The UK Olympic Opening Ceremony Rings Hollow

A column by Kenneth Deer about the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Soon the world will be watching the greatest sporting event in modern times and the United Kingdom will be in the spotlight with all its glory. But its glory is ill-founded.

In 2010, the United Kingdom did not allow the Iroquois Nationals into the country to compete in the World Lacrosse Championships. This was a flagrant violation of the Olympic spirit.

While the Lacrosse Championship is not part of the Games, it is in the spirit of the Games that the Olympics were given to the UK. The UK is supposed to espouse the highest integrity of sport as part of its responsibility.

Sport is supposed to be about competition and the friendship that it inspires. Win or lose, there is a bond that develops between athletes that transcends the game itself. Friendships last for decades and crosses nationalities and borders.

By denying the entry of the Iroquois Nationals, the UK broke its promise to the world that it can responsibly host different nationalities to compete on the playing field. And the whole affair resurrected the image of a former colonial power continuing its superiority over an Indigenous people.

Even after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances that the members of the Iroquois Nationals would be allowed back into the United States on their Haudenosaunee passports, the UK still refused to allow them in, insulting not only the Haudenosaunee but the Secretary of State of the United States as well. How arrogant is that?

At the opening ceremonies of the lacrosse championship, one lone person stood with the Haudenosaunee flag, standing among all the teams and received a thunderous ovation. But the team was not there to represent that flag.

How much different is the story that developed in Turku, Finland where the Iroquois Nationals were granted entry into the country and were the most popular team in the event?

The Iroquois Nationals drew the largest crowds at the U19 World Lacrosse Championships where local people and fans from other countries came to watch the originators of the game play against other national teams.

And the stunning win over the USA team was a testament that they belong in the tournament and on the international stage.

Lacrosse is a fledging sport on the international scene and it needs all the support it can get. People came out to see lacrosse for the first time because they heard that the Iroquois were there. The Iroquois Nationals are the biggest asset the sport has.

And this phenomenon is not only in Finland, but also in Germany and the Czech Republic where the Haudenosaunee teams came to play last year. Isn’t that what sport is supposed to be about? To play hard and well for the entertainment of the people?

Of course, our reasons are different. We play hard and well to entertain the Creator. Our game is a ceremony and not a sport. But others have taken our game and made it into a sport, and we should be there to represent the true meaning of the game. And beat them at the sport.

The UK missed a golden opportunity to promote the sport in their country and to shed its colonial past. Instead it just deepened its colonial attitudes and lost the meaning of the game.

The UK could have also remembered Jim Thorpe who won so many medals in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, only to have them taken away. One hundred years later, the UK could be promoting the return of Thorpe’s accomplishments into the Olympic record book where his name is missing.

So when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom opens the Olympic Games at 9PM London time, 4pm U.S. EST with lofty platitudes about gamesmanship, fairplay and friendship, those words will ring hollow for those of us who remember their history.

Kenneth Deer, Mohawk, is a freelance journalist, the former publisher and editor of The Eastern Door newspaper, 2010 National Aboriginal Achievement Award Winner for Media, member of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, and Chief Administrative Officer of Indigenous World Association, an NGO with UN consultative status.