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Dow issue: Why doesn't India boycott the Olympics?

Another day, another letter sent to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the Dow Chemicals sponsorship issue. Soon enough, the IOC will respond.

The response will be along familiar lines, we know because they’ve said it enough times before: Dow is not responsible for Bhopal gas tragedy. So, they’ll stay and you can continue to protest.

But what also emerges from the entire dialogue is that either the Indian government isn’t serious or that the IOC doesn’t really care about what India does. After all, how many medals does India win? We just make up the numbers; we are competitors not champions.

 Dow issue: Why doesnt India boycott the Olympics?

For a long time, India have been looked upon as a nation of fence-sitters, they rarely if ever take a clear position on difficult issues. This is an opportunity to change that. This is an opportunity to take a stand. Reuters

So if India really wants to make the IOC sit up and take notice, it needs to take decisive action, it needs to make a threat and be prepared to carry it out if need be. Diplomacy works only if you can back up your position with something credible.

The letter written to the IOC president by the sports ministry’s joint secretary Rahul Bhatnagar said: “We cherish and celebrate the noble ideals of the Olympic Movement. India stands firmly committed to these ideals and the values they promote of friendship, unity, brotherhood and compassion.”

“We strongly believe that there is no better medium than sports to inculcate and foster the feeling of friendship and solidarity among the people of the world. This being so, we are dismayed that the IOC has not respected the sentiments of a large group of stakeholders, including Olympians, and withdrawn its association with Dow Chemicals.”

“The government of India would therefore strongly urge the IOC to go beyond lesser considerations and in the larger interest of the ideals of human rights, compassion and solidarity, immediately take steps to cancel the sponsorship of Dow Chemicals for the London Olympics, thereby apart from assuaging the feelings of millions of people, send a strong message to the world over for upholding the noble ideals of the Olympic movement," the ministry's letter added.

Dismayed? Really? The IOC has made it amply clear that they don’t care. But India continues to write the letters. The better way to go about this would be to start contacting other nations and getting them on their side or to launch a campaign against Dow or to boycott the Games altogether.

The letter also speaks about friendship and solidarity but doesn’t really say what India will do if the IOC doesn’t respond to India’s appeal in positive terms. Isn’t that what the letter should mention? If the Indian government is too scared to put what it feels on paper then it should at least mention its motives in direct dialogue.

Boycotts are pretty common-place in the Olympics. In 1956, seven countries, including UK and France, boycotted the Games. In 1976, in protest against the New Zealand rugby union team's tour of South Africa, Tanzania led a boycott of 22 African nations after the International Olympic Committee refused to bar New Zealand.

In 1980, US President Jimmy Carter issued a boycott of the Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A total of 62 eligible countries failed to participate. The Soviets returned the favour in 1984 and around 15 nations boycotted the LA Games. In 1988, North Korea, Albania, Cuba, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, and Seychelles did not attend the Games.

The point being: if India is really serious about the Bhopal Movement, it should make its point through deeds not just empty words and posturing. Either way, the IOC may not care whether India takes part or not but a boycott would at least show the victims of the Bhopal tragedy that it really cares.

Of course, there is the case of the athletes who have slogged away to qualify for the Olympics. But then if they do what to compete, let them do it under the IOC flag. That will allow them to be present and it will allow India to take a genuine stand, not one littered with fancy words and letters.

In an age where India talks about wanting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, if it cannot do even this little bit — then what use is power? For a long time, India have been looked upon as a nation of fence-sitters, they rarely if ever take a clear position on difficult issues. This is an opportunity to change that. This is an opportunity to take a stand.

But if the Indian government backs down, we won’t really be surprised. After all, they’ll only be playing true to form.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2012 13:32:24 IST

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