The Rio Olympics starts on the 5th of August. All previous Olympics have thrown up some heroes and not-a-few villains. This particular iteration promises to throw up more than most, and it hasn’t even begun. From the Zika virus, to Brazilian Corruption/Inequality and the small matter of doped Russian athletes participation, it promises to be an open sore on the face of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). And for some (strange) reason, it reminds me of Ireland 2016.
You see, as exposed by Tom Lyons in the Sunday Business Post, we have an open sore on the face of our country. It is widely known that the banks were engaged in a systemic fraud that Bernie Madoff would be proud of. The €7 Billion Anglo/Irish Life & Permanent fraud, was not only known about by the “Regulator” and the Central Bank, it can be argued that it had the tacit approval of both.
At least when the IOC “discovered” a systemic Russian doping programme, they played at justice. They instituted bans, stripped away titles and sent an independent watchdog (WADA) in to investigate. We let our open sore fester for 8 years and decided to pin the entire thing on a “few bad apples” and hide the recent past in a “banking inquiry”.
A few bad apples! Really, are we meant to be placated, believe that everything is reformed (ignore the Ireland carries 42% of the total EU Bank Debt) and move on? If we can get so irate over the (estimated) €3 billion wasted on the establishment of the lame duck utility Irish Water, can we please get a little irate over a debt burden we inherited via fraudulent activity and (at best) incompetent regulation?
A few bad apples, really? When Jonathan Sugarman reported systemic breaches of Unicredits bank liquidity ratio in 2007, he was told “it’s complicated” in lieu of saying “we are aware of the breaches but we don’t care”. When he resigned, and the breaches of liquidity were shown to be endemic and systemic, he was threatened with legal action if he went public with his story.
Anyone who expressed an interest in helping Mr Sugarman was accused of not “wearing the green jersey”. The country, in full financial meltdown, was told to focus on the solutions rather than on the cause. We were told “we all partied” and that only by accepting collective blame could we get out of the mess.
Mr Sugarman was denied the opportunity to explain why this happened and how it could be prevented. The hydra-headed monster of financial and political bureaucracy was unleashed on a man who was proven right in the fullness of time. A few bad apples, indeed.
Do you remember (or have you heard the story of) the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where American Black Athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stood on the podium, black gloved fist raised, during the 200 metre medal presentation? It is a tale of solidarity and defiance. The raised fist was a symbol of Black Power and (in Tommie Smiths own words) “a human rights salute”.
Quite often lost in the telling of the tale, is the presence of the white runner beside the two black runners. Peter Norman, an Australian, had finished second that day. A fantastic achievement worthy of celebration. But Peter Norman realised there was more to this moment than just his achievement.
It was, in fact, Peter Norman who had suggested they wear one glove each, while he himself wore Human Rights badges. A decision and a stand that he would pay for, for the rest of his life.
Peter Norman returned to Australia an ostracised and maligned silver medallist. His stand meant the end of his Olympic career. He went on to qualify for the next Olympics no fewer than 13 times. He was not picked. His show of solidarity with the Human Rights campaign was used to expunge his achievements and deny him any recognition of his talents.
He didn’t live to receive the apology issued by the Australian parliament in 2012. He died in 2006, Smith and Carlos pallbearers at his funeral. He wasn’t around to be “recognised for his efforts in furthering racial equality”. He simply did the right thing and paid for it.
Peter Norman did the right thing. Jonathan Sugarman did the right thing. For that he remains ostracised and maligned. As Churchill is reported to have said; “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. How can we hope to learn if we don’t even listen?
We had the banking inquiry, we never invited Jonathan Sugarman along to speak. A multiple of a “few bad apples” don’t want you to hear what he has to say.
Tony Groves June 2016