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Game on: Fans look to the Olympics and Euro2020 for heroic inspiration

Inoue Takehiko impresses with Paralympic illustrations; athletes provide leadership amidst moral vacuum at top level; World Flags project honours countries with samurai icons – but gets the Malaysian flag slightly wrong; “Vaxxers” takes the UK book scene by storm.

First, off – has anyone seen Inoue Takehiko’s artwork for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games? Here it is:

We came across Inoue’s work on Slam Dunk at The Citi Exhibition Manga マンガ  at the British Museum in August 2019. It was pretty impressive. We still have the souvenir coffee table book that features extract of this manga.

Inoue caught our eyes at The Citi Exhibition Manga マンガ  at the British Museum in August 2019. Extract of his work, Slam Dunk, is featured in the coffee table book published in conjunction of the exhibition.

It’s so cool that Inoue thinks about the Paralympics. In fact, he made us look forward to watching the Tokyo Paralympics after the Olympics is over.

Fakery, cheating, moral maize and sports

There won’t be kneeling or hand gestures inspired by socio-political agenda at the Olympics Games Tokyo 2020. It’s in Rule 50 of the charter, on pages 90 to 91.

That didn’t stop Team GB women from taking the knee at the GB-Chile match. We understand the neutrality that the Olympics try to maintain. But these past few years, athletes have had to step in the shoes of so-called ‘leaders’ who neglect to stand up for the people and don’t bother to carry themselves with dignity.

Olympian Tommie Smith (pictured right) tells Myrie Clive about his experience that led to the silent gesture on the podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Photo: © Story Of Books

Was the fire fan fanned by Euro2020 and the footballers? Maybe but they weren’t the first. “Dear England”,  a letter penned for The Players’ Tribune by England manager Gareth Southgate during Euro2020, asks Englanders if it isn’t too much to be united, to be proud of their good selves and to respect the players, regardless of race and origin? Whatever happened to fair play and being a good sport? The letter was thoughtfully written and it won the people over. It won us over.

In October 2018, at the British Library, we listened to Tommie Smith, one of the three athletes who raised their fists at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, described the event that led them to do so on the podium. In his talk and also in his autobiography, Silence Defiance, he revealed that the athletes weren’t involved in political groups. They felt a sense of urgency to speak up. They saw the Olympics as an opportunity to put a spotlight on the racial issues that plagued the United States in those days.

In November 2016, we saw anthropologists Roberte Hamayon, the late David Graeber, Carlo Severi and Michael Puett gave a talk on “Play and Luck” at the SOAS Centre for Ethnographic Theory.

Explaining her book, Why We Play, Hamayon recalled her experience observing the Games in Siberia and Mongolia, in particular wrestling. The religious significance of the Games has been taken over by patriotism and politics but that ancient culture remains – hence the former Eastern bloc’s and Central Asia’s appreciation of competitive sports.

In his session, Severi stressed the importance of fair play and rules in play and games. Cheating or short cuts may be permissible if that is in the rule but fakery isn’t. A faker has a complex relational structure, he said. In this sense, the cheating of a faker is a transgression (“undecipherable”), a way of deceiving. The faker’s power, Severi observed, “lies in ambiguity”.

Of course, that term “playing around” is based on this notion of someone not being clear cut or playing by the rules. David Graeber, in his afternoon session, echoed this, saying that play is “a social exchange but not utilitarian, like work”. Still, it is based on some rules. Play is a meta-structure that regulates static structures such as “man” and “boy”. Despite the rules constraining a person to a type of ‘play’, he finds freedom in the tension between play and the rules it generates.

So rules – or constraints – paradoxically allow the player to express free will. Rules also help participants to draw the lines of penalties and scores clearly – in black and white. So are we surprised that some athletes, who elevate play to a more professional level (“games”), take the perils posed by moral ambiguity very seriously? No.

“With great care, and due haste”: How a vaccine came to be

The consequences of rule-bending and moral ambiguity at political level have been very dire for people having to weather the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, we have science and scientists on our side.

We just got this book off Amazon this week, Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus, by Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green.

We are looking forward to read this book. Two women creating a vaccine to save mankind is a good thing.

It’s a 13-chapter hardcover about how Prof Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green of Oxford University designed the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Each chapter is told from the first-person’s point of view of “Sarah” and “Cath” – a bit like the narrative structure of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red. Chapter 2 to Chapter 13 begins with a time period, the number of confirmed cases, the number of deaths – and towards the end – the number of vaccinations.

We’re curious to know what they make of the media portraying them as ‘women scientists’ rather than ‘scientists’ and the challenges they face is rolling out a vaccine in such a ‘short’ time to help the UK health services combat the spread of Covid-19.

World Flags project honours country flags with samurai icons

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 certainly fires up the imagination of manga artists. A project called “World Flags” brought together a host of artists to re-imagine the flags of participating countries as anime samurai warriors.

This mix-media effort is based on the concept of “education x entertainment”, encompassing manga, stage design and animation, with plans for a “World Peace Project that goes beyond education”.

The outfit of Axamu, the samurai of Malaysia, is based on the country’s flag, Jalur Gemilang. Great stuff but there’s one hiccup: the flag isn’t based on the Union Jack. It’s fashioned after an ancient flag raised when the Singhasari dynasty defeated the Mongols at sea in 1293. Image: ©World Flags

We’re flattered that the flags of our home countries – Great Britain’s Union Jack and Malaysia’s Jalur Gemilang – got two samurai characters dedicated to them, “William” and “Axamu”. But they got the meaning behind the Malaysian flag slightly wrong, though.

The website claims: “The red, white and blue used in the national flag are derived from the British Union Jack which once ruled the country.”

Our correction: No. The white and red stripes were taken from the motifs on the ancient Singhasari and Srivijaya flags called “Ular Tempur” or The Snakes Of War. It was the flag flown after factions of the Singhasari defeated the Yuan Mongols who invaded by sea in 1293.

The evolution of Southeast Asian flags, from a 13th Century flag to the modern flags of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Image source: Wikipedia / Khazanah

The Yuan Mongols invaded much of Central and Northeast Asia in the 13th Century. They were defeated in battle by two kingdoms only: Tran Dynasty (today, modern Vietnam) and the Singhasari Dynasty (today, modern Indonesia and Malaysia). This victory over the Mongols emboldened a local ruler, Raden Wijaya, to establish the Majapahit empire which later traversed parts of modern Indonesia and southern Malaysia.

Much later, the British India Company put the Union Jack over the stripes for the flag of fleets belonging to its occupied territories in the regions – not entire kingdoms but port cities. They never really got around to colonising all, but rather, forced kings to accept “British Residents” or advisors. When Britain left Malaya in 1957, the Union Jack was replaced by the crescent and the star.

The modern Malaysian flag is known as Jalur Gemilang – the Glorious Stripes. The Snakes Of War remain on the flag.

The Snakes of War have been around for a very long time. Image source: Medium / Wikipedia

The other ‘facts’ could do with some reviewing but we reckon these are poetic license and can be left to interpretation. We’re quite intrigued by Axamu’s motto, though: “Like cucumbers and durians”. That’s fashioned from an old saying, “Like a cucumber going against a durian”, which means like a weak side fighting against a stronger, oppressive side. Yes, we’ve seen quite a few invaders over the centuries. Durians.

Axamu’s blood type is B. The most common blood type for the Malay / indigenous ethnicities is Type O – at 62% of that population.