Paris 2024, now facing the Middle East conflict

The recent episodes with Iran’s military aggression against Israel open the door to a scenario whose scope no one dares to determine. Could we have games in such a scenario?

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Milos Forman was a great film director born in old Czechoslovakia. Versatile and restless, through some of his most outstanding works, he went through the Vietnam War (Hair, 1979), the peculiarities of the human brain (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975) or the history of art and civilization itself (Amadeus, 1984). Winner of multiple awards, including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, Forman also had a prominent presence in the relationship between cinema and the Olympic Games. He did this through Visions of Eight, an extraordinary documentary production about the Munich games in which eight different directors contributed their vision in an equal number of medium-length films that shaped a creation that lasted just under two hours.

Each one had a specific theme. Just as the legendary French director Claude Lelouch dedicated himself to “The Losers”, Forman did so with “The Decathlon”.

In line with production needs, Forman stayed in the Olympic Village. He lived on one of the upper floors, just 50 meters from the tower at the center of the Black September massacre, in which a group of terrorists kidnapped and murdered several members of the Israeli sports delegation.

Forman recounted in a special production about the moment that definitely changed the logic of the Games security system: “On the morning of September 5, I received a call from my office. It was my secretary who asked me if I was okay and if I knew what was happening in the villa. I said no; then she asked me to look out the window of my room. Then I saw a crowd of soldiers, ambulances and police cars a few meters from the access door to my tower. I went down to see what was happening and, no more than 10 steps away, I found a group of athletes playing table tennis and mini golf, as if nothing were happening. I asked one of them if he was aware of the disaster and he said yes. “But I dedicated my life to participating in the games and nothing will make me lose focus on my goal. Until the competitions are suspended, I will continue to focus on myself.”

11 Israeli athletes lost their lives as a result of the attack on the Olympic Village in Munich.
11 Israeli athletes lost their lives as a result of the attack on the Olympic Village in Munich.

That confession, which seems to be cruel and stark, still represents an online vision that, a few days later, the IOC itself adopted when at the Olympic Stadium and even with a group of empty seats as a reminder of the recent victims, the president of the entity Avery Brundage announced the continuation of the games.

What’s more, while there were still terrorists inside the village, there were delegations that normally came out of there on the buses to play official basketball games.

The one in 1972 was certainly the most brutal example of how we sometimes dissociate extra-sports episodes within the field of sports. And we don’t stop.

Sometimes, it’s in the name of the show “that must go on”. Sometimes, it’s with the unrealistic claim that we shouldn’t allow politics to mess with sports. We have already said, and there are many examples in this regard, that both genders are inevitably linked. In many cases, they need each other. And it even ends up being beneficial for what we spectators enjoy. It is only politics hand in hand with sport that determines that high levels of government bring to the forefront of discussion and availability of resources everything that will be needed to ensure that Paris 2024 goes by in peace.

By the way, the events of the last few hours with Iran’s armed aggression on Israeli territory, which adds to the backlog of endless conflicts in the region, added to the already eternal conflict since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, do not guarantee that, on the way to next July, we will be better, calmer and safe from overflows that can no longer be reversed.

In other words, can anyone imagine what the Paris games would be like if they started tomorrow, with the dramatic panorama offered by such a sensitive part of the planet as Eastern Europe or the Middle East?

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By the way, we fully support that things will improve as soon as possible. No longer because of the games themselves but because of the large number of innocent victims who suffer from these escalations. Let’s not calculate these victims only in deaths but in all those for whom, even alive, their existence painfully changed forever.

However, thinking today in Olympic mode, it should not be ruled out that the drone rain last Saturday has strongly activated the WhatsApp groups of those who participate in the movement’s small table.

So, do we think that the games would continue if, in the midst of the competitions, something similar to what happened in Munich happened in France?

More than that. Given the restrictions for Russian and Belarusian athletes who are not yet even guaranteed a presence in a reduced version, what would be the analysis with respect to the countries that are the protagonists of the new war aggression?

Three years ago, in Tokyo, the Olympic Movement gave an extraordinary show of resilience and improvement when it brought together the planet of sport in a single country at a time when even the internal borders of many nations were restricted.

In some ways, it could be said that Olympism beat COVID.

Hopefully we don’t have to give another more similar sample. Above all, because this time it is about geopolitical and religious violence. A much more complex virus to avoid.

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