The Second Pan-Arab Games, a none-too-stately ethnic replica of the Olympics, has wound up after a fortnight of events—scheduled, impromptu and postponed—in Beirut. Fifteen hundred athletes, representing nine states (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), competed there in Camille Chamoun Sport City, a proud new complex of stadiums, fields and ranges named for the president of Lebanon. The host country, relatively strong in track and field, was the unofficial team winner, but its victory was somewhat tarnished due to the absence of Egypt, which dominated the 1953 games. Why Egypt failed to participate was never adequately explained. Cairo said its athletes were exhausted after competing in the Moscow games this summer, but sophisticated sources attributed their absence to bad blood between Egypt and pro-West Lebanon, and to the unfortunate circumstance that the Egyptian team disported themselves in a manner unbecoming to gentlemen and positive neutralists while on the town in Moscow, and were being punished by prolonged languishment in the Egyptian doghouse.
The games commenced at night with the 60,000-seat main stadium somehow containing 80,000 spectators, and the first impromptu event immediately took place. Lebanese Boy Scouts ranged on the infield opened crates containing 200 birds, variously billed in the press as "doves of peace" and "white carrier pigeons." The birds' mission was "to carry the word of the games" to the Arab nations. But very few tidings, indeed, ever got off the ground. The pigeons remained in the grass, alas. Ardent Scouts flung them into the balmy night with such vigor that a third of the birds were dead or dying within a few minutes. When the rest still refused to take wing, the Scouts began stuffing them into their shirts and pockets for souvenirs or eventual fricasseeing. Lebanese MPs halted the sack, but two hours later, while the drum and bagpipe corps of the Jordan army band paraded the running track playing that old fox hunting classic, John Peel, a horde of youngsters charged out of the stands, crossed an eight-foot ditch and made for the pigeons. The MPs gave frantic chase and managed to save most of them.
After the opening night, which was given over largely to pageantry, attendance slumped sharply. When the track and field events started the following morning, the stands were 90% empty and became emptier daily, the average Arab being bored or bewildered by Western sport.
Western games are a recent phenomenon in the Middle East, and since they require a certain amount of leisure, few, aside from the very rich and the military, have time to participate, have access to equipment or have the know-how to appreciate them. The times and distances of the games, for example, were understandably feeble by Western standards: 5 feet 10 inches won the high jump, 4:04.6 the 1,500-meter run, 10.9 the 100-meter dash, etc. Many observers think, indeed, that as Western sport becomes more widespread it will have a highly stabilizing influence among Arab youth. Their overweening concern with politics stems, these observers feel, from the fact that they really have very little else to do; sexes are segregated and social gatherings stilted or nonexistent. If young Arabs can be kept busy putting the shot or running the 1,500 meters, they might not be so ready to engage in such patriotic exercise as heaving bricks at embassies or overturning cars bearing diplomatic plates.
Sportsmanship will, in time, follow. An argument between a Lebanese and an Iraqi broad jumper, for instance, as to who won that event simmered for two days until an Iraqi fan stood up in the stands and announced at large: "The Lebanese are the slaves of the dollar." A righteous Lebanese army officer socked him on the spot and the free-for-all which ensued hospitalized 16 spectators and athletes. The games were postponed the following day for "technical reasons."
Garner W. (Sec) Taylor, longtime sports editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune, a septuagenarian, was truly overwhelmed this week when he rose at a luncheon in New York to accept the Grantland Rice Memorial Award for his contribution to sport. Quoting a mythical young lady who had just downed her second Martini at her first cocktail party, he said:
"Wow! I feel more like I do now than I did when I came in."
SPARE A THOUGHT