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Natalie Haynes: Argentina should remember a few of the original Olympic ideals


The ancient Greek Olympics differed from the modern ones in almost every way. The winners won a laurel wreath rather than a medal.

The event didn't cost billions of drachmae, and no one set aside separate cart tracks for visiting officials. But perhaps the most crucial difference was that in a world filled, as ours is, with war, hostilities were suspended under an Olympic truce. Thus, athletes could travel to a city-state with which their own was at war, and be perfectly safe.

It's something that Argentina might like to remember. This week, the country released an advert of one of its Olympic hopefuls training on the Falkland Islands. The slogan printed across the screen reads: "To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil." No one on the Falkland Islands appears to know when it was filmed: from the light, it looks like it must have been shot around dawn.

If Argentina wishes to paint itself as the wronged victim on the subject of Las Malvinas, as it evidently does, it might do better if it didn't behave like such a bully to the people who actually live there. Sneaking in to film in their home without asking – Fernando Zylberberg, who stars in the advert, admits they did it in secret – is simply obnoxious.

And while the people of Argentina may feel sufficiently wronged after the Falklands War for any crassness to seem reasonable to them, the rest of the world may not agree. Filming a leading athlete trotting up and down the steps of a war memorial to British servicemen who died in the First World War, as though it were nothing more than a convenient piece of gym equipment, is an act of extraordinary misjudgement.

Most of us respect war memorials as being apolitical: they are to commemorate those who died. It is the least the living can do, to remember the dead with respect. Indeed, as distance runners vie to win the Olympic marathon this summer, they are marking a war memorial of their own: the race is named after the Battle of Marathon, from which the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, ran a disputed but lengthy distance, either to summon help or declare victory.

For years, Argentina has been renowned for a handball. Now, it will surely be known for an own goal.