offering monetary and other incentives to IOC officials. Several IOC members were expelled, but the two alleged bribers were acquitted of criminal charges. Olympic historian Bill Mallon remarks that things were proceeding smoothly for the IOC until that fateful day of November 24, 1998, when news of the scandal first broke. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was quick to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, calling the crisis "as serious as the political boycotts of the 1980s and Ben Johnson's drug scandal at the 1988 Seoul Games". During Rio – and beyond – it's unlikely that scandals and bribery will disappear. As British cyclist David Millar aptly put it: "Human nature dictates that there will always be cheaters. That's inevitable. Where there's money involved and glory, there are going to be people that cheat, and there will always be ways to cheat." * Nigel B. Crowther is professor emeritus and former director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University, London, Canada. He is also a supervising professor, International Olympic Academy, Olympia, Greece (2004 to present). In addition he is a visiting professor in the Master's Program at the University of the Peloponnese, Greece (2015 to present). He has published widely in numerous scholarly journals on sports in the ancient world but is best known as the author of Sport in Ancient Times, Praeger, Westport, 2010, and Athletika. Studies on the Olympic Games and Greek Athletics, Weidmann, Hildesheim, 2004. This article was originally published in The Conversation (www.theconversation.com). Korakaki regards gold medal as payback for ‘open war’ with federation FOSTER NIUMATA Anna Korakaki took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She had been one point from an Olympic gold medal, leading 6-0, in the women's 25-metre pistol final on Tuesday but began to choke. She hit a wrong target and missed one completely, allowing Monika Karsch of Germany to draw level at 6-6. Her father and coach, Tasos Korakakis, sitting not far behind, couldn't bear to watch, preferring to look at the floor, his pants, the hands in his lap. Karsch started the seventh fiveshot series hitting the wrong target, and Korakaki retook the lead going to the last shot. Korakaki hit, paused, and jumped up and down when she realised she’d won. "I'm the happiest person on Earth but I can't find the words in English, in Greek or French to describe my feelings," said the 20-year-old Korakaki, who also won bronze in the 10-metre air pistol. She did admit to it becoming "a bit stressful" after winning the first three series of the final, and knowing gold was virtually in her grasp. And when she teared up on the podium while listening to her national anthem, she said that was about relief and payback. Korakaki told the AP she was close to quitting shooting three years ago, at 17, because she and her father were "in an open war" with the Hellenic Shooting Federation, particularly in the last two years. She blamed the problem on "the behaviour and attitudes by people of my federation" ever since she made the national team at 14. "I cried listening to the national anthem, because at that moment, all the difficulties went through my mind," she said. "I really felt like I made it, against everybody, against every hard situation, against everyone trying to bring me down. That's why I cried, it was a mental release." That she managed to win a gold and bronze in her first games, Greece's first Olympic medals in shooting in 96 years, she credited to "my will, my strength, my motivation from my family, my friends, and hard work". Korakaki was second after qualifying, behind only top-ranked Zhang Jingjing of China. Zhang shot an Olympic qualifying record of 592, beating by one the mark of 2012 champion Kim Jangmi of South Korea. Kim failed by one place to qualify for the eight-women semifinals on a countback. The 2008 champion, Chen Ying of China, also missed out. Nino Salukadze of Georgia, the 1988 Olympic champion in her eighth games, rolled back the years to qualify third, but started badly in the semi-finals and couldn't recover. Neither, surprisingly, could Zhang, the world champion. She had to rally late in the semi-finals, but managed to make only the bronze-medal match. She hit all five targets in the first series against Heidi Diethelm Gerber, but faded, and the Swiss clinched bronze on her second-to-last shot of their sixth series. The semi-finals guaranteed a new Olympic champion, and Korakaki, more relaxed after winning the bronze, ultimately earned it. Despite the problems with her federation, she'll keep on shooting. "I'm dreaming of more medals," she said, "more European medals, more World Cup medals, and, why not, more Olympic medals." Anna Korakaki of Greece celebrates winning the gold medal during the victory ceremony for the women’s 25-metre pistol event at the Olympic Shooting Centre at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. PHOTO: AP/HASSAN AMMAR.
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