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Cannibals on a health kick eating only vegetarians

February 2014

I really wish I could take credit for that headline but I can’t. It belongs to one of my favourite British poets, Roger McGough. The first line goes like this: “There are fascists pretending to be humanitarians.”

The poem came to mind at the beginning of this year following the Dennis Rodman/Kim Jong-Un debacle. Rodman’s protestations that by taking a trip to the oppressed country he wasn’t letting down the downtrodden people of North Korea and his admission that talking about human rights really wasn’t his job, made me incensed. What is that tiresome, trite phrase? ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ …just change the ‘power’ to ‘media power’ and you get my point.

And talking of ‘power’, another power was involved. Indeed, the showcase basketball match, performed to celebrate the dictator’s birthday, was originally to have been sponsored by Paddy Power but just before Christmas the Irish bookmaker pulled out citing “changed circumstances”. The change of heart came just after Kim Jong-Un ordered the execution of his uncle.

While Paddy Power has a reputation for ‘alternative’ marketing, who on earth thought it was a good move to sponsor Rodman’s visit? I did approach Paddy Power for a rationale but none was forthcoming. Paddy Power had previously defended its position – in sponsoring an earlier trip of Rodman’s to North Korea – telling The Daily Telegraph: “Paddy Power has an existing relationship with basketball legend Dennis Rodman and is supporting him, at his request, in his mission of basketball diplomacy.” Let’s be honest, if Dennis Rodman really feels it is right to be going to North Korea, he is wealthy enough to pay for it himself. ‘Basketball diplomacy’ indeed.

Rodman’s comments are as mealy mouthed as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s comment that gay athletes are welcome to the Sochi Olympics –that kick off this month - with the proviso “as long as they don’t promote homosexuality”. How welcoming do you find that? It cannot be right that the IOC is condoning the whole issue by turning a blind eye. Just look at Principle 6 (of the Olympic charter): it states: ‘Sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.’ It’s crystal clear to me.

And the ‘wrongness’ and sadness of the situation reminds me of another poem- the incredibly brilliant and moving Black Roses by Simon Armitage, a poetic sequence written in the voice of Sophie Lancaster, a 22-year-od attacked in a Lancashire park on a summer night in 2007 and who died several days later. She – and her partner – were attacked for being Goths. Attacked for simply choosing a different style of dress from their attackers. In hindsight it was described as a hatecrime and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation was set up subsequently as a charity to oppose all forms of victimisation. At one point the poem reads:
“Do they find offence at the studs in my lips, or the rings in my ear?
Are they morally outraged by what we wear?
We are kindly creatures, peaceful souls, but something of our life aggravates theirs,
something in their lives despises ours.
The difference between us is what they can’t stand.”

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