Syria and the Olympics

I haven’t posted in yonks because I’ve been running around a fair bit, and every time I get round to it, what I was going to pen seems ridiculously out of date. I was in San Francisco for a gaming shin-dig, and then New York for the very enjoyable Founders’ Forum; and since then we’ve picked up a couple of new clients with very interesting issues which have been keeping me busy. Add to the fact that I feel like there’s nothing new to say about the gambling industry, and that I haven’t quite been able to get myself over the hump of believing anyone’s interested in my thoughts on wider matters, and you’ll understand why I haven’t bothered to put pen to paper.

This morning’s Times, though, has made me decide that I don’t really care whether I’m on the wrong side of that hump or not: I’m going to write it anyway.

Almost two months ago now, following my blog about what happened in the Boat Race, I was asked onto Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show on LBC 97.3FM to discuss whether sport and politics should mix. On Monday, I was asked on again on the same basis – this time, specifically to discuss the plans of Mowaffak Joumaa, chairman of the Syrian Olympic committee, to come to London in July for the Games.

Joumaa has made a good fist of making it a sport and politics issue, by telling the world that the Olympic charter forbids host countries from banning athletes, and by threatening to complain to the International Olympic Committee if visas are denied. What he doesn’t seem to have noticed is that he isn’t an athlete, and there’s a difference between him – a Syrian General, and therefore a representative of the regime, looking for a propaganda coup – and athletes who are prepared to come and compete under a neutral flag just in order to be able to fulfill what their long-term training schedules have been aimed at. As far as he, Mowaffak Joumaa, is concerned, it’s not a sport and politics issue at all, but one about our visa policy: should we offer visas to people connected with regimes which perpetrate the kind of atrocities detailed on the front page of today’s Times? (If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so: it is harrowing.)

It’s really not a difficult question to answer. I told Nick that I don’t give a monkey’s, myself, what Joumaa thinks he is coming to London for. He can be planning a trip for the Chelsea Flower Show, or just to do some shopping if he wants: he shouldn’t be let in, period. The debate should be (is) nothing to do with the Olympics at all: it’s about what the rules are that we have in place by which people are allowed to enter or not allowed to enter the country.

I would imagine that the existing rules for visas are already tight enough to prevent people like this from coming in to the country, in which case those rules need only to be invoked, and the issue is simply not up for debate. If they are not, then clearly they need changing fast. But it would be a sad indictment of our system if it had taken the existence of the Olympics in London to reveal such a glaring loophole. I’d hate to think that in any other year, we’d be handing out this sort of visa without anyone taking notice.

 

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