Olympic Athletes Trade Doping Accusations

After Friday’s smoothly executed opening ceremony and the first batch of inspiring gold medals, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are once again mired in controversy. But rather than Brazil’s own local battles with corruption and Zika, it’s the athletes themselves undermining the Games.

Sparks flew poolside as Rio’s Olympic swimmers traded insults and accusations over doping. Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova was allowed to compete despite receiving previous bans for doping, and her Irish rival Fiona Foyle claimed Efimova “got away with it again” after failing to qualify for the semifinals in her event. In the men’s competition, Australian gold medalist Mack Horton called Chinese runner-up and defending champion Sun Yang a “drug cheat” for his three-month suspension in 2014.

The episode enraged supporters in China, prompting the state-run daily Global Times to label Australia an “offshore prison … on the fringes of civilization.” Chinese netizens also demanded apologies, with one hoping that Horton would be “killed by a kangaroo.”

Meanwhile, the allegations of “state-sponsored” doping by Russia featured a new twist as all its athletes were banned from next month’s Paralympic Games. The punishment was a departure from the more lenient punishment for Russia’s Olympians, which as noted above did nothing to prevent the Foyle-Efimova swimming spat. Only three days in, and cold water is already risking to snuff out Rio’s Olympic spirit.


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Japan’s 82-year-old Emperor Akihito expressed concerns about his age during an unprecedented video message to his country today, feeding rumors of his impending abdication. According to the Japan Times, the Japanese Imperial succession does not allow for abdications, meaning parliament would have to pass new laws for Akihito to step down.


A bomb tore through a hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta today, killing 53 people and injuring dozens. The attackers, still unidentified, fired gunshots after the explosion at the entrance of the hospital’s emergency room department.


The most famous zebra crossing in the world and arguably the best tennis player ever are part of today’s 57-second shot of History.


Millions of supporters thronged the Yenikapi district of Istanbul yesterday in a rally called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish daily Hürriyet reports that the leaders of Turkey’s three largest political parties jointly organized the rally, in a rare show of unity to demonstrate their opposition to the coup attempt on July 15. See how the impressive rally was featured on another Turkish daily’s front page here.


Syrian Air Force jets intensified their raids today on rebel-held positions in Aleppo. Rebel forces made gains over the weekend in their efforts to break the government’s siege, which had been advancing for weeks.


Not many people in the southeast African nation of Malawi smoke tobacco. They can't afford it. But the country is hooked on growing it and turns a blind eye to the associated risks, especially for child laborers. For Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tobias Zick writes: “Malawi earns roughly $400 million a year from tobacco exports, a habit it's unwilling to kick. member of the Malawi parliament Jumbe takes the opportunity, for that reason, to make a plea for solidarity. His message to the people of Europe? ‘Smoke!’ he says. ‘It’s cold in your countries. It will warm you. Do it for Malawi.’”

Read the full article, State Of Denial: Malawi's Tobacco Farming Addiction.


Tropical Storm Earl made landfall on Mexico’s eastern coast over the weekend, bringing intense rain and mudslides that left 41 people dead. According to this morning’s edition of Mexico City-based El Universal, the three hardest-hit states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo were devastated by flash floods caused by the storm.


The death toll from flooding in Macedonia this morning stood at 21 after torrential rains struck in and around the capital of Skopje that the mayor described as a “water bomb.” Read more from the Weather Channel.


Michael Phelps extended his lead as the most successful Olympian in history with his 19th Olympic gold medal, as his fellow swimmers broke numerous world records over the weekend in Rio de Janeiro. American Katie Ledecky, Briton Adam Peaty, and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom also set new world bests in their events.


Among The Hmong â€" Chiang Rai, 1993


Voters in Thailand approved a new constitution drafted by the country’s military government in a referendum yesterday, with unofficial results showing the “Yes” camp winning with 61.4% of the vote. Analysts had predicted a tighter contest, but the military achieved large margins of victory in the more populous central regions of the country. Read more from the Bangkok Post.



Donald Trump may be generating controversy in the United States, but his wife Melania has received some long-distance support from a shoemaker in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethnic Serbian region. Criticizing the “dirty campaign” against Trump, the Bema footwear company crafted special “White House shoes” for the couple: a pair with memory foam soles for Donald, and leather high heels for Melania.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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