Medal Mania on Olympic lines


Don’t we have anything other than an Olympic medal to worry about? What a fuss is being made about Susanthika Jayasinghe wanting to sell her Olympic Silver Medal. So what if she does?

The Minister of Sports, Dayasiri Jayasekera, who is now in the fun game of Cabinet Co-spokesman too, has said the Sports Law would be amended to prohibit the sale of an Olympic medal won by a Sri Lankan.  Surely there must be more important things that require urgent legislation, than prohibiting the sale of Olympic medals.

We know that Parliament has moved a considerable distance from the August Assembly it is supposed to be. Apart from the frequent riotous behaviour of Members of Parliament when the House in Session, we see them readily pass Supplementary Estimates to give themselves special monthly payments for political work in heir electorates, and also to get themselves duty-free vehicles, which they insist they can sell to sooner they get luxury transport.

We saw more than a joke when the latest estimate to import luxury vehicles for Ministers and Officials being postponed until next year, just to give the impression that the related funds would be used for disaster relief in the recent floods and landslide crisis. Hold on, there is also an uncontradicted report that the Letters of Credit for these vehicles have already been opened, so the so-called postponement of the Supplementary Estimate would have no effect. That is the stuff of parliamentary politics today.

Just think of the Cabinet of this country having to sit down to discuss and take a decision on Susanthika Jayasinghe’s plan to sell her Olympic silver medal, when the Gazette giving the functions of ministers after the recent joke of a re-shuffle has still not been published; and there is increasing concern about the rise of communal and religious tension and related violence in the country.

Does our Parliament really have to consider making any amendments to the Sports Law, to prohibit the sale of Olympic medals won by our athletes, or any other competitive international medals, for that matter? Are there no better things for Parliament to consider and debate today?

Let’s see how Susanthika did win the Silver Medal, having represented Sri Lanka in the 2000 Summer Olympics. The medal she won – the Bronze - was for her sprint in the 200 meters event. She finished behind Marion Jones of the USA (Gold) and Pauline Davis-Thompson, the former Bahamian sprinter

(Silver). Later, in October 2007, when Marion Jones admitted to having taken performance-enhancing drugs prior to the Olympics, she was disqualified, and Susanthika moved up from Bronze to be awarded the Silver.

We are now in the puzzling situation where the Minister of Sports is touting the line that Susanthika won her medal for the country, and has no right to sell it. This is clearly an invasion of the right to private ownership of a medal or any other trophy won by a competitor in an international sporting event while representing one’s country.  It will be useful to look at other instances of the sale of Olympic medals, to fully understand that the event result and the medal are personal achievements from which one’s country can take honour, and that is all.

Here are four examples of Olympic medal winners who later sold their medals.

Mark Wells – USA – Hockey – Gold - 1980. He later sold the medal for medical treatment to a rare genetic disease that damaged his spinal cord.

It is worth recording the touching note that accompanied the medal hat was sold. "The gold medal symbolizes my personal accomplishments and our team’s accomplishments being reached. As one of only 20 players to receive this gold medal, it has held a special place in my heart since February of

`1980. When I decided recently to offer it out … I also decided until the day I give it up, it will be worn. Therefore, I have slept with this medal for the past two weeks now in my home…I hope you will cherish this medal and I have".

Wladimir Klitschko – Ukraine – 1996 – Boxing Gold – won in the first year that Ukraine went to the Olympics as an independent country.  He sold the medal by auction, to help Ukrainian children get involved in sports. He earned US $ 1 million, used to support the Klitschko Brothers Foundation that helps children’s sports camps and other facilities.  A touching post sale reality – The mysterious bidder who bought the medal immediately returned it to Wladimir Klitschko.

Anthony Ervin - USA – Swimming – Gold – 50 m freestyle – 2000 Sydney Games,  He retired from the sport in 2003, at age 22 – stating he "needed to kind of figure out my own life…unhindered, unfettered, from the discipline of being a competitive, professional swimmer". Very interestingly, he sold his Gold Medal on eBay in 2004, donating the $ 17,101 it earned to the victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Otylia Jedrzejczak – Poland – 2004 Swimming – Gold. Many years before she won the Gold in Athens, she had said that any gold medals she won would be donated to charity.  She won the Gold for the 200 m butterfly. It was sold fo9r more than $ 80,000 and benefitted a Polish charity that helps children with leukemia. Interestingly, she said: "I don’t need the medal to remember … I know I’m the Olympic champion. That’s in my heart".

There isn’t much more needed to show that an Olympic Medal won by an athlete is the private property of the athlete, although he or she may have represented one’s country when participating in the games.  It would be useful for the Minister of Sports, and if necessary the Cabinet of Ministers too, to consider these realities, before rushing with any legislative amendments to make Olympic medals state property.

Susanthika has the right to sell the medal she won in the 2000 Summer Olympics. What she does with the earnings from such a sale, which includes using such earnings to travel to and settle down in Australia, as she has indicated, is entirely her business.  With her loud and boastful declarations about her plans o auction the medal, and the price it can get, one wonders if she has any of the charitable feelings about the use of the funds from a medal sale. Let’s keep guessing.

It is good if politicians do not think of amending legislation to take revenge on a somewhat bothersome critic, who has in fact been looked after with a house, vehicles, and so many other perks through the years, recognizing the single medal she won. There is a time when such perks can also come to an end. Such is the reality of life, even of a medal winning sportswoman. It is best to move away from the Medal Mania of a winner and politicians.


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