Saturday, August 16, 2008

Basque Fair Play

When you get the media outlet to mention anything about the Basque Country what you usually get is your classic smear campaign against the Basque people.

Thanks to the Olympic Games we get this unusual note from the WSJ, one with a positive reference to a person of Basque background, here you have it:

Another Daunting Olympic Quest: The Search for Gallant Behavior

Fair Play Committee Seeks Athletes to Honor; Nominations Aren't Exactly Flooding In

August 15, 2008; Page A1

BEIJING -- In a cheat-plagued sports world, the International Fair Play Committee wants you to keep a sharp eye out for a type of behavior at the Olympics that's harder than ever to detect: athletes willingly giving up a chance to win in order to stop another athlete from, say, drowning.

Sunil Sabharwal was on the job at the women's saber matches the other day. He sat in the darkened stands, following the cuts and thrusts of floodlighted fencers, poised to spot some gallantry.

"Fencing has a tradition of grace," Mr. Sabharwal was saying. "It calls for fair play and honesty all the time."

He is 44, born in India, raised in Hungary, and a former Ohio State fencing champ. Now he is treasurer of the Fair Play Committee, an obscure and ill-funded organization devoted to cataloging instances of athletic self-denial.

It didn't take long for him to catch one. In a furious exchange, Sofia Velikaya, a Russian, lunged at Tan Xue, from China, who immediately stuck her hand in the air: She was acknowledging a Russian score before the referee had a chance to call it. It was as if a baseball player called himself out in a close play at home.

"It's goodwill," said Mr. Sabharwal with satisfaction. "These moments of fair play, they seem like small, common things, but they aren't small and they aren't common."

A year ago, trolling for allies in its war on dope, the International Olympic Committee revived the Fair Play Committee's status as an IOC affiliate. It called on the public to nominate uncommonly unselfish athletes for a Fair Play Committee trophy. "We would love to receive your proposals," said the IOC.

About 30 names are typically submitted each year by National Olympic Committees, on behalf of all sports everywhere. Since the IOC's call for public help, the number hasn't budged.

"It's a strange thing," said Jeno Kamuti, the Fair Play Committee's president and a doctor who also heads Hungary's Olympic team in China. "We don't get more nominations, even now that it's all on TV and you can watch everything over and over." He knows why: "Victory is a huge motivation. A great number of people make money off athletes. Sports federations, commercial sponsors -- everyone pressures them to get to the top. Athletes live under threat."

Dr. Kamuti, 71, was a fencer in his day, too. At a championship in 1961, his opponent took sick. Dr. Kamuti gave him time to recover, then got beaten. At the 1968 Olympics, he won a silver medal on a technicality. When his opponent protested, Dr. Kamuti agreed to a replay. He lost.

Why did he do it? "Because it was correct," he says.

On the Hunt

The Fair Play Committee has been on the hunt for athletes who play fair since 1964, when it was set up by Jean Borotra, the "bounding Basque" of French tennis. It has since awarded more than 200 trophies for "action" (though just 16 of them Olympic-related). Among the winners:

The motorcyclist who gave up a lead to help a racer who'd crashed into a tree; the cross-country runner who stopped short of the finish to let a bushed front-runner cross the line on his knees; the soccer player who agreed to a hospital visit by a rival who had deliberately broken the soccer player's back.

A Canadian hockey team won for declining to accept a forfeit after its opponents didn't show because they misread the schedule. A U.S. triple-jumper won for "controlling his own disappointment" after losing to a Pole. A Cuban boxer won for passing up "many good contracts" and never turning pro.


But who was this Borotra fella?

Here you have a (corrected) bio courtesy of Wikipedia:

Jean Robert Borotra (13 August 1898–17 July 1994) was a Basque champion tennis player, one of the famous "Four Musketeers" from his country who dominated tennis in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Borotra was born in Domaine du Pouy, near Biarritz, Euskal Herria and married with an English woman.

Known as "the Bounding Basque", he won five Grand Slam singles titles in the French, Australian, and British championships, failing to win only in the American championships. His first appearance was in the French Davis Cup team of 1921.

A member of François de la Rocque's Parti social français (PSF), he became 1st General Commissioner to Sports from August 1940 to April 1942 during Vichy France, leading the Révolution nationale's efforts in sports' policy.

Arrested by the Gestapo (November 1942), he has been deported in concentration camp in Germany until 1945.

The Four Musketeers (which included another famous Basque player, René Lacoste) were inducted simultaneously into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1976. In 1984, he received a Distinguished service award from the United States Sports Academy in recognition of his achievements.

On 17 July 1994, Jean Borotra, Founder and president of Honour of the CIFP (International Committee for Fair Play) passed away at the age of 95, after a short illness. He was buried at Arbonne in 1994.

The International Fair Play Committee recognises achievements annually including awarding the Jean Borotra World Fair Play Trophy.

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