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Jock Talk: Cinderella's secret and the Hidden Flag

by Roger Brigham

Hidden Flag activists wore soccer jerseys in the colors of the rainbow flag and protested Russia's anti-LGBT laws during the World Cup. Photo: http://www.thehiddenflag.org
Hidden Flag activists wore soccer jerseys in the colors of the rainbow flag and protested Russia's anti-LGBT laws during the World Cup. Photo: http://www.thehiddenflag.org  

Gotta love television's World Cup coverage. While presenting us with stunningly disappointing performances from some of the world's best teams and repeatedly bad officiating, television's talking heads focused on gushing over the surprising run of host Russia to the quarterfinals after the team had been winless for nearly a year.

A Cinderella story, they declared it - apparently forgetting Russians are known for more than borscht, vodka, and interfering with democratic elections.

Remember the revelations about the epic Russian drug-cheating apparatus - the one that is run by the state, routinely swapped out urine samples and resulted with the Russian team being banned (well, officially but with allowances for a few athletes) from the Olympics? Nary a word from sportscasters on that throughout Russia's surprise run.

Great Britain's Mail on Sunday reported that FIFA, soccer's international governing body, knew about 155 Russian soccer doping cases for a year and a half before the World Cup but took no action.

"FIFA claim they have been actively looking at the issue for more than a year," the Mail reported. "But they have yet to prosecute a single case, publicly at least, issuing only bland statements that investigations are ongoing. Richard Pound, the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), believes it is 'obvious' why, telling the Mail on Sunday, 'They have the matter of billions of dollars at stake in having a hassle-free World Cup.'"

Pound told the Mail, "FIFA should have had something in place to give credibility to their investigation. If not an independent investigation, then at least an independent party involved in some capacity. FIFA are a governing body who have never had any robust anti-doping policy. Consultation [with WADA] is not the same as saying FIFA have adhered to WADA policy."

Pound said the laboratory where most of the Russian work before the 2014 Winter Olympics occurred "is now a restaurant and bar where the menu includes a Duchess Cocktail."

Duchess cocktail is the name of a combination of performance enhancing drugs.

"This doesn't strike me as a place where the systematic doping is seen as serious," Pound said. "They literally treat it as a joke."

Or, as Travis Tygart, current CEO of WADA, put it: "We're fools to believe it's any different this time around from what happened in Sochi. They're just laughing behind our backs. We know for a fact that the government of Russia, when it was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, saw the opportunity to exert national pride and power on the international stage and began doping athletes and swapping samples to achieve what it set out to achieve, which was winning the medal count and dominating its home Olympics. That's been exposed. That's undeniable. Now, they're hosting another huge event. We know the doping system existed even as they continue to deny it, and we also know there's a direct connection from that system to football in Russia. They've proven that they'll go to any lengths to win."

Meanwhile, in the streets surrounding the football stadia, six activists were protesting Russia's anti-LGBT laws by producing stunning visuals: they paraded around in international soccer jerseys whose colors combined to make a living, breathing rainbow flag.

The activists - Marta Márquez of Spain, Eric Houter of the Netherlands, Eloi Pierozan Junior of Brazil, Guillermo León of Mexico, Vanesa Paola Ferrario of Argentina, and Mateo Fernández Gómez of Colombia - call their project the Hidden Flag.

"When Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978, he did so to create a symbol and an icon for the LGBT community," the activists say on their website, http://www.thehiddenflag.org. "A symbol, recognizable across the world, that people could use to express their pride. We have taken advantage of the fact the country is hosting the World Cup at the same time as Pride Month, to denounce their behavior and take the rainbow flag to the streets of Russia. Yes, in the plain light of day, in front of the Russian authorities, Russian society and the whole world, we wave the flag with pride."

Cool.

Biggest Gay Games in a dozen years
The past two Gay Games in Cologne and Cleveland were magical experiences for those who attended but disappointed many Gay Games supporters by drawing the fewest registrants in decades. So when registrations for Gay Games X in Paris this year finally closed last week - a month in advance of the August 4-12 event - organizers were pleased to announce more than 10,000 participants had registered: the fifth time Gay Games will have hit five figures, joining New York City (1994), Amsterdam (1998), Sydney (2002) and Chicago (2006).

A total of 10,317 individual artists and athletes account for 12,700 registrations, with some of the athletes registering for more than one event, said Manuel Picaud, Paris 2018 co-president.

"They come from 91 countries, with one-third of them from the United States and one-fourth from France," Picaud told the Bay Area Reporter. "The highest numbers are in running, with 1,639; swimming, 1,043; football (soccer), 880; volleyball, 752; and tennis, 623."

On a personal note: I hadn't planned to go to the Gay Games this year because the travel arrangements while on dialysis were onerous and my energy level was crappy. Presto chango: I've got a new kidney, my energy level is skyrocketing, and I'll be there to coach the large contingent of wrestlers from Sydney and Melbourne. Should be a great tournament, with 100 wrestlers.

Organizers say they raised more than $4 million for the event.

Contact the columnist at jocktalkroger@yahoo.com.

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