by Moses Manoharan

SEOUL: For the third world, the Seoul ‘Olympics provided a grim reminder that poverty and social customs remain tough hurdles in the race to make champions.

The countries of Asia, South America and Africa account for about 80 per cent of the world’s five billion people but took home only 29 goals a meager 12 percent of the total.

“It is not a gap, but a chasm which separates the third world from the rest. ‘There was a wide disparity in standards,” aid International Olympic Committee Member Ashwini Kumar.

There were exceptions.

China’s Gao Min gracefully sliced through the air to win the Women’s springboard, Kenya’s John Ngugi loped majestically away from a powerful field for the Men’s 5,000 meters gold and Surinam’s Anthony Nesty streaked past American Swimmer Matt Biondi to win the 100 ‘meters butterfly.

But they were just cameos at the 16day games where the Soviet Union, East Germany and the United States grabbed 53 per cent of the 237 Gold Medals at stake.

Kumar, an Indian, said he could see no change until third world countries found ‘ways to spot and develop young talent.

“But at present in the third world, the priority before the governments is to feed the poor, not build an infrastructure to produce Champion Sportsmen,” Kumar said

His own country is a perfect example,

The world’s second most populous country after China, India did not win a single medal in Seoul. All eight of the country’s Olympic Gold’s have been in Men’s Hockey—its only other medal was a Wrestling Bronze won in Helsinki in 1952.

China fared better with four Gold’s but fell short of their Los Angeles Games haul of 15, failure bitterly criticized in Chinese newspapers,

“A dark cloud crosses our hearts — we have a psychological problem,” said Peking’s People’s Daily.

China was toppled as Asia’s top sporting power by host South Korea, who won 12 gold’s to finish fourth in the overall medals table.

Social and religious customs play a part in holding back Sports development in parts of the third world

The Middle East performed poorly — only Iran won a medal a fact the President of the Kuwaiti Olympic Committee, Salman AlSabah, blames on a lack of sporting history.

“Twenty years ago, we had no sport. It will take us 10 years to reach world levels.” he said.

Most Arab countries where Orthodox Islamic customs bans women from public sport sent only male teams.

The women of Africa and Asia have similar problems,

I don’t have a coach, they don’t sent us abroad to train like the men,” said Kenya’s top Woman Athlete, Rose TataMuya

But India’s six strong track and field team were all women. The men were not good enough to qualify at the Olympic trials.

India’s P.T, Usha, Asian 100 meter and 400 meter hurdles Champion for the past four years, said she was lucky to have parents who let her take up sport.

“When we get married, further participation in sport depends on the husband: she said,

Kumar also said parental attitudes to ‘sport was important in developing countries.

“Track and field’ are not careers that parents would want their children to pursue simply because one cannot earn a living from them, he said

Developing countries lack training facilities and access to the latest sports medicine and research.

Surinam has only one Olympic sized pool. Its swimming hero nasty went to the United States to train,

‘Swimmer Silvia poll of Costa Rica, who won a silver in the 200 meters freestyle, needed her mother’s help to finance the trip to Seoul

Defending Men’s Hockey Champions Pakistan blamed a lack of artificial playing surfaces for their failure to reach an Olympic semifinal for the first time in 40 years.

Kenya has beaten the odds by concentration on events such as distance running, which need few training facilities.

Its Athletes took the Gold and Silver Medals in the 3,000 meters steeplechase and the gold in the 800 meters, 1,500 and 5,000.

But the rest of the Third World can draw some comfort from John Holt, Secretary-general of the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

Third World Athletes came to the games with the pure Olympic ideal of taking part, not winning, he said.

“They are the last pure Athletes.”

Article extracted from this publication >> October 14, 1988