Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | Baiting goldfish

Published:Sunday | August 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM

During the ancient Olympics, the Greeks would put aside politics and wars, declare truces, and attend the games. The games may even have begun as a substitute for war. We do know that they were also an important religious festival for the pagan Greeks, even to the point where many sacred bulls were slaughtered in honour of Zeus right in the middle of the action.

Still, insofar as it is possible, there are many good reasons to try to keep politics out of Olympic sport. And we have a long history of examples as to why it isn't a good idea to mix up the two.

Just recently, I was reading that Emperor Nero was an Olympic champion and uncommonly successful athlete. Phelps and Bolt may think they're trying, but they will never match the number of olive wreaths (the equivalent of a modern medal) Nero achieved when he won every event he entered.

Sometimes he racked up wins through unconventional means, which is what tends to happen with political power when there's no DPP to act. For instance, Nero entered the four-horse chariot race with 10 horses, but his chariot overturned. He was still declared winner, there being no witness protection programme in effect. The reasoning was that IF he had been able to complete the race, he would have won.

Well, as it happens, some politics has entered Jamaica's Olympic campaign. And I'm not talking about Mr Holness' welcome commitment to make Usain the minister of sport. It entered thanks to a thrilling 110m hurdles run by Omar McLeod and a slightly comical, but completely inappropriate, tweet from the LASCO Twitter account.




The short version is that McLeod was called a "goldfish". Now who knows (or really cares all that much) whether the young star is attracted to males or females? I don't. However, the very public accusation would have caused people to wonder if they could cheer for, and support, someone who might be gay. I think most people concluded that they could do that.

So, as The Gleaner has noted, the public accusation that he is piscine, so soon after his splendid achievement, may well, strangely, have a positive effect.

The tweet, says The Gleaner, "forced many Jamaicans to confront their prejudices, in a circumstance in which they were made, unconsciously perhaps, to question its worth ... . We sense that people, faced with a rational critical mass, subsumed their bigotry to outcomes and values greater than their bigotry."

That's quite a brainful of words, but since I mostly agree, I thought I would simplify, then modify the idea.

Basically, Mr Gleaner is saying that when you find out that people you respect are homosexual, you can't continue to want to hunt them and kill them. At least it becomes more likely that you will relax the notion that someone who is homosexual is also, ipso facto, evil.

In this instance, more knowledge about the peculiarity, individuality, and strangeness of our fellow creatures is deadly to some of the irrational hatreds and unnecessary prejudices.

People look up to athletes. So here is a young man who Jamaicans will naturally respect. Contrast that, by the way, to when the 'fish' label was being tossed around Parliament. In the latter instance, it's more like just throwing more wood on a fire of mistrust.

The bigger point is that greater tolerance is not, ultimately, something guaranteed through purely rational means, however weighty the "rational critical mass". Rather, it is an emotional change, and it is one that can be greatly assisted by the knowledge that admirable people were, or are, homosexual.




By the way, there is deep irony in any criticism of an Olympian for homosexuality. Please remember the Olympics were originally made for men to run around with other men. Although women seem to have played a part in the very earliest Games, pretty soon they were banned, and the Games became an all-male affair.

Bear in mind, also, that the Greek athletes used to perform completely naked, often smothered in olive oil. Thank goodness those days are gone. Luckily, tolerance doesn't require us to go that far.

But that knowledge is also why, gender aside, in my own humble view, female beach volleyball is the closest to maintaining the original real-deal Olympic spirit. Some of those bikinis are just clutching on for dear life! And that's why it's the only sport I watch religiously.

Speaking of history, I'm going to indulge a pet peeve. On August 9, The Gleaner carried a letter titled 'US pushing neocolonial gay agenda'. What interests me here is the work that the concept 'neocolonial' is doing. Does it mean anything any longer, or is it just a substitute for 'something I don't like'?

The nonsense cuts both ways. Activists who want to remove the buggery law also foolishly refer to it as 'neocolonial', as if laws against murder and theft don't also predate Independence. Ought we to get rid of those laws, too, because they were enforced under the British?

Apparently, it is now taken for granted, without argument, that anything referring to the colonial period is something bad. This tells me that what used to be a somewhat important idea in our national self-identity is going bankrupt. Now, when you hear 'neocolonial', it's likely the speaker isn't dealing with history, or even with colonialism, but rather just deploying a little piece of stale and valueless mental bubble gum, useless except as a kind of vague insult.

Anyway, hopefully the whole country can just celebrate Omar McLeod's great achievement along with those of other amazing athletes. If that turns out to be possible, today's Olympics would have proven as still a good time to slay a couple useless sacred cows.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to