Their budgets may be a tad tighter and their delegations smaller, but developing countries are no less excited about the Olympics than their northern counterparts. There are, in fact, a number of transition countries with Olympic stories that are making big waves in their home nations and around the world. (And the clumsy responses of the International Olympic Committee almost always help to make the waves even bigger.) Here's a brief roundup of the Nations in Transition Olympic News (let's call this our NiTON review):
1. The South Sudanese athlete with no flag
The rigid IOC rigid rulebook stipulates that a new country's application to join the organization must take two years. South Sudan, which has declared independence in July 2011, falls short of this criterion. The IOC, with its usual brilliance, suggested that the South Sudanese athletes compete under the Sudanese flag -- not the most sensitive suggestion for the various parties involved, considering that South Sudan recently celebrated the first anniversary of secession from its northern neighbor.
74 people dead.
It doesn't add up. Port Said's Masry soccer team won 3-1 against its long-time rival Ahly. In Port Said. It was a tough victory, one that Masry won with the support of its fans. The logical question would be, then, "Why would the Masry fans attack the minority of Ahly fans among them?"
From there on, the questions just don't stop. "Why did neither the governor of Port Said nor its security chief attend a game they both normally attend?" asked parliamentarian Mohamed Abou Hamed on live television earlier tonight. "Why were security forces barely present despite knowing that the long rivalry between the two teams had a potential for violence?"
It's true that the team rivalry is old, and that the most dedicated fans -- the Ultras, as they are known in Egypt -- don't shy from confrontation. Years ago, for instance, Ahly fans once broke into the Masry club and stole some of their trophies.
I say all this because many of the first media reports ended with a variation of the statement "soccer in Egypt has a high potential of violence." Only it doesn't. There has been the occasional violent incident, but even championship games normally end without a hiccup, or else with the most hot-headed supporters exchanging insults or, at worst, throwing things at each other. I'm not trying to defend any of that behavior, of course. But my point is -- they don't kill 74 people. Again, something just doesn't add up.
Especially when you learn that the Ultras, those organized and ultra-motivated fans, had proved since January 25 that they were the stuff revolutions were made of. The mostly Cairo-based Ahly Ultras teamed up with their counterparts from their main crosstown rivals -- Zamalek's Ultras White Knights -- and, well, gave Mubarak's goons hell. Their presence -- with the moral support they provided through their loud, sometimes funny and occasionally obscene anti-government chants, but also their courage when it came to fending off violent policemen -- could make or break a protest.
It is those same police goons who were supposed to guarantee order in the stadium tonight. (It should be noted that there has been absolutely no reform of the police since the revolution.)
Like I said. Something really doesn't add up.
The immediate flow of information proved it. Normally the stadium managers carefully control how the teams and the visiting fans are let out. This time, though, the gates were opened immediately after the game ended, and supporters were also allowed to invade the pitch -- something that almost never happens. The very scarce policemen who were present did not attempt to break up the fights.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.