Brazilians Boost Attendance at the Paralympics

By Melina Fleury Franco

The Barra Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro hosted 170,000 people on Sept. 10, more people than on the busiest day of the 2016 Olympic Games, which only totaled 157,000. What were all these people watching? The 2016 Paralympic Games, which sold 2.1 million tickets as a result of a broad social media campaign and low ticket prices.

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games made a comeback a week before the 15th anniversary of the games, as ticket sales were so low that the Rio de Janeiro city government thought about budget cutting. In the Paralympic games, over 4,000 disabled athletes competed in 22 sports and 83 countries scored at least one medal, the most of any Paralympic Games.

But then the head of marketing of London’s 2012 Paralympic Games, Greg Nugent, started a Twitter campaign called #FillTheSeats, encouraging people to provide tickets to young people and disabled children to go watch the Rio games. The campaign had the support of the band Cold Play and was endorsed by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee. The committee dropped ticket prices to as low as $3. With the new strategy, about 1.8 million tickets were sold in a week.

The cariocas (the Rio de Janeiro natives) attended the Paralympics in droves and made tourists and athletes feel very welcome in the city of the “Girl from Ipanema.” Phillip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, announced that the cariocas and the people of Brazil would win the Paralympic Order award, which is the highest honor given by the Paralympic Committee.

A reaction during the game between Brazil and the U.S in women's GoalBall during the Paralympics.

A reaction during the game between Brazil and the U.S in women’s GoalBall during the Paralympics.

Besides the passionate and loud fans, the Rio Paralympic Games included 4,350 athletes, set 210 world records and involved more than 160 participating countries, including first time participants: Aruba, Congo, Malawi, Somali, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo, along with the refugee team. Also, a canoe sprint and triathlon event made their debuts as Paralympic sports. Brazil remained the only country to win gold medals for soccer for the visually impaired. The Brazilian team hasn’t lost a medal since the sport first debuted in Athens 2004. They beat Iran 1-0 in the final and scored gold.

“I knew we were going to hold a beautiful party; however it overcame all my expectations,” said Brazilian English teacher Carolina Daia, who attended games in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. “It left me feeling extremely proud of my country. I had the opportunity to attend a soccer match in Brasília, Brazil vs. Iraq, and a wheelchair rugby match in Rio, Sweden vs. Great Britain. I believe everybody had the same feeling I had, excitement. The crowd in the arenas was supportive, energetic, enthusiastic.”

The Paralympic Games also didn’t fall short behind the Olympic Games when it came to the quality of the competitions. Daniel Dias, Brazilian swimming idol, became the most successful male Paralympic swimmer of all time, with a total of 24 Paralympic medals.

The athletes also impressed the audience. During the visually impaired 1500m, the top four finishers had better finishing times than Olympic gold medalist Matt Centrowitz.

Despite being the third largest sporting event in the world, the Paralympic Games  gets way less media coverage than the Olympic Games.  The media coverage of the Paralympics has improved in the last few years, but there is still a long way to go. The opening ceremony wasn’t broadcast live even in Brazil. According to the International Paralympics Committee, 30 percent more countries broadcast the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 than in London 2012. The IPC said the games were covered in 158 countries. The prediction so far is that Rio 2016 broke audience records globally, with more than four billion people tuning in, even though there are no official records yet.

London’s Channel 4 broadcast 700 hours of live programing during the Paralympics, contrasting with the 66 hours shown by U.S. NBC and NBCSN – less than 1 percent of the time dedicated for the Olympics. With almost half of UK television viewers watching the Paralympic Games, Channel 4 closed a new deal with IPC to cover the London 2017 Para Athletic Championships, 2018 Winter Paralympics and Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

It is clear that both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games were warmly welcomed into Brazil by its population, and especially the cariocas.

Photograph courtesy of Flickr

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Saudi Arabia, Iran Dispute Affects Hajj Pilgrims

By Ibrahim Alkhayal

There is an ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran surrounding this year’s Hajj, the annual trip to Islam’s holiest city, Makkah. Saudi-Iranian relations took a dive this year after Iran refused to sign a Saudi document requiring Iranian pilgrims to follow specific rules on their arrival to Makkah, according to Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.

This conflict began in January 2016 after the Saudi government had executed 47 people for terrorism, including the Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. The Iranian government responded in a dramatic way by attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran.  Riyadh immediately cut all diplomatic ties with Tehran, the website reported.

Al-Hajj begins on the eighth day of the Dhu al-Hijjah lunar month (the Islamic official calendar, based on the moon sighting), which is the 12th month. One to three million people from different parts of the world start their trip after the Month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the lunar month. This year the number of Hajjis (pilgrims) is expected to reach 1.8 million, according to Alarabiya English.

People performing one of Islam's rituals, circling Al-Kaaba Al-Musharrafah (The Holy Kaaba) at Al-Masjid Al-Ḥaram (The Great Mosque), Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.

People performing one of Islam’s rituals, circling Al-Kaaba Al-Musharrafah (The Holy Kaaba) at Al-Masjid Al-Ḥaram (The Great Mosque), Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, which is responsible for regulating the religious worship visits to Madinah city and Makkah in Saudi Arabia, the government has agreed to issue electronic visas to Iranians in Iran, who want to go on the Hajj this year. The visas will come via the Swiss embassy, acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia.  Further, the Swiss embassy will look after the Iranian pilgrims when they arrive in Saudi Arabia,  Aljazeera reports.

“Iran has demanded the right to organize marches and to have privileges that would cause chaos during the Hajj, [and] this is unacceptable,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-jubeir said. He also added that: “Saudi Arabia does not prevent anyone from performing the religious duty,” as Reuters reported.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, adviser to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah Region and Chairman of Hajj Central Committee, also stated that the Iranian government cannot stop Iranians living abroad from performing the Hajj, as the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Saudi-Iranian relationship has too long been in conflict. Now is the time for the two governments to put aside their differences and learn to live together in harmony.  Each country should look after its own problems and not interfere in another nation’s domestic affairs.

Photograph by Ibrahim Alkhayal


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Pretoria Girls School Applies a Fine-Tooth Comb

By Alma Burke

A woman’s hair is her “crowning glory,” states the Bible,  giving her distinction and presence. For many students at the Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa, recent events have cast doubt on this whether this should apply to them.

Black students at Pretoria High protested last month on what they felt was the school’s discriminatory code of conduct policy regarding hair styles. The code states that all students’ hair must be “…conservative, neat and in keeping with a school uniform. No eccentric/fashion styles will be allowed.” The code does not directly prohibit afros or African hair styles but they are deemed unacceptable by teachers and staff of the school, according to students.

Student protests began after 13-year old student Zulaikha Patel was disciplined by school administrators for a writing assignment she submitted on “white privilege.” She was disciplined for the paper’s subject matter, as well as chastised about the unruly style of her hair, which was an afro, according to Aljazeera.

Several days later, students attended a school assembly dressed in all black and wore head wraps in protest of the discriminatory rules, and they were met by security guards who stopped them. Black and non-white students also held a silent protest at a weekend school fair, but this time there were more security guards and they had carried AK-47s and used security dogs. The security guards threatened to arrest any girls who wanted to silently protest.

pretoria_high_school_for_girls_park_street_pretoria_001All of these events ignited a national online petition to the South African Minister of Education and attracted international news and social media coverage, where #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh became an international Twitter hashtag and movement. This protest isn’t just about the discrimination of hair styles. The underlining root of these protests stems from the racial discrimination and injustices that blacks and non-whites continue to experience in what is supposed to be a post-apartheid democracy in South Africa.

The history of South Africa’s racial discrimination began during its European colonization in the 17th Century. For centuries, blacks and nonwhites, who are the country’s population majorities, lived under the system of apartheid, which left them with no political power. Blacks and minorities in South Africa lived in extreme poverty and were often imprisoned and killed. Because of this, South Africa was banned from participating in the 1964 Olympics due to their refusal to abolish apartheid. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the United Nations and other international governments stepped in to implement economic and trade sanctions on the country. It was not until 1994 that a new constitution was drafted and enforced, effectively removing the apartheid system from South African government. Pretoria High School for Girls, which was founded in 1902, did not accept black and non-white students until 1990, according to CNN.

Pretoria High School for Girls is an exclusive and private girls school, with many of its students coming from elite and prominent families from throughout the country. It is also one of the only options for quality education for many black families in Pretoria, as free, government education does not always provide quality or resources. The school’s strong educational reputation is important to mention because the school’s response to these protests appears to be silencing the voices of the nation’s next generation of leaders. The students are paying to attend this school, but in return they are being subjected to racial and cultural discrimination. The black students’ hair styles are being used as the scapegoat. But this is nothing new, according to former students.

In an NPR interview, Pretoria High graduate Tiisetso Phetla discussed the severity of the reprimand school administrators imposed on students for their “non-compliant” hairstyles. “It was very difficult because they tell you that either you look barbaric or your hair looks like a dog’s breakfast or remove that nest off your head,” she told NPR. “Why must I apologize for being African in Africa?” Phetla also mentioned the school’s code of conduct was never updated to reflect a post-apartheid democracy or diverse student body.

Twenty-two years of a post-apartheid democracy continues to exist in South Africa, which still condones inequality and injustice in the country’s educational system. “The school was founded in the earnest hope that here girls of different races and different denominations might meet in that commonwealth of letters which gave Erasmus and Shakespeare to the world,” says a quote from Pretoria High School for Girls founder Edith Aitken that is posted on the school’s website. There seems to be little reflection of this idea in the events of today, but we can hope tomorrow will be different.

Photo courtesy of PHParsons through Wikimedia Commons 

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Cancer & Controversy: Japan’s Nuclear Momentum

By Sarah B. Grace

A week after the first confirmed case of cancer linked to Fukushima radiation exposure, Japan announced that it plans to restart another of the nuclear reactors shut down following 2011’s unprecedented nuclear disaster.

The Ikata prefecture power plant will conform to rigorous new safety rules inspired by Fukushima when it restarts next year. It joins two other Japanese reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima that have already restarted amidst intense ongoing protests against atomic power.

According to Bloomberg Business, all three of these reactors and their corresponding plants passed Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority’s inspections and new safety standards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said  that these standards are “at the highest level in the world.” The government reported that the first plant to reopen received over $100 million in new safety systems. Two more reactors in a station north of Kyoto also received approval to restart but legal issues have impeded their reactivation.

Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

While the Fukushima disaster did not contribute to the death toll of over 19,000 people killed by the earthquake and tsunami which caused it, the long-term health effects and environmental implications of the reactor leaks are still hotly debated. A Fukushima worker recently diagnosed with Leukemia did not get cancer during the disaster itself, but while he was part of the effort to clean up the plant and contaminated surrounding areas.

Nuclear material of varying degrees of radioactivity has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean continuously since 2011 and private estimates say the cleanup will take decades. The country of Japan sits on a major fault line and is highly prone to earthquakes. While an earthquake of the same severity that caused Fukushima is rare, it is not impossible that it could happen again, especially since another Japanese nuclear plant sits directly on a known, active fault line. Fukushima displaced tens of thousands of people, and the unprecedented challenges of the cleanup effort have contributed to the public’s concerns about a return to nuclear power.

Polls show that most Japanese people do not approve of the restarts and there have been widespread protests each time a new reactor gets permission to be restarted. In spite 0f the damage to his popularity, Prime Minister Abe’s administration strongly advocates the use of nuclear power, which has been a confirmed national strategic priority since 1973. Need, far more than concern for clean energy, drives this position in Japan, as Japan has few natural resources and imports more than four-fifths of its considerable energy needs. Nuclear power has the potential to cut Japan’s energy costs and dependence on foreign resources, as it had done before Fukushima. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, prior to the disaster Japan depended on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Japan currently has 43 operable nuclear reactors, all of which had been shut down by September 2013 because of Fukushima. Aside from the three that have already been approved, approval to restart proceedings have begun for 24 more reactors. According to the BBC, such a massive restart of dormant reactors is unprecedented. However, the legal issues that delayed the restart of two approved reactors present a common problem. Because of this, according to Mycle Schneider, a consultant at a Parisian independent energy consulting firm, “The outlook for restarts is as cloudy as ever.” Reuters estimates that only seven reactors are likely to be turned back on in the next few years.

Japan’s traumatic history with nuclear power started with the atomic bombs detonated by the United States in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and later in the Bikini atoll. No foreign power is to blame for Japan’s first nuclear disaster of the 21st Century, however. Four and a half years later, Japan can only now begin to get an idea of Fukushima’s long-term repercussions for both its policies and its people.

Image via Wikipedia Commons



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Germany’s Wurst Nightmare: The WHO Report

By Shirin Yassen

Sausages are to Germans like pasta is to Italians. So the World Health Organizations warning this October that processed meat may cause cancer was tough to swallow for the Germans.

Sausage is ground meat, herbs and vegetables stuffed into a skin, and it has been part of the German diet for centuries. Germans make at least 40 different types of sausage, and of the 31 types listed in the U.S. National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s online sausage glossary, 11 are from Germany.

Catalan_Hot_Dog_Stand_FrankfurtFrankfurt even lent its name to a sausage, yet now German citizens have learned that frankfurters may cause cancer. But the Germans’ craving for their hot dogs is not likely to stop.

Germany’s newspapers released hundreds of articles when the processed meat announcement appeared, prompting the WHO, the U.N. health organization, to issue a statement clarifying that while it was not calling for people to stop eating sausages altogether, it did recommend that consumers reduce their consumption of processed meat.

WHO said it had found sufficient evidence “that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” WHO’s findings were based on 800 studies carried out around the world.

German and Austrian food ministers criticized WHO’s report on the health risk of processed meat. “No one should be afraid to eat a bratwurst,” said Christian Schmidt, the German food and agriculture minister. “What counts is the quantity, too much of something is always bad for the health,” he explained in a statement, drawing a comparison between sausages and sunshine.

While government officials were upset, Germany’s wurst lovers were even more annoyed and angry by the report. “It’s total nonsense,” a woman selling sausages to a line of customers in Frankfurt told the Wall Street Journal. “If it is true, every German would have already died of wurst,” she added.

When it comes to sausage, there’s no place like Germany to eat it. At many German festivals the main food that is served is sausage, and the Germans have been serving wurst for hundreds of years. And in Duetschland, people take wurst seriously.


It’s even part of the language, as when someone says: “All things comes to an end, only the sausage has two.” When they want to express indifference, Germans say “It’s all sausage to me.”

Germans eat more processed meat than any other people. Reuters reported that an average German consumes 17.2 kilos of the stuff each year, with each region specializing in its own particular version of the national varieties. Bratwurst, for example, made from pork in a natural skin and grilled or fried, has over 50 varieties in Germany, differing in size and seasonings, as well as texture.

In 2009, Berlin opened a sausage museum dedicated to its now maligned staple and the city’s favorite snack. It is a paradise for sausage lovers and a magnet for tourists. Frankfurt holds a festival every year, featuring a competition for the best frankfurter, a six-day event that draws up to 500 visitors a day. Indeed, Germany has another two museums also devoted to its sausages.

WHO’s warnings may not prevent sausage lovers from indulging their appetites. Oktoberfest may be over, but other festivals are scheduled in Germany for November. Wurst-eating is a year-round German occupation, and people continue to eat it. I guess WHO’s report is “all sausage” to them.

Photograph No. 1 from Wikimedia Commons

Photograph No. 2 by Tednmiki, courtesy of Wkimedia Commons

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