Category Archives: Sports

Should we boycott the Olympics?

The Sochi Olympics in Russia has attracted enough attention to detract from the Games. Russia’s track record of human rights violations and the 2013 controversy of enacting a slew of anti-gay laws have been deemed incompatible with the Olympic ideals. There is also criticism against the Putin government for using the Olympics to elevate the prestige of its regime. This was the reason President Vladimir V. Putin “personally lobbied the International Olympic Committee and Russia offered to spend $12 billion on preparations, twice as much as the nearest competitor.” Others meanwhile believe that a boycott of the Games is nothing new – throughout history, athletes have been used as pawns in a political war. These critics claim that the real sacrifice is that of the athletes careers at the pedestal of Lost Causes.  They cite the example of the Moscow Olympics, as well as the Soviets’ boycott of the Los Angeles Games which eventually achieved minimal effect in driving change.

What is your perspective? Have sporting platforms been hijacked? What would your response be to those who advocate the boycott of the Sochi Olympics and why? 

NY Times Room for Debate this this on here 

Here is one view: Human rights violations in Russia are incompatible with Olympic values. But I am against a boycott.

First, boycotts are an indiscriminate sanction that punishes hundreds of millions of innocent people. Second, there are other, more targeted and more effective, actions. Third, given the censorship in Russia, participating in the Olympics may be more effective in spreading Olympic values than boycotting the Games.  Continue reading

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Score 1 for Saudi Women’s Rights




DUBAI — It’s only just the runup to the London Olympics, and Saudi women athletes seem to have already suffered a near miss. Last week Saudi Arabia announced that women would be allowed to compete in the games, a landmark change from the ultra-strict Islamic mores that ban women from public competition. But then the one Saudi woman set to compete in London, the equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, had to bow out due to an injured horse.With sports as with other matters, women’s rights are the barometer for change in Saudi Arabia.

As the stopwatch clicks toward the opening ceremony, Saudi Arabia is under pressure to find other female athletes to compete. But having banned its women and girls from engaging in sports at home, finding one who’s had access to Olympic-level training is a long stretch.

With sports as with other matters, women’s rights are the barometer for change in Saudi Arabia. But the issue of Saudi women in the Olympics also marks a milestone in how the kingdom tackles demands for change.

For roughly a decade, the dynamics have worked like this: for fear of a conservative backlash, King Abdullah has taken careful and coordinated steps toward reform. With the Olympics issue, however, it is public pressure, inside the country and out, that seems to have changed official policy.

Saudi rulers prefer to shift course on policy when they want and how they want rather than be seen as responding to popular demands. The concessions they do make, like appointing more women to government posts and granting women the theoretical right to vote in future elections, aren’t the ones activists specifically demand. It’s as if they don’t want to set a precedent that would effectively reward protests or public campaigns.

But this time, after a wave of international pressure from human rights groups and an active debate in Saudi Arabia about women in sports, public pressure moved policy. Human Rights Watch, among others, lobbied the International Olympic Committee to pressure Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete. (Gender discrimination violates the Olympic Charter.)

On the domestic front, women activists like Lina al-Maeena, who coaches the Jeddah United basketball team, are looking for ways that women can play sports while respecting Islamic norms. Her team plays in track-suit abayas that match their traditional headscarves.

Saudi female soccer players practice at a secret location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.Hassan Ammar/Associated PressSaudi female soccer players practice at a secret location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Jeremy Lin and the Political Economy of Superstars

Do celebrities and sportsmen deserve the pay they get?

CAMBRIDGE – The biggest news around Cambridge in recent weeks has been Jeremy Lin, the Harvard economics graduate who has shocked the National Basketball Association by rising overnight from ‘nowhere’ to become a genuine star, leading a losing New York Knicks team to an unlikely string of victories.

Lin’s success is delicious, partly because it contradicts so many cultural prejudices about Asian-American athletes. Flabbergasted experts who overlooked Lin have been saying things like ‘he just didn’t look the part.’ Lin’s obvious integrity and graciousness has won him fans outside the sport as well. The whole world has taken note, with Lin being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive issues. The NBA, which has been trying to build brand recognition and interest in China, is thrilled.

I confess to being a huge Lin fan. Indeed, my teenage son has been idolising Lin’s skills and work ethic ever since Lin starred on the Harvard team. But, as an economist observing the public’s seething anger over the ‘one percenters,’ or individuals with exceptionally high incomes, I also see a different, overlooked facet of the story.

What amazes me is the public’s blase acceptance of the salaries of sports stars, compared to its low regard for superstars in business and finance. Half of all NBA players’ annual salaries exceed US$2 million, more than five times the threshold for the top 1 per cent of household incomes in the United States. Because long-time superstars like Kobe Bryant earn upwards of US$25 million a year, the average annual NBA salary is more than US$5 million. Indeed, Lin’s salary, at US$800,000, is the NBA’s ‘minimum wage’ for a second-season player. Presumably, Lin will soon be earning much more, and fans will applaud. Continue reading