As the Rio 2016 Olympics get closer - only 2 more sleeps!! - we at The Kick Project, like most, will be watching for all those great moments and stories.
We hope that, despite all the apparent pre-Opening Ceremony dramas (just like every other Games in the last 20 years), the Games will provide the sense of connectivity and shared celebration it can deliver.
While we are sports fans like anyone and we'll be watching the athletes do their thing, we are always paying attention to the human rights issues surrounding such major sporting events as this .
But, there's two special aspects to this year's Games that make our viewing experience even more focussed.
Both aspects refer to unique, first time ever, factors in the Games and how they are shaped. Here the first (the next will follow in another post soon)
The Refugee Olympic Team
We, not surprisingly, were very happy to see the IOC open up to allow refugee athletes to compete at these Games under the Olympic flag. While there is some related precedent for this, this is the first time a multinational Olympic team of refugees has competed as such.
Given the situation, this is a fantastic concept and has the potential to do a great deal in terms of understanding and education.
We here at The Kick Project feel we can actually take some credit for this as we pitched a similar idea at a high level with the Olympic organisers late last year. We don't know for sure if our input moved the IOC in this direction (we'll take some credit for now!!), but we are obviously really happy this concept has been picked up.
All good. But, we want to be sure that not only the athletes themselves benefit, but that the issues they embody are fairly and appropriately treated.
The Olympics are not noted as a time when context and depth are in evidence. There can be too much OTT flag waving and nationalistic win, win, win.
But, the central point is that selecting a team of refugees is a political act and it should be set, even if only briefly, in such a context.
We wonder how this team will be treated. We are a little concerned after comments we received from the IOC media office as we sought to develop a documentary project around these athletes for The Kick Project and a major network broadcaster (who is not a Games media rights holder).
Based on this correspondence, it looks to us like the Refugee Olympic Team is being tightly controlled for the benefit of the media rights owners for the Games.
Commercialism is part of sport and part of the Games, of course. Accepted. But, we feel the Refugee Olympic Team belongs to more than the corporations who pay for media access for the Games. We feel they should be allowed to speak freely to a wider audience and should not be corralled, or made to be part of a media circus and treated as media "talent".
We reckon this team from no nation belongs to the world.
Further, we are concerned that these athletes will be pressured by the sense that they "represent" tens of millions of asylum seekers and refugees all over the world. Will they be helped through this or just expected to get over it? Will they be allowed to mix with fellow countrymen and women on their national teams? Will they be allowed to speak openly, even politically, to media and elsewhere? And what will happen to them post-Games? Such questions were to be part of our planned doco.
Finally, we hope the refugee issue does not become about these elite athletes and the beneficial actions of the IOC. The issue is bigger than them and bigger than the Games in fact. Rather than caricaturing the athletes or feeling warm and fuzzy about the great stories of these fortunate few, we should be using their profile to humanise the deeper refugee issue and to help breakdown prejudice and ignorance.
We feel - not that we've had the chance to confirm this, although we tried - these are the issue the athletes themselves are looking at, even as they hope for their own advancement and profile raising (and we wouldn't want to deny them that).
So, we will be watching to see how their story pans out.
We'll also be watching how we watch the Games. More on that in our next post.