EXCLUSIVE: The Australian government has informed the Australian Olympic Committee that the nation has officially withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and will not compete in any future Olympic events.
The announcement was lost among media reporting on the current aged care debacle and the COVID-19 pandemic, but was made via a brief press release from the Minister for Youth and Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck.
“Australia contributes to such a small percentage of the overall medal tally at the Olympic Games that our efforts make no real difference to the event,” said Senator Colbeck.
“In Rio, our total medal haul did not even contribute 10% to the overall medal tally, and pales into insignificance compared to the big medal winners such as China and the USA. We won only 8 gold medals in Rio and we win even less at Winter games.”
“The simple, undeniable fact is that Australia’s population is, and always will be, too small to make any real impact on the medal tally at international multi-sport competitions, so we should stop trying to change the situation and cease to participate.”
As a result, Australian athletes will no longer be able to compete under the national banner in summer or winter games, paralympic competitions or even the Youth Olympic Games.
The Australian government apparently made the decision after failing to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow ‘carry over medals’. Carry over medals are medals won at a previous Olympic competition which count towards a country’s medal tally at a subsequent Olympics.
Australia lobbied for medals such as Mack Horton’s gold in the 400m freestyle at Rio in 2016 to count towards its overall tally at the Tokyo games (scheduled to take place in 2021). This is despite the fact that a number of Rio medallists, including cyclist Anna Meares, have retired from their sport altogether.
“Australia needs carry over medals to meet its future Olympic medal targets,” argued Senator Colbeck.
The country’s fierce lobbying for the new rule won some support from nations such as India and Brazil, but eventually positioned Australia as a pariah in the international arena. This prompted the government’s decision to divorce itself entirely from the Olympic family.
As to how the Australian public will react, it is not yet known. It is hard to imagine that such a sports mad nation, which hosted the games in 2000, will accept such a decision. That said, they did re-elect a prime minister who famously carried a lump of coal into parliament in support of the fossil fuel industry.
Senator Colbeck also alluded to the young Australians who will now be denied a healthy, prosperous, optimistic future.
“They are young, fit, dedicated and patriotic, so we’ll put them all in the army,” he explained.
The world’s best athletes should be competing for the ultimate prize in world sport right now, but will instead have to wait another twelve months to test themselves against sport’s elite at Tokyo2020 (2021).
For fans whose sporting body clocks tell us that we should be glued to the screen, or shouting ourselves hoarse at a stadium, we can attempt to fill that void ever so slightly with a look back at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sport evokes a depth of patriotism matched only by war, and this is on clear display at an Olympiad. For Chinese citizens, their pride overflowed as they hosted their first ever truly international sporting event. Everyday Chinese citizens went out of their way to be helpful to foreigners, regardless of the language barrier. The roar of the crowd, in perfect unison inside the stadiums, was deafening and at times frightening. The hosts wore their patriotism on their sleeves, their faces…
International visitors also proudly displayed their national colours, at the stadiums, on public transport, in the streets, restaurants, bars, hotels…everywhere.
National pride consumes the athletes in ways that only a national representative can understand. Unrivalled emotions are experienced when athletes enter the stadium for the opening ceremony, in national uniform, alongside teammates united behind their national flag. For flag bearers, the honour compares only to the victories which earned them this right.
In Beijing, a funny thing happened during the opening ceremony. Something that caught many international spectators by surprise. Nations entered the stadium in the order of the spelling of their name in Chinese, not in English or French.
One thing didn’t change, though. When the host nation entered the stadium, the crowd erupted.
World class stadia
China delivered some of the world’s most impressive sporting facilities. The Bird’s Nest, which hosted the Athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Water Cube which hosted the swimming and aquatic events, are some of the best-known sporting facilities in the world.
An army of volunteers
China has one advantage over the rest of the world: An enormous population. They used this population to good effect at the games. The opening and closing ceremony performers were apparently armed forces members, accustomed to following directions and repeating actions again and again until performed with military precision. Day after day they filled the bowels of the Bird’s Nest waiting to rehearse their section of the elaborate ceremony.
The practice paid off. The opening and closing ceremonies were some of the most impressive in history, and a triumph of theatre and spectacle.
But is it sport?
No. And there are many sports purists who believe the theatrics of the opening and closing ceremonies are out of control as each host city tries to outdo its predecessor. They argue that the budget for the ceremonies alone plunge taxpayers into debt and the performances become so grand they threaten to overshadow the true stars of an Olympics, the athletes. The ceremonies in Beijing certainly supported this theory.
What about Tokyo?
What will the ceremonies look like in Tokyo? Assuming the games go ahead at some point in the future, can the government of Japan justify elaborate and expensive ceremonies after Japan has suffered the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mystery and secrecy
The Chinese government and the organising committee went to great lengths to guard a state secret during the 2008 Olympics. Not its actions in Dafur, not its actions in Taiwan or Tibet. A secret more guarded than its policies in Xinjiang and the South China Sea. The secret it would not reveal is the most precious secret at any Olympiad: Who would light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.
In the days preceeding the ceremony, rumours spread throughout the media village and the entire city as to who would light the flame, and how. Pundits suggested all manner of techniques, drawing on the oldest and strongest stereotypes of the host country. The slightest movement on the roof of the Bird’s Nest sparked yet more speculation and theories.
Eventually, the world watched gymnast Li Ning suspended on a wire like a hero in a martial arts movie run a slow motion lap around the rim of the stadium before lighting the cauldron.
The party’s over.
Once the opening ceremony is finished, the work begins. The serious business of sport takes place and athletes do what what they have trained to do every day for years and years. Of course, the stadium had to be returned to a sporting arena after the ceremonial extravaganza.
Every fan has their favourite moment, favourite athlete or favourite team from every Olympics. Australian fans lucky enough to be in Sydney in 2000 will recall Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400m on the Athletics track. Fijians still beam with pride at the memory of their first ever Olympic medal, gold in the men’s Rugby 7s in Rio.
Chinese fans were robbed of a Cathy Freeman moment when their national hero and pre-race favourite, Liu Xiang, withdrew from the 110m hurdle event with a knee injury in 2008. I was in the stadium when it happened and the grief and disappointment among the Chinese people was palpable. Liu reached down to touch his knee before setting himself on the starting blocks, something he wouldn’t normally do. He then raised his hand and walked off the track. He was out. He couldn’t compete. He couldn’t win gold in front of his adoring home fans. Some locals screamed, all stared in disbelief at the big screen. Men and women cried, and every second journalist in the stadium rushed to find him and get that quote. Alas, for Liu it wasn’t meant to be.
International superstars grace every Olympics, in many different sports. In Beijing, one of the most famous faces on the planet, Lionel Messi, took gold in the men’s football with his Argentinian teammates, including fellow star Juan Riquelme.
One World, One Dream
One World One Dream, One Country Two Systems, China talks a lot about unity. It is interesting to note that since the 2008 Olympic Games, China has sought to create one world – under its control. Its policies and actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong indicate China’s desire to exert control over its region and the rest of the world. Just as interesting is that despite this, Beijing is scheduled to host another of the IOCs major events, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Until the world’s best athletes meet again in Tokyo, or elsewhere, at some point in the future, we leave you with these memories of the 2008 games. What was your favourite moment in Beijing?
The Australian Olympic Committee has lodged an official application with the International Olympic Committee to have medals awarded to athletes who finish eighth at the next Olympic Games in order to create a more inclusive environment for young Australians accustomed to receiving eighth place medals.
Australia is lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to expand the medal allocation from the traditional gold, silver and bronze to reflect the reality of junior sport in Australia.
“In junior sporting competitions, school sports carnivals and many more competitive contexts, Australian children are given prizes, ribbons and medals for finishing well out of the top 3, or sometimes for just turning up,” outlined a spokesperson for the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).
“It is Australia’s strong desire to see this custom adopted by the IOC.”
The AOC argues that the generation of young Australians raised on eighth place medals are now old enough to enter the Olympic arena and must be accommodated via a change in the rules.
“These young Australians are likely to feel threatened and uncomfortable in an environment in which winning and personal excellence are celebrated.”
The proposed changes would award a medal to every athlete from 1st – 8th, so finalists in most sports will win a medal. Every medal would be coloured grey, and athletes who finish outside the top eight all receive a beige participation medal.
The AOC is pushing hard for the new system to be in place for the Tokyo games, scheduled to take place in 2021.
“While every member of the Olympic family was saddened to see Tokyo2020 postponed, it did at least give us another 12 months to lobby the IOC for the introduction of the eighth place medal,” explained the spokesperson.
“Even if the changes can’t be introduced immediately into the Olympic Games, we will lobby for them to be trialled at the Youth Olympic Games, in which many young Australians participate.”
Supporters of the eighth place medal mentality argue that it removes the element of competition from children’s physical activity, and creates a safer, more inclusive environment and subsequently increases participation levels.
Opponents of the custom argue that it prevents children from learning how to deal with losing and from developing emotional resilience. They claim it suppresses children’s natural competitive urges and athletic talent, and fails to acknowledge that superior talent, dedication, effort and strategy lead to victory in sport. It also ignores the fact that healthy competition among children can be harnessed for good.
Other critics go so far as to claim that the eighth place medal movement coincided with the dramatic rise in childhood obesity in the nation.
The AOC spokesperson then outlined other changes Australia would like to see introduced into future Olympic competitions, many of which are borrowed from the school system in which today’s young Olympians were educated.
Recent years saw the introduction of ‘Special Consideration’ for students who are sitting their final year exams, which determine tertiary education entrance rankings. The system has proved enormously popular among Australian students and their parents.
Adopting these principles in the Olympic arena would see endurance athletes in sports such as Athletics, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Triathlon and Swimming allowed to take rest breaks when they feel tired – without this break time being added to their overall finishing time. Cyclists could ride an E-Bike if they choose, while Rugby 7s teams could field as many players as they want, in recognition Australia’s appalling rates of numeracy.
Sprinters would be able to run 95 metres instead of the mandated 100 metres, while team sports would be played without the score being recorded. High, long and triple jumpers could place a mini tramp at the end of the runway, while rock climbers would be hauled up the rock face by their belay buddy.
The spokesperson was then asked if these conditions would apply to athletes from other countries.
“No way,” he replied emphatically.
“Don’t forget, we’re drawing on a talent pool which was not allowed to run, jump, throw, wrestle, climb or kick a ball in their school playground. Children who were not allowed to set foot on local sports grounds when it rained. A generation of young people whose schools have designated ‘passive’ ovals on which no vigorous activity is allowed – for fear someone will scrape their knee. How can we possibly compete against athletes who grow up running 10km to school in bare feet every day?
“Plus, how else are we going to climb up the medal tally and finally justify the enormous amount of taxpayer money that is poured into elite sport every year?”
Radical elements within the AOC would like to see the changes go even further.
They want to ban sports such as Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Karate and Taekwondo as they are examples of rough play. They would like to remove traditional Olympic disciplines such as Javelin, Discus and Shot Putt, as well as Archery, Fencing and Shooting, as they promote violence.
Furthermore, all Basketball and Volleyball players would have to be the same height. 10m platform diving would be banned, while the 1m springboard is permitted as long as the diver enters with a safety dive – and NO BOMBS!
Participants in all water-based activities would have to wear life jackets, and as for surfing, this is considered far too dangerous due to the presence of sharks, bluebottles, urchins, stingrays, rips and big waves.
The IOC is yet to respond to the application, but Australia remains confident that it can create an inclusive Olympic Games without any competition.
Each stroke of the pedals brings mountain biker Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe closer to realising her dream.
Her ultimate goal is to manage a professional women’s cycling team, and the determined cyclist from Botswana has already taken the first steps to achieving that dream. Baks, as she is known to her friends, became the first Motswana (citizen of Botswana) to represent the African country at a UCI world championship event, when she battled the hills in the u23 category in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2018.
“That was like a dream come true,” explains the pint-sized rider.
“I was so happy and I felt like a hero. That was the best thing that I have ever done for this mother land.”
The next goal is to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the Mountain Bike Cross Country event, where she hopes to join some of her team mates from The Sufferfest African Dream Team.
“African Dream Team is the only UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) registered team in Africa. It is an MTB team for African riders from Lesotho and Botswana, although I’m the only rider from Botswana.”
Ebudilwe is hoping to draw motivation and advice from her team mates, including Phetetso Monese, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The establishment of The Sufferfest African Dream Team is the major reason that Ebudilwe switched from road cycling, where she won multiple national titles, to mountain biking.
“The scholarship for the African Dream Team was available only for mountain biking, so I decided to try for the scholarship because I didn’t want to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
This opportunity sees Ebudilwe divide her time between southern Africa, where the team trains on the hills and altitude of Lesotho and South Africa, and Switzerland, where she is based during the European racing season.
Switzerland is a long way from the village of Mahalapye in the north of Botswana, where the self-confessed tomboy grew up.
“I grew up with my brother and cousins as the only girl, playing with the boys and everything they did. I did my primary and secondary school in Mahalapye, where I played soccer and I was the team captain.”
“I moved to the great city of Gaborone for senior school, and I got involved in cycling when I was doing my final year. I wanted to try a new sport, then I thought cycling is not so popular, so let me go for it.”
A background in road cycling explains where Ebudilwe’s strengths lie as a mountain biker.
“Since I started cycling with a road bike, I’m better on flatter trails, where I can just put the hammer down and go without any obstacles to do. I think I am better at endurance, definitely not climbing, because I’m from a very flat country and low altitude.”
That said, she is certainly enjoying her adopted sport.
“MTB is fun, it gives me freedom. I go anywhere I want. It’s also challenging mentally on some of the obstacles.”
Ebudilwe’s ascension to the world championships began on African soil, where she competed in the African Youth Games, the African Road Championships and the African MTB Championships. It is also where she joined fellow Dream Team rider Likeleli Masitise for a very credible 3rd place in the Elite Women’s category of ‘Lesotho Sky’, a six-stage cross country race through the high-altitude trails of the land-locked African nation.
While Ebudilwe is the first Motswana to challenge herself against the sport’s best at the world championships, she doesn’t expect to be the last.
“My federation is trying to make the MTB sport grow. They took 7 guys to the African Championships in Namibia this year, so they’re really trying.”
She also credits the federation, as well as her support network, with her rise to the elite level of the sport.
“There are lots of people who contribute a lot to my cycling career. My local club Tsela riders, my team African Dream Team, my federation, my parents and friends, they support me left, right and centre.”
The 22-year-old revealed that she was chubby when she was 17/18, and that her dedication to training helped her to lose weight and develop the endurance of an elite cyclist.
“I train hard, I build my power in wattbikes and I try to push myself, even if it’s painful. I want to go to the Olympics next year.”
The time spent sweating in the lab is also taking Ebudilwe closer to her ultimate dream.
“I want to get a degree in sports management. Having a lady’s team is one of my dreams, and I also want to have my own beautiful family one day and own a laboratory for sports tests.”
Baks describes herself as a quiet person,
“…but that depends on where I am and who I am with. At school I was the funniest.”