Robinson Leonard Ali
Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in 1977. Both Leonard (1976) and Ali (1960), won gold medals in their respective Olympics before going on to glory at the professional ranks.
In 1988, when tennis debuted at the Seoul Olympic Games, allowing professionals to enter the competition, the gold medalist in individual play was Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia. While he defeated Stefan Edberg, whom Mecir had lost to at Wimbledon that year, the Olympic tournament was missing quite a few stars of the time: Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Boris Becker for example. As I understand it, the Olympics provided no ranking points or remuneration so many of the pro stars were not motivated to be an Olympian.

In 1992, when FIBA allowed professionals to participate in the Olympics, many of the teams were transformed with players from the NBA and other international professional leagues excited to be Olympians. With Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird headlining a team of unprecedented talent, Team USA swept through the competition with ease to win gold.

In May, 2016, the International Boxing Organization (IBO) will vote whether to allow professionals to compete in the Olympic Games going forward. Presumably, the reason is the same for every other international sports governing body – the very best in their sport should compete at the Olympics.

So if the IBO gives pro boxers the thumbs up for the Olympics, will the reaction by the pros be like tennis in 1988, or like basketball in 1992?

The Philippines have never won a gold medal in the Olympics. So why not Manny Pacquiao? Even though he was prepared to hang up his gloves after his next fight with Timothy Bradley in April, he has publicly said that he would step up if asked. “It would be my honor to represent the country in the Olympics,” Pacquiao told Agence France-Presse. “If I would be asked to represent boxing, why not? I would do everything for my country.”

manny pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao thinking about Rio.
Will others pros step up into the ring in Rio?

This isn’t clear yet – some will be bothered by the lack of financial incentives, and others may be enticed by the national glory. But one thing is clear – boxing is a brutal sport. And as pointed out in this discussion board devoted to boxing, people don’t just lose in boxing matches…they can get beat up. And if you’re a pro, you’re sacrificing potentially lucrative but limited paydays to possible injury. If you’re an amateur, you may end up getting battered way more than what a fellow amateur could do to you.

Munich Massacre
West German policemen wearing sweatsuits, bullet-proof vests and armed with submachine guns, take up positions on September 5, 1972 on Olympic Village rooftops where armed Palestinians were holding Israeli team members hostage

The terrorist attacks on Paris last month are still likely jagged memories for many. I shudder to think of what could have been if the suicide bomber had successfully made her way into the Stade de France during the football match between the French and German national teams.

The singular most horrific terrorist attack in an Olympic Games are when eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany. A Palestinian group called Black September, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) smuggled rifles, pistols and grenades into the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972, before dawn, while athletes slept.

Details of those events have been depicted in articles, books and film. But until recently, the level of cruelty the Israeli athletes suffered had not been known, according to this New York Times article. The reporter explains that German authorities had hundreds of pages of reports depicting the 20-hours the athletes were held hostage, but until recently denied they had existed.

Israeli victims
Six of the 11 Israeli hostages killed by the Palestinian ‘Black September’ cell at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Yossef Romano, the torture victim, is top center

The families of victims were actually aware of these reports and never-released photos of the massacre since 1992. A documentary called “Munich 72 & Beyond” will be released in early 2016.


The International Olympic Committee has had a long, uneasy relationship with families of the Munich victims. According to this New York Times article, they have been lobbying the IOC for official recognition of those killed during the Munich Olympics. They are hoping that the IOC will create awareness of that day in September to the Games in August, 2016, in Rio.

In fact, progress has been made and a memorial will be built in Germany, very near the building where the Israeli athletes were taken hostage. The memorial, which will open to the public in September, 2016, is being funded by the local Bavarian government, the German federal government, as well as the IOC and the Foundation for Global Sports Development.

Perhaps progress has been due to a change in IOC leadership in 2013. The current IOC head is Thomas Bach, a German. In addition to the memorial in Germany, Bach announced there will also be a memorial erected in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.

“We want to give the athletes the opportunity to express their mourning in a dignified way and environment in the Olympic Village where representatives of the whole world are living peacefully under the same roof,” (Bach) said. “At the Closing Ceremony, the Games come to an end and many people feel that it is a moment to remember people who have died at the Olympic Games.”

Mohammed Al-Khatib
Screen capture from Ak-Khatib’s youtube appeal.

His request was straightforward. Mohammed Al-Khatib of the State of Palestine needed funds to train in the United States so that he could represent his homeland in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The yoga and fitness instructor from Hebron has a dream – to win an Olympic medal in the 100 meters or 200 meters competition “on behalf of every Palestinian.”

As he explains in the request video below, understandably, Palestine lacks the facilities and the professional coaches all athletes need to advance to a world-class level.

But despite that, Al-Khatib has nurtured this dream of representing Palestine in Rio for the past three years, training hard after being encouraged by a US track and field coach, Crystal Dunlap, who saw him run a 10.4 second 100 meters without spikes or starting blocks. Coaches and role models are so important. In fact, Al-Khatib was inspired by two people, as he explains here: a 15-year-old Lithuanian swimmer named Ruta Meilutyte who won gold in London in 2012, as well as a Palestinian named Mohammad Assaf who won a singing contest in Arab Idol. Learn more in this great profile of Al-Khatib here

Mohammed Al-Khatib_Ash Gallagher
Palestinian yoga and fitness instructor Mohamed al-Khatib trains for track and field events in the hopes of attending the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Nov. 18, 2015 | Ash Gallagher

Al-Khatib wanted to raise $7,850 so that he could participate in a 3-month training camp in Texas from January. In only 4 days, he reached $12,160! So yes, Al-Khatib is on his way to Texas!

You can actually continue to make contributions here – funds beyond his budget will be donated to the Jericho Youth Club’s Running Team in the West Bank.

Life in the Favela_NYTimes 1

The slums of Brazil are called favelas. One of every five residents in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Games, live in a favela. In this poignant video piece, Nadia Sussman of the New York Times paints a picture of despair as favela denizens seek stability and happiness amidst a war between the police and the drug lords.

Sussman interviews Damião Pereira de Jesus, a resident of a favela called Complexo de Alemão, whose aunt was killed by a stray bullet. He expressed his views of life in the favela after the Police, known as the Pacifying Police Units, came to his favela.

They came giving residents a lot of hope for social programs. But they don’t get close to residents in that way. The government comes with its laws. But here there’s already a law, the traffickers’ law. Residents are confused. Who to trust? Who to interact with?

Everyone has dreams. The favela is full of them. If the government would come and help realize these dreams, the community would be happier. I intend for my children to bury me, not for me to bury my children.

Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
  1. Rio is named for a river that doesn’t exist. (Janeiro is January, which is when the Portuguese first arrived in that part of Brazil.)
  2. It was once part of a colony called Antarctic France. (The French apparently got there before the Portuguese.)
  3. The French once held it for ransom. (There be gold and diamonds in them thar hills!)
  4. It served as the capital of the Portuguese Empire for almost seven years.
  5. Its residents might be named for a house, or maybe a fish. (When citizens of Rio go out on the town to sing, you could say “Carioca go ka-ree-oh-kee”.)
  6. Its giant statue of Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year. (What exactly is God trying to say?)

    “Christ the Redeemer” overlooking Rio de Janeiro (© Danny Lehman/Corbis)
  7. For five days a year, the city is run by a mythical jester named King Momo.
  8. It hosted the world’s biggest soccer game.
  9. The city put QR codes in its mosaic sidewalks. (So those pictures of the ground are not accidental.)
  10. Street art is legal there. (Isn’t everything?)
  11. It has a Carmen Miranda Museum. (Now, that’s cool!)

France24 Report on Rio

This is a fascinating report from France24 on the state of Rio de Janeiro one year prior to the start of the Olympic Games. More than anything else, security is the biggest concern for the government and for residents. Brazil is considered one of the most unequal societies in the world, and the gap between the haves and the have nots so great that drug gangs, crime and violence have been a constant background to life in Rio.

While the government has beefed up its police force with the addition of 37 additional special protection units, violence between gangs, and between gangs and police continue. Four thousand have already died from such violence in 2015, many happens when the torch is extinguished, the banners taken down, and the excitement gives way to thoughts of making ends meet in the coming years.

There will be 2 new additions to the list of sports showcased in next years 2016 Summer Olympics. The 2 sports are rugby sevens, and golf. Rugby and golf actually aren’t new to the Olympics. The 2016 Summer Olympics will mark their return to the event. Fifteen-man rugby had previously been an Olympic sport, debuting […]

It’s not just Japan where taxi drivers are challenged by English. Brazil, which will be hosting the international sporting lovefest known as the Olympics in the summer of 2016, will also have to figure out how to communicate with the non-Portuguese speaking hordes who will descend on Rio de Janeiro next August.

It’s such an issue that a Brazilian newspaper saw fit to do an article on a company marketing a language program called “Hey Taxi”, a course designed to teach taxi drivers how to effectively communicate with foreigners in English.

The project is run by a company called Meritus Partners, and as one of the company partners explains, the Brazilian taxi driver needs help. “Since May, when I started conducting research with the cab drivers in Rio, I have learned that they have very limited understanding and awareness of their role in the hospitality sector yet they are the host of the city, the first impression of a foreign tourist.”

Fortunately, not all taxi drivers in Brazil need help. This fellow not only gets the passenger to his destination in time, he does a fantastic rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.