Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Oh what fun it is to mock the Beast of Belarus

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We knew. Of course we knew. Everybody did. We just didn't say anything, that's all. Because we're not like that. We don't whinge. We don't snivel. We suck it up. We take in the chin. We don't bag the opposition. That's not our way. We're good sports. And good sports grin and bear it. If the other guy won, then "she won fair and square", as Radio New Zealand presciently noted last Sunday.

But we knew. And this week, with our suspicions confirmed, folk spoke of little else. Wherever you went, to The Warehouse or the Winz office, the solarium or the supermarket, people were saying they'd always known Belarus was dodgy. "Ask yourself," said the bloke in the liquor section who was stocking up for a Good on Ya, Val party, "It's been banned from the Council of Europe since 1997."

"I blame Alexander Lukashenko," said a lady who was getting some kitty litter because she was going to be away overnight at the Good on Ya, Val party, "he's been running the place like a private fiefdom since 1994".

"Supported by the Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice," her friend added. "No wonder Condoleezza Rice said the place was an outpost of tyranny."

"No one said anything about that during the Olympics," we all agreed, quickly grabbing a few tins of mild chilli beans on special.

As for Ms Ostapchuk (which, strangely enough, is an anagram for Southpack) well, we all gave her beans as well, did we not, despite the fact that she may be a victim, too.

That's because Nadzeya Ostapchuk insists the KGB did it. They were the ones who tampered with her urine samples in some totalitarian fashion - switching jars, perhaps, while all the officials were busily re-ticking boxes to be on the safe side. Or surreptitiously slipping a chloroformed hanky over the nose of the sample tester before sprinkling a little incriminating powder into the container.

If this is true, if such things were done, if she has been put out by Putin, so to speak, then Ms Ostapchuk is a casualty of envy - as were the All Blacks four years ago, in the World Cup quarter-finals. If it's true, if the KGB is responsible, if its operatives did indeed trifle with her fluids, then Nadzeya is the Lance Armstrong of shot-putting, shot down by sneaky spies. But we don't think it is true. While her story might make a good Tui billboard; The KGB did it - yeah right, we're not convinced there's a skerrick of truth to it.

Because we know these things go on. We know the Olympics have been the biggest single boost the pharmaceuticals industry has received in modern times. We know half the Chinese athletes are glugging some kind of barely licit wonder juice - and the other half don't win anything. We know there are dodgy sports out there - synchronised swimming springs to mind. Heck, you'd have to take steroids just to watch it!

Therefore we're not disposed to accept Ms Ostapchuk's version of events. We do not regard it as credible. We're not inclined to forgive her. Especially since she did "our" Val in the eye on the day at the meet by means of chemical chicanery.

For that reason alone, we've happily made much sport of the unsporting Belarusian. And you can understand why. The Games do stir deep currents of tribalism. These things are in us. And, to the extent that sport is war without bullets, it brings those currents to the fore. And Nadzeya cops a nation's patriotic ire.

She's been dubbed all sorts of things. In fact, the only thing she hasn't been dubbed is the Beast of Belarus, which is a tad surprising, given there's been quite a lot of dubbing lately. Every time we read or hear about Stewart Murray Wilson, we're told he's been "dubbed the Beast of Blenheim."

And while we're never told who did the dubbery, it is exceedingly kind of the media to advise us that it's happened. Dubbing tells we're allowed to loathe the person concerned with a clear conscience and that we needn't restrain our abhorrence in any way.

So we could dub Nadzeya if that would help. It probably would. We do like being outraged. And we do tend to regard ourselves as moral exemplars; what with being nuclear free and anti-apartheid. It's easy to feel ethically superior to more egregious mobs, like the Belarusians, when you've got stuff like that going for you.

But we'd do well to remember that deciding to cheat is a personal choice, not a national characteristic. And we're not without steroid sin. Though we've possibly, and conveniently, forgotten their names, there have been New Zealand athletes who've tested positive in the past. It will happen again. We know that, too.

- NZ Herald

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