The Olympic countdown clock informs us that in 8 days and an ever-decreasing number of hours, minutes, and seconds the 2012 Olympic Games will begin. For those of us based in the U.S., this means television coverage only of sports where Americans are expected to either 1) win medals or 2) wear bikinis (or both).  But in WPF’s unceasing quest to elucidate the dimensions of war and peace, we will run a series of postings on sport and political conflict. In this first posting, we offer a special pre-Olympic glimpse of teams we might not otherwise hear about: the 2012 teams from the top 20 failed states.

We’ll make use of the 2012 Failed States Index–not least to illustrate how the characterization of a state as “failed” doesn’t mean it cannot succeed in a number of important things, such as winning gold medals. The index rankings use economic, social, political, and military indicators to create a hierarchy of states based on their relative degree of stability or risk of violence and collapse.

In terms of sport for the top twenty failed states, this is what we found:

  • All twenty most failing states have Olympic teams competing this year.  
  • In total, the top twenty failing states are entering 264 athletes in the games.
  •  The athletes are competing in: Athletics, Weightlifting, Swimming, Badminton, Judo, Boxing, Wrestling, Table tennis, Canoe slalom, Taekwondo, Shooting, Hockey, Archery, Triathlon, Rowing, and Basketball.
  • Somalia is the number 1 failed state for the fifth year running.  And running is what its Olympians do as well. Zamzam Ali Farah and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed train in the bullet-ridden city of Mogadishu and they’ll be competing in the 800 and 1,500 meter, and 1,500 and 5,000 meter races, respectively.
  •  Even world-class athletes are not immune to the risks of living in an unstable country. For instance, Yemen’s judo competitor, Ali Khousrof, was shot in the abdomen during the anti-government protests in 2011.
  • Kenya and Ethiopia, numbers 16 & 17 on the failed state list, have gold contenders, who plan to continue their countries’ reputations as running powerhouses.
  • Ethiopia’s fabled long-distance runners won 7 medals in Beijing, 7 in Athens, and an astonishing 8 in Sydney—including a total of 10 gold in the last three summer Olympics—placing the country astonishingly high in the medal rankings. Most of its runners hail from a few locations in remote and poor parts of the country, such as highland Arsi. There is no agreed explanation for why these few villages produce such superb runners. Is it genetic? Is it the high altitude, that means that residents are used to breathing air low in oxygen and so their metabolisms are more efficient at converting oxygen into energy? Or is it that children routinely run ten miles barefoot to school each morning at 10,000 feet and ten miles back? If the latter, then the Ethiopian government’s program of building a primary school within a couple of miles of each village could inadvertently reduce its supply of world-class runners.
  •  All of the 2012 Olympic teams include women. Our list includes a total of 95 female athletes.
  •  South Sudan is not included in the Failed State Index for at least one reason: it did not exist during the time period covered by the data collection that informs the list. Because it achieved statehood only in July 2011, it also didn’t meet the criteria for sending a team to the Olympics (it was hoping for basketball and volleyball, where its super-tall players can be expected to excel) and so will have to await the 2016 Games for its first try at a record. However, the local “Twic Olympics” might still be held.

Of related notice:

I also include short mention of teams from countries that have recently experienced genocide: Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Sudan (Darfur)—of which only Sudan overlaps with our failed state list.  Rwanda is sending 6 athletes in athletics, mountain biking, judo, and swimming. Bosnia is also sending 6 competitors in shot put, judo, marathon, shooting, and swimming. Sudan is sending 5 athletes in track and field and swimming.

Also, we believe that if it is acceptable for Spain to show up wearing this (photo at left), that Saudi Arabia’s women soccer team should have been allowed to wear the significantly less offensive headscarves. FIFA, international soccer/football’s governing authority, just one day ago reversed their ban on the headscarves. Further support of our point can be found in this review of poor Olympic fashion options here.

WPF wishes the best of luck to all the 2012 Summer Olympic competitors.

Table 1.1 Olympic Teams of the Twenty Most “Failed” States

Country Athletes Men Women Sports
Somalia 2 1 1 Athletics
D.R.Congo 4 3 1 Boxing, Judo, Athletics.
Sudan 5 3 2 Athletics, Swimming
Chad 3 1 2 Athletics, Judo
Zimbabwe 8 5 3 Swimming, Triathlon, Rowing, Athletics
 Afghanistan 6 5 1 Judo, Taekwondo, Athletics, Boxing
Haiti 5 3 2 Judo, Athletics,
Yemen 4 3 1 Athletics, Judo, Taekwondo
Iraq 10 7 3 Swimming, Rowing, Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Weightlifting, Wrestling, Shooting
Central African Republic 5 2 3 Wrestling, Athletics, Taekwondo
Ivory Coast 10 7 3 Swimming, Taekwondo, Wrestling, Archery, Athletics, Judo.
Guinea 4 2 2 Judo, Athletics, Swimming
Pakistan 23 21 2 Hockey, Athletics, Swimming, Shooting
Nigeria 53 32 21 Athletics, Basketball, Wrestling, Table tennis, Weightlifting, Canoe slalom, Taekwondo, Boxing
Guinea-Bissau 4 2 2 Wrestling, Athletics
Kenya 52 33 19 Boxing, Athletics, Swimming, Weightlifting,
Ethiopia 35 18 17 Athletics, Swimming
Burundi 5 1 4 Athletics, Judo, Swimming
Niger 6 5 1 Athletics, Boxing, Rowing, Judo Swimming
Uganda 20 15 5 Athletics, Weightlifting, Swimming, Badminton
TOTAL 264 169 95

Note: not all competitors  are confirmed by the Olympic site.

Special thanks to Kaylee Finn Henry, WPF’s summer volunteer, and the entire WPF team, Alex de Waal, Lisa Avery and Amelia Hight, for research help.

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One Response to The Olympic Dreams of so-called Failed States

  1. good luck to all at 2012 olimpic summer games

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