I happened to experience once upon a time to a provocative juxtaposition: I watched the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, with Kenyans in the lead of course, just after I saw the news about a famine in east Africa, in particular, in Kenya.
So it occurred to me that any one Kenyan runner (there are always several leading the pack) would have had to eat the entire village’s food just to develop the strength and stamina to become a world class runner. Should a village make, or be made to make, such a sacrifice? I mean, how does a country full of bloated bellies, with half its population under fifteen, and so malnourished they’re brain-damaged, how can such a country produce and sustain a team of elite athletes? (Then again, with first prize at $40,000 and a clean team sweep, not unusual for Kenya, totalling almost $100,000, how can it not?)
Seeing a Canadian with the front runners, I wonder on what grounds could it be morally acceptable for that Canadian, who probably has a job that pays about $30,000, to beat the Kenyan, whose annual income is more like $3,000? I mean, that’s 15 years’ wages waiting at the finish line for her. (Would winning and turning over the prize money to the Kenyan be any better?) (Should such races be segregated by economic status?)
The Canadian runner, looking terribly overfed, falls behind, and I realize that the Kenyan may well have had to spend a whole year’s salary just to get to the race. Though of course maybe her airfare and accommodations were paid for. And I rather suspect she won’t keep the $40,000 for herself. (Would it be wrong if she did?)
And as the Canadian runner falls further back, I see another runner move ahead, and realize Kenya and Ethiopia are racing against each other for the gold. How sick is that? Now I know there are a number of reasons for the starvation and some of them, such as overpopulation, are their own fault. But some of them are not. They don’t control the climate (and if anyone does, we, the first world countries with our climate-changing industry, do). And then there’s the interest on third world debt that I keep hearing about – the principal has been paid back over and over, but still, due to the wonder of compound interest, they’re supposed to keep paying and paying.
It’s a commercial break now, time for a word from the sponsors: a bank – a big bank. (Is there any other kind now?) Of course. So let me summarize: one of the largest and most powerful financial institutions has staged a race, has dangled $100,000 at the finish line, and then watches representatives of two starving countries compete for it. (How sick is that.)
The Kenyans win. Easily. And I wonder now whether the immorality lies not in having these races, but in not having more of them.