Friday, August 31, 2007

Osaka: Extra - Opportunity Seized and Opportunity Missed

Athletes usually write their legacy on their field of play- in this case the running track. But every once in a while, as a result of their unique athletic ability, some athletes are presented with an opportunity to make an impact felt much wider than the immediate sporting audience.

A prime example of this is Haile Gebrselassie's recent work in political mediation and his involvement with Ethiopian orphans. Meseret Defar's sponsorship of Mesgana Dancers is another fine example worthy of mention here. We would call these opportunities seized.

Such opportunities don’t always come in the form of an organized event. Many times they are little things done on a spur of a moment, but communicate a strong message.


Last month, I was reading a story about the Bix 7 race in Davenport, Iowa, when one of these “small acts” caught my attention. Ethiopian Wude Ayalew won the women’s race and was obviously happy about it, having gone through a stressful day just to get to the race. Wude, however, needed the help of a translator to describe her thoughts about her travel and the race in front of a waiting television camera. To my surprise, the willing translator from Amharic to English turned out to be the Eritrean-American marathoner Mebrathom Keflezighi! In a day and age where many Eritreans refuse to speak Amharic, Meb’s willingness to help out where he can should be a great lesson to all of us that politics must not dictate every action we take- such a fine example of opportunity seized.

I was, however, disappointed to read the following story yesterday:

No rooms for Eritrea athletes
SLEEPLESS in Osaka. That was the status of five athletes from Eritrea who arrived in Osaka to find they had no rooms. All five slept in a hotel lobby the first night. The second night, three found rooms and the two others shared with athletes from neighboring Djibouti for three more nights.

"It’s true there were some unfortunate mix ups at the start of the championships with hotel accommodations," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "However, I know for a fact these were sorted out in a couple of days. The information I’ve been given is that all team delegates do have accommodations."

As soon as I read this story, I substituted in my mind the name “Djibouti” with “Ethiopia” and imagined a powerful example of the Olympic Spirit:

…to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play…


Why didn’t the Ethiopian team rise above the fray, like Meb did, and host our neighbors from Eritrea? Imagine the great story that would have come out of it, and the powerful message of hope it would have sent. What an opportunity missed!

2 comments:

yekolotemari said...

Meb speaks Amharic?:) A little surprised. Nice of him to translate.

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