Archie Bland: It's time we enforced the real spirit of the Games

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The Independent Online

The Olympics, those who fete the Games are forever telling us, are not just about athletic triumph: the Olympic ideal means something more. The promotional videos for each Games feature not just victorious titans brandishing their medals, but smiling children, sporting losers, communities regenerated. The suggestion is that sport can mean something more than a simple calculus of victory and defeat.

That suggestion was ignored, not so long ago, by the flagrant fatcats of Formula One, who took their grotesque roadshow to Bahrain without batting an eyelid. The Olympics, you would hope, would be different when it comes to Syria.

The very precept on which the modern Olympics were founded – that "the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle" – seems to shudder at the prospect: in Syria, after all, the struggle is only worthwhile if it leads to triumph. Anything but victory could mean death at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's thugs.

Yes, sport stands apart from politics; but that's not to say those running the Games have a right to ignore the political and humanitarian consequences of what they decide. And happily, there does seem to be a recognition already that letting Assad's cronies into London would be a disastrous idea, giving him helpful domestic publicity and imbuing his opponents with a sense that their suffering counts for nothing in the eyes of the west.

They are still not doing enough. In the days since General Mofwaq Joumaa, president of the Syrian National Olympic Committee, declared his intention to attend the Games, the widespread agreement that officials should be excluded if they have any connection to the regime has not extended to the status of the athletes themselves. In truth, though, while the presence of officials connected to the regime would be an insult to Assad's victims, the athletes are the far more prominent of those slated to attend.

It is true, at least, that no Syrian seems to be in with a shout of a medal, so we should be spared the ugliness of seeing the flag raised to Assad's national anthem. It seems a little unfair to blame the athletes themselves, with no suggestion that any of them has been involved in the atrocities that have taken place.

Excluding them altogether would perhaps seem a merely symbolic gesture. But while Russia blocks any more forceful Security Council resolution, symbols are all we have.

As things stand, Assad's flag is to be paraded around a stadium in London in 58 days' time. How can that be in keeping with the spirit that is supposed to make these Games great?