Mika Yamamoto Memorial Foundation



Behind the hot Olympic games Please pay attention to Syria

Best wishes for health in the hot summer. I'm afraid I did not have enough sleep due to watching the Olympic games lately. Both Men's and Women's soccer teams move on to the final tournament. Kouhei Uchimura in gymnastics wins the gold medal. The swimming team also won a quite few medals. So many wonderful stories of players with both joy and tears are brought to Japan.

For this 30th Summer Olympic games in London, 204 countries and areas participated. At the opening ceremony, the entering parade commenced with Greece, where the Olympic games began, and also the place suffering economic crisis today. The parade proceeded in alphabetical order, such as Afghanistan, Albania, and Algeria. It is a coincidence, but those are the three countries with conflicts that I visited for reporting.

Afghanistan won the first medal at the last Beijing Olympics. In that country, the sport of martial arts, in which the country has the advantage with body strength, is very popular. Many famous players' posters are placed everywhere in capital city, Kabul. The player who won the bronze medal for the taekwondo tournament becomes a hero who brings hope for the country suffering from war, and inspires children.

By the way, you might see that women players from Muslim countries are joining the game by wearing scarves and uniforms covering their skin. A female judo player from Saudi Arabia, may not be able to participate in the tournament due to a prohibition of wearing the hijab, a traditional scarf for women, but finally she obtains permission as a special situation. In the Muslim world, often family or group opinion will be more important than the individual's. If a husband or father orders a woman not to do a sport, then the wife or daughter must obey. To avoid criticism from Muslim protectors, there is a player wearing a scarf of her own will.

However, if it does not conform with the international game rule, she must give up the game. I would like to cheer on the women who win the right to participate under such difficult choices between their own country's culture and the world standard.

On the other hand, during this time of so many hot Olympic games in London, Syria in Middle East has a very serious situation ongoing. Syria's crisis, which is called the final stage of "Arab Spring," already has moved beyond crisis and become "civil war." The capital city, Damascus, and the second largest commercial city, Aleppo, are totally destroyed through the battle between government military troops and freedom fighting Syrian troops. Although President Asad, confirms it is "civil war," he avoids peace talks, and takes action utilizing military power to settle unrest. The United Nations peace monitoring actions also could not achieve results.

In July, the border area is occupied by the anti-government party, and many refugees rush into neighboring countries. The number of refugees registered in the last few months grows to over 110,000 people. Syria is a country that possesses chemical weapons. If chemical weapons may be used, if other countries will be spared -- concerns grow larger and larger.

Syria also joins the Olympic games. The players who parade with their flag are smiling, but might not be at peace in their minds. Even if they achieve a wonderful result, the country and its people have no room to celebrate it. The chairman of the Olympic committee announces "Olympics will connect people in the world with cooperation, friendship and peace." Behind such a cheerful event, we must face another truth--there are so many people running away from tragedy and losing their lives every day.

August 11, 2012
From "Yamanashi in the World" (Asahi Newspaper Yamanashi edition) Pages 13-18.