Echoes from the Centennial Park bombing resounded through the shut-down streets of Atlanta and across a tuned-in nation for days. But for too many Olympic athletes from too many war-torn nations—Burundi foremost among them—reverberations of violence are routine. On July 20, the first day of Olympic competition, 330 Burundians were killed when Hutu rebels attacked a Tutsi refugee camp, the latest massacre in a war between those ethnic groups (who between them make up virtually all of Burundi's population) that began in 1993. The pace of killings has increased sharply this year, and the overall death toll has reached 150,000.
Still, on July 19 a seven-member Burundi delegation led by flag bearer Dieudonne Kwizera, 29, a veteran 5,000-meter runner, walked proudly into Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremonies. "We want to bring some good news from our country, some news from the heart," says Kwizera, who guided the campaign that brought Burundi to Atlanta for its first Olympic appearance. He began lobbying the IOC for membership before the 1992 Games, and he helped persuade the nearly bankrupt Burundian government to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the Olympic trip.
Burundians are likely to cheer en masse on Saturday when native son Venuste Niyongabo toes the line for the 1,500 meters, in which he is the most formidable threat to Algeria's Noureddine Morceli. Niyongabo, like all of Burundi's Olympians, is of Tutsi descent, a member of the elite ruling class. Kwizera, however, feels that the Burundian team in Atlanta is representing both ethnic groups. "We are here running under one flag," he says. "If Niyongabo wins a medal, great. But the biggest victory was to give the Olympics to Burundi, to give young people something to build toward."
Kwizera likes to think that unification under the Olympic banner is a step toward peace in his fractious land. It is an ambitious notion, but Kwizera has proved a resolute man. And his surname, in his native tongue of Kirundi, means hope.
When you're a spokesman for Atlanta's beleaguered Olympic organizing committee, you're always on the lookout for good news. At a press conference held about 12 hours after the Centennial Park bombing, press chief Bob Brennan put a smiley face on the morning's news from venues: "Scalpers were well represented. Seventeen-dollar handball tickets were selling for $75."
NFL Hits Irvin Too Lightly
Just to review: On the night of March 3 Michael Irvin was caught in a Dallas hotel room with 60 grams of cocaine, about three ounces of marijuana, two topless dancers and an array of sex toys; he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of cocaine possession; he and several of his party-boy teammates were found to have frequented the infamous White House, rented by several Dallas Cowboys players and used as a haven for extramarital liaisons; he flouted the law in Texas by ignoring a grand jury summons until the Dallas County DA threatened to arrest him; and he shrugged off inquiries by NFL officials about the incident, defiantly proclaiming that he "definitely" didn't have a substance abuse problem.
How did NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue react last week? He put on kid gloves and slapped Irvin's wrist. Tagliabue's penalty—the wide receiver-miscreant will miss the first five games of this season and will therefore lose more than $500,000 of his salary—is a joke, albeit a humorless one. The suspension is just one week longer than the NFL's minimum punishment for any drug-related violation of the law. And Irvin will hardly feel the loss of pay, given his annual salary of $1.7 million.
Tagliabue had all the ammunition he needed to send the message that behavior such as Irvin's will not be tolerated, but he didn't do it. The NFL's drug policy, Tagliabue said with his decision, has no teeth. Tacitly he was saying, Violate the rules by getting caught with hard drugs, and the worst that will happen is you'll read a long-winded letter from me, pee in a bottle on a regular basis and sit out a few weeks. A groin pull might be worse. And head-in-the-sand attitudes such as the one expressed by Irvin's thickheaded teammate Nate Newton will go on: "[Irvin] shouldn't have been suspended. It's not like he murdered anyone or anything."