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Opinion
What's the Best Way to Show Patriotism?
Volunteers' disruption is suspected of stripping an athlete of the gold medal in a Marathon
 NO.49 DECEMBER 6, 2018

(LI SHIGONG)

When the 2018 Suzhou Taihu Marathon kicked off in Suzhou in east China on November 11, a TV live streaming showed China's He Yinli and an Ethiopian athlete running head-to-head on the last lap. Then two volunteers intruded twice, trying to hand over the national flag to He. The first attempt failed but when the second volunteer thrust it to her, He caught it, only to drop it seconds later as she ran with the flag in her hand after the Ethiopian athlete.

He Yinli's dropping the national flag during the sport sparked heated debates online across the country. Some people criticized her, saying, "She has no excuse. Dropping the national flag shows her indifference to the flag and her lack of patriotism." He tried to explain, saying she didn't drop the flag intentionally. It was an accident when she moved her stiff arm while running. "I'm terribly sorry," she said in abject apology.

Some people blamed the organizers for allowing volunteers to get so close to the runners during the race. They also blamed the volunteers for He's failure to overtake her Ethiopian competitor, which resulted in her coming second. They said the volunteers, who had tried twice to hand her the flag, affected her run and spoilt her chance to win the race.

They also said there was something wrong with the way the race was organized as volunteers should not have been allowed to stand on the track. Some even said that handing the national flag to athletes before they crossed the finishing line violated the rules. The organizers of the Suzhou marathon became the target of much criticism, which they tried to deflect by saying they did not ask any volunteer to hand the flag to any of the runners.

The overall reaction was that it was important to make sure that such incidents did not happen again in future marathons. The majority of the critics said that for athletes in a race, the most important thing was to win and to score the best they could, not carrying the national flag.

Rules first

Yuan Guangkuo (pinglun.eastday.com): He Yinli apologized for dropping the national flag, saying she was exhausted and her arm was stiff. What she said was credible. In the last lap, all runners are overstretched, they still keep running only out of sheer willpower. At this critical moment, giving them even a piece of paper to carry, let alone the national flag, might interrupt their running.

The volunteers trying to thrust the national flag on He did affect her running and the final result but did the volunteers do something wrong? Not necessarily. They did so out of patriotism, and they are not to be blamed for being patriotic. The fact is that the flag handover was decided by the organizers, not by the volunteers.

He should not be blamed for dropping the flag, neither should the volunteer be blamed for giving it to her. So finally, who is the culprit? Undoubtedly, the organizers. It is their wrong way of handing over the national flag that led the volunteers to try to do it so doggedly. Even if it was really for upholding and spreading the spirit of patriotism, it's important to choose the right place and time. It was unprofessional to thrust the national flag on the runner when she was concentrating to win against a strong rival in the last leg.

Marathons are being widely promoted across China in a bid to capitalize on their popularity. So it is necessary for the organizers to show more professionalism in organizing the sport and avoid future incidents of this kind.

Zhang Qing (Beijing News): All competitive sports are based on certain rules, which are supposed to be respected in all situations. To think objectively, the volunteers who made their way to the track affected the runner, He Yinli, and also other runners near her. The volunteers undoubtedly violated the rules of the sport. According to the rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations, even referees are not allowed onto the track when the race is on.

Why were the rules flouted? To some extent, it was because of the lack of knowledge of competitive sports, and mainly because of indifference to rules. Actually, the violation of rules happens not only on marathon tracks but in many other places.

Rules of competitive sports are universal. Respecting these rules will not only help to promote the development of these events but also enhance the mentality to respect rules.

The spirit of contract is a cornerstone of civilized society. So those who breach the rules in the name of patriotism, be they individuals or organizations, have disgraced the word "patriotism."

Respecting rules

Li Qinyu (http://www.cutv.com): After the competition, someone from the sports circles, or rather the running circle, questioned He's dropping the national flag on social media, saying, "Is the result more important than the national flag? Since she was given the national flag, she should not have dropped it!"

He responded by saying she did not throw the flag down, it was an accident. Was He really wrong to dart to the finishing line without the national flag?

First of all, it was unprofessional of the volunteers to hand the national flag to He on the track. The last lap is crucial to a marathon runner, where interruptions are unacceptable. Obviously, her pace was affected, which had a direct impact on the final result of the race. If the volunteers had really wanted her to carry the national flag to demonstrate patriotism, they had many opportunities to do so once the race was over. Unfortunately, the volunteers were heedless enough to go to the track and distract the athlete.

The criticism directed against He Yinli on the Web is groundless. There is no regulation that marathon runners have to finish the race carrying their national flag. As far as the Chinese athletes are concerned, the best way to show patriotism is to win a prize, the gold preferably, and not to be draped in the national flag during the race.

The national flag is the symbol of a nation. But to demonstrate one's patriotism does not mean walking around draped in the national flag to attract attention. Rather, it means to do well in one's endeavors and to contribute to the country's development.

The incident reveals the immaturity of the Suzhou marathon organizers and also some people's misunderstanding of patriotism.

Wang Zhongdi (China Youth Daily): No one knows whether He would have won the gold if the distraction had not occurred but it's undeniable that she was severely distracted during the last lap. For top runners like He and her rivals, the distance between them during any race is usually very small, so any distraction is likely to make a big difference.

After the incident, some said it was not the first time that volunteers had handed national flags to marathon runners during the race. In Suzhou, at least two volunteers did so, which means it was not an impromptu action. The organizers in Suzhou claimed that they did not orchestrate it, suggesting the volunteers did it on their own to show their patriotism.

Athletes going round the stadium carrying their national flags after winning in international sports competitions is a familiar sight. Athletes who do so, do it out of strong emotions, including gratitude and love for their country. But this happens after the races or matches have come to an end. Seldom do we see athletes doing so when they are still competing on the field or track, when the final result is still up in the air.

In international competitions, athletes not only show their personal capability but also represent their countries. To attain the best score one can is the spirit of sports and also real patriotism. What matters is fighting doggedly on the field and track, not just carrying the national flag.

In recent years, we have witnessed similar incidents in sports competitions from time to time. This time in Suzhou, the fact that volunteers had access to the track revealed the flaw in the arrangements. The basic precondition is that organizers should make sure athletes compete in a safe environment, ensuring there are no external interruptions. This is a basic measure that indicates whether the event is being run professionally or not. To hold marathons or any other sports events, enthusiasm and passion alone are not enough, there must be professional standards and rules must be followed strictly.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com

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