by Andrew Sampson
The remit is a big one, on a daily basis I scan perhaps a hundred websites and blogs, seeing what others are writing and trying to keep abreast of the most important issues.
There are never any patterns, some days it is ‘easier’ than others. There can be a certain predictability if a ‘big story’ breaks. There are certain news items which end up filling thousands of pages on websites across the globe, often pushing other issues out of the media.
I enjoy my job, if that is the right word for this process of reading and sharing often depressing and heart-breaking stories. I especially enjoy sharing the stories of individuals or organisations who are helping others. Most of all I am passionate about women (and men) rights defenders. People who are brave and conscientious enough to speak out and often suffer horrendous injustices in the belief that by doing so they can bring about change.
I have never before really taken much notice of the Olympics. Four years ago, I wasn’t doing this job and, as someone with no great interest in sport, I guess I was able to avoid them.
This time around was different, they were really in my face.
Day after day after day.
It doesn’t help that I live in England and our state funded television service, BBC, allowed for virtually no escape. Every minute of their news coverage seemed to be filled with the minutest banality about athletes and the ‘Olympic show’. One thing was for sure - every attempt at bringing anything more serious to the viewers' attention was futile and in massive disproportions.
It was as if the world had stopped and all that was important was the Olympics.
Around the globe it was variable. The countries with fewer athletes took far less notice. Unless of course it was for propaganda purposes. And this happened in many cases. For example, The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRP) made great play of donating a two-room apartment in Dushanbe to each of its Olympic medalists.
In Romania, the Prime Minister announced that he had managed to persuade his Finance Minister to reward its athletes with 5 million euro.
Sports obsessed Australia got itself in a right tizzy about the failure of its athletes to bring in medals. It was as if the country's very sense of being had been struck a mortal blow.
But I digress.
The media coverage was massive, but this isn’t the main reason I was outraged. It’s because we never get similar media coverage of anything else.
When Tawakkol Karman, an amazingly brave women’s rights activist in Yemen, got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 was it international headlines? Did the award ceremony get shown on your TV? Of course not.
I am sure most people know the name of Usain Bolt – the world’s fastest man. How many people have heard of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a courageous award-winning human rights lawyer and mother of two, jailed in Iran?
A quick glimpse at the news items we covered on our website during the ‘games’ is enough to spell it out. Worries about radiation in Japan, child labour in China factories, Tunisian women’s rights, sex trafficking, the jailing of a lawyer activist in Oman, migrant girl in Dubai in desperate need of medical aid, the struggles of working women in Armenia. The trial of Pussy Riot in Russia. A missing blogger in Syria. This was just the last 7 days.
It’s difficult not to be a cynic, and I loathe conspiracy theories, but it’s almost as though someone was trying to sidetrack us away from issues which really matter to women on a day to day level.
Poverty, health, violence, descrimination - to name but a few.
It was as though suddenly the world was supposed to stop and cleanse their brains and relax as the global gathering of people jumped, ran and swam for glory.
Maybe it’s simpler than I imagine. Maybe people really don’t care about issues in other countries. Maybe most people’s worlds are terribly insular and the Olympic Games are a way of breaking that insularity. I doubt it.
And then of course we get onto cost. I have completely lost track how much the Olympics cost to stage. Billions and billions.
One estimate I read put the total at 17bn USD. Yes you read that right.
Put into perspective, the total figure that Pakistan will spend this year on healthcare is estimated at 10bn USD.
And that’s excluding the cost of training these athletes, getting them to the Games and no one knows what else.
I’m sorry I just don’t get it
And that’s really the bottom line as to why I am outraged at the Olympics. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand. What is it for?
Why is the sight of people lifting weights or jumping on horses so interesting and important? And worth more than the cost of healthcare for Pakistan?
On the final closing day of the Olympics, I was feeling this huge inner sense of relief.
It’s over. At last.
Our family spent the afternoon having a lovely walk. We suddenly stopped and decided to have a race!. Well, four races. We took our shoes off and ran round this wooded path. It was hilarious fun. Nobody watched us. It was just the four of us doing something silly.
It cost nothing.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Safeworld International Foundation.