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Will it be possible to separate Sport and Politics?


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Will it ever be possible to separate Sport and Politics? Is it healthy to mix Sport and Politics? Will stopping countries like Russia and Qatar hosting help separate Sport and Politics? These questions need answering after the issues with Sochi 2014. Discuss here.

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Will it ever be possible to separate Sport and Politics? Is it healthy to mix Sport and Politics? Will stopping countries like Russia and Qatar hosting help separate Sport and Politics? These questions need answering after the issues with Sochi 2014. Discuss here.

No. No. No.

Already in ancient times, these were not separated. And anyone telling us they should might be right in principle, but in reality only wants to distract from the problems that this mix is creating. It's funny how the hypocrite IOC claims for weeks and months you shouldn't mix sports and politics and then at the end of the Games, Bach directly thanks Putin for his involvement.

There's no way around the dilemma anyway, as any sporting event needs to be hosted somewhere, and for hosting you need venues, security etc., which eventually will have to be provided by politics. It's sad but logical that some politicians then see this as a great opportunity to put themselves in a better light, not only in authoritarian countries or dictatorships.

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No. No. No.

Already in ancient times, these were not separated. And anyone telling us they should might be right in principle, but in reality only wants to distract from the problems that this mix is creating. It's funny how the hypocrite IOC claims for weeks and months you shouldn't mix sports and politics and then at the end of the Games, Bach directly thanks Putin for his involvement.

There's no way around the dilemma anyway, as any sporting event needs to be hosted somewhere, and for hosting you need venues, security etc., which eventually will have to be provided by politics. It's sad but logical that some politicians then see this as a great opportunity to put themselves in a better light, not only in authoritarian countries or dictatorships.

I agree. It's a shame that they can't be separated, and as much as Sport AND Politics are both interests of mine, I would like to see them separated, but they won't for the reasons you said. Bach did contradict the IOC's 'values'. It also doesn't help when Putin uses the Olympics to boost and spread his Political propaganda. There is a place and a time.

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Good thread, I think it's worth having a discussion on this seperate from other threads as it seems a particularly pertinent topic right now. I'm not quite sure what my answer is, I'll give it some thought...

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I don't think they can be seperated, not least because something that's not political for one person might seem political to another. If the IOC awards a city an Olympics, that city will be getting close to a billion pairs of eyeballs watching what's going on there and the city will want to present itself in the best light. This kind of soft-power, even if it's not intended as political, has a political effect.

So I think it's a matter of extent. If you accept you can't seperate them with any ease, the question is how far do you actively point out the link between them? Stefan is right that the IOC is struggling with this balance. It happily accepts UN Observer Status on the one hand, whilst then claiming sport and politics shouldn't mix on the other. It claims the Olympics are all about the athletes then we witness Thomas Bach parroting the line about a "new Russia" emerging in his closing speech.

My own feeling is international sporting organisations could be a force great good if they insist on minimum requirements for workers rights and on things like equality laws being a pre-requisite for a nation to host. They could have a bigger influence than preaching from other nations who might be easier to ignore.

I also feel we've realised boycotts - unless they're a concerted and co-ordinated international effort (like freezing out South Africa) - only harm athletes. I'm pleased there's a consensus that athletes should be allowed to live in their own bubble and shouldn't be dragged into these things. They don't have a choice where to compete and unless we're confident we'd give up four years of our lives to support a cause, we shouldn't be asking the same of athletes.

And of course, whilst there's the negative side - Qatar 2022, Russia and its anti-gay laws - there is also the postive side. Who here would object to a South African Olympics which celebrates its post-Apartheid success, even if only implicitly because the Games are there. How many here, if Turkey rids itself of Erdogan and moves back towards the secular blueprint modern Turkey was founded on, wouldn't be pleased to see a different culture - a Muslim majority - hosting the Games even if, once again, this message was only implicit? Hell, most people here are happy for Rio to be hosting, for a newly emergent Brazil to show itself on the world stage. But all three of these are political aren't they? Can we only select hosts that offer positive political messages only or is arrogant of us to assume that?

It's a question of where you draw the line. Utter hypocricy should be easily pointed out and there's enough of that within the IOC. But everything else is a grey area. The least we can expect from the IOC of FIFA is, if they do pick somewhere like Qatar for them to have their eyes open and realise the reaction they're going to get.

And in this sense, Sochi has been a watershed. The IOC got rid of the international torch relay to protect their brand after Beijing's attracted protests, but in the internet/twitter age you don't need to be within touching distance of the Games to make your political point. Everything in Sochi was in its own Truman-show bubble, and yet these have been the most political Games I can remember. Things are only going to get more interesting in future.... :D

Edited by Rob.
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We can't separate sport from politics because every act anyone plays in society is a political act in a broader sense. When you help an old lady cross the street, this, by itself, promotes an effect inside the polis and it is part of the sociopolitical phenomena. Sport as we know it is a product of rules and laws of civilization. Before that, sport, just as art, belonged to the realm of ritual and magic practices. In fact, any field of play work as a contained temporary imaginary ground governed by special rules affecting only those inside of it while people outside of it are forbid to enter or violate it. Any breach of the rules either suspends the entire competition or results in punishment for any of the competing parts. Thus, the arena is a kind of political agreement between two competing parts and also between them and we non-competing parts.

Ancient cities, states and nations organized sport as a competition between two equal parts and this alone is a political move to ensure a level of fairness that other kinds of competition - such as war - don't have. Sport isn't and never was politically neutral. Heck, countries and peoples compete under national flags!

What we can do and probably what we should ask ourselves is if we can separate sport from the many ideologies that entrap our points of view and ultimately makes us engage in other kinds of competition - be it diplomatic or even war - that denies the special political act that is sport. A boycott, for example, is closer to a ideological move than a political move. Sports should never be an ideological theater for nations and organizations. We have UN, Universities, our legislative bodies and the streets to use as better platforms for that.

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I don't think they can be seperated, not least because something that's not political for one person might seem political to another. If the IOC awards a city an Olympics, that city will be getting close to a billion pairs of eyeballs watching what's going on there and the city will want to present itself in the best light. This kind of soft-power, even if it's not intended as political, has a political effect.

So I think it's a matter of extent. If you accept you can't seperate them with any ease, the question is how far do you actively point out the link between them? Stefan is right that the IOC is struggling with this balance. It happily accepts UN Observer Status on the one hand, whilst then claiming sport and politics shouldn't mix on the other. It claims the Olympics are all about the athletes then we witness Thomas Bach parroting the line about a "new Russia" emerging in his closing speech.

My own feeling is international sporting organisations could be a force great good if they insist on minimum requirements for workers rights and on things like equality laws being a pre-requisite for a nation to host. They could have a bigger influence than preaching from other nations who might be easier to ignore.

I also feel we've realised boycotts - unless they're a concerted and co-ordinated international effort (like freezing out South Africa) - only harm athletes. I'm pleased there's a consensus that athletes should be allowed to live in their own bubble and shouldn't be dragged into these things. They don't have a choice where to compete and unless we're confident we'd give up four years of our lives to support a cause, we shouldn't be asking the same of athletes.

And of course, whilst there's the negative side - Qatar 2022, Russia and its anti-gay laws - there is also the postive side. Who here would object to a South African Olympics which celebrates its post-Apartheid success, even if only implicitly because the Games are there. How many here, if Turkey rids itself of Erdogan and moves back towards the secular blueprint modern Turkey was founded on, wouldn't be pleased to see a different culture - a Muslim majority - hosting the Games even if, once again, this message was only implicit? Hell, most people here are happy for Rio to be hosting, for a newly emergent Brazil to show itself on the world stage. But all three of these are political aren't they? Can we only select hosts that offer positive political messages only or is arrogant of us to assume that?

It's a question of where you draw the line. Utter hypocricy should be easily pointed out and there's enough of that within the IOC. But everything else is a grey area. The least we can expect from the IOC of FIFA is, if they do pick somewhere like Qatar for them to have their eyes open and realise the reaction they're going to get.

And in this sense, Sochi has been a watershed. The IOC got rid of the international torch relay to protect their brand after Beijing's attracted protests, but in the internet/twitter age you don't need to be within touching distance of the Games to make your political point. Everything in Sochi was in its own Truman-show bubble, and yet these have been the most political Games I can remember. Things are only going to get more interesting in future.... :D

Thank Rob. I feel that this has to be discussed, so I created this so that we can separate this highly spoken discussion from other threads. As much as I am a constant user of Social Media (Facebook and Twitter) and I support Social Media, I can't hide the fact that Social Media sometimes doesn't help matters. You just know how much rumours and discussion was flooding media with the Ukraine crisis and Russia's anti-gay law etc. I think to award countries/cities games, they need to clean up their act first. The prime example as Rob pointed out correctly is South Africa with the post-Apartheid era, South Africa has improved so much and deserves an Olympic Games. Russia and the Middle East haven't cleared their act up, showing how corrupt Fifa is, but I won't go into a discussion about that. Sport and Politics will only be separated IMO if we ALL work to separate it, including the members of the public like us who use social media, politicians and sports men and women. It's got to have a fair balance. Of course, somehow, someone can pick out that something has a sign of political propaganda contained. I'm not naive, I know Sport and Politics will never be completely separated, but the World can make a big improvement with moving them apart slowly if you get what I mean. Obviously, the money that's used to build the facilities comes under Politics, with Tax payers money etc. The most important is safety of the public and workers etc. I wouldn't feel that an Olympic Games in Doha would be safe if I am completely honest, whereas a Games in Paris I would feel safe. London was safe, but as I live in London I would say that. Bach didn't do anyone any favours by making a 'Political speech' at the Closing Ceremony at Sochi 2014. Vladimir Putin doesn't help either. The first steps we need to take in society is 1) The Public and Workers are safe and 2) Corruption is cleaned out as much as possible, making sure that Hosts are picked fairly with out bribes and the right choices are made. I'm glad Rio got the 2016 Olympics, as the first South American Host, as the Olympics is a World Event, should be spread around the World, and I am sure within the next 10-20 years we will all see a first African Olympics. Not all Politics is bad, for example a Democracy is fair. But corruption is on that bad side with Putin not helping matters.

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Had the Olympics followed the Paralympics in Sochi I bet Putin wouldn't have invaded Crimea. I think the sad thing is that Putin was quite willing to sacrifice the Paralympics for his political ends. Suggests to me that the Paralympics should go first and act as the opening act for the olympics, summer and winter.

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You can't when you have an arrogant prick like Bach leading the IOC.

And Tony, it's impossible to feel 100% safe in an Olympic city these days, with all the security threats and problems leading up to them, whether it's in a a city like London or a city like Rio.

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U can only if you take away the flags and the national designations. So much pride rides on where the flag is shown, so, no, you cannot separate them. And as just shown recently in Sochi, Vladimir and Adolf used the events to bolster their national pride, etc..

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And as just shown recently in Sochi, Vladimir and Adolf used the events to bolster their national pride, etc..

Yeah, that's poorly worded Baron. Every country uses the Olympics to bolster national pride. Look at Vancouver, London, Sydney as recent examples. Putin and Hitler used the Olympics for their own political gain.

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You can't when you have an arrogant prick like Bach leading the IOC.

And Tony, it's impossible to feel 100% safe in an Olympic city these days, with all the security threats and problems leading up to them, whether it's in a a city like London or a city like Rio.

Correct, but some cities like here in London are safer than others like Doha or Moscow.

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Facts?

Well 1) We are more diverse, don't have anti-gay laws and don't discriminate.

2) We don't have a leader like Putin, as much as I dislike and disagree with David Cameron, at least he is not Putin.

3) Sochi 2014 had more problems than London 2012.

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Does anybody agree that if more countries like Russia and countries in the Middle East became more democratic, then maybe Sport and Politics could separate a bit more?

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Well 1) We are more diverse, don't have anti-gay laws and don't discriminate.

2) We don't have a leader like Putin, as much as I dislike and disagree with David Cameron, at least he is not Putin.

3) Sochi 2014 had more problems than London 2012.

1. That's total BS. There are bigots, racists and homophobics everywhere. Discrimination is everywhere.

2. The leader does not have that much of an affect on safety in one city. If anything, I'd feel more safe in a police state environment. Not more comfortable of course, but feel more protected.

3. What security problems did Sochi face that London didn't? I seem to remember there being a major security breach during the Parade of Nations in London.

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Politics and the Olympic Games goes hand in hand. Governments need to agree to funding to bid and host. As Rob also said the eyes of the world look upon the host country and most of what happens is political.

Also when presidents, prime ministers, politicians turn up at IOC sessions and plead with the members to vote for their cities.

So politics and sport will always be linked but it is how you use the politics and how you protest against these politics that are the key.

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No. Also, with all the excellent arguments put in this thread, the sport is also part of the softpower. Take an example of Olympic swimming, we heard a lot news about: "How the USA lose the medals?", "What happened to Australian team?", "France and Brazil will be great opponents to USA". The sport, alongside language, religion cinema and arts are related directly or indirectly to the national pride and some big countries put big effort and resources to compete at the Olympics.

Does anybody agree that if more countries like Russia and countries in the Middle East became more democratic, then maybe Sport and Politics could separate a bit more?

Not necessary. We have cases like futball soccer where teams and fans from democratic countries came involved and take political issues on field.

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It is a good question indeed. And I guess it’s one a lot of people, not just us, are pondering and addressing around the world in the wake of events in Sochi and the Ukraine and with the ongoing debates over the past few years regarding Qatar 2022 and FIFA and so on. More so that at any time since the 1980s.

My thoughts?

The simple answer is “No”. Of course sports and politics are intertwined. On a very basic level, sports only exist because groups of people engage in the same pastimes and get together to compete against each other for fun, entertainment and prestige. They have to work together to come up with a common platform to compete within, a level playing field indeed. And whenever you get a group of more then two people, you will get differences of opinion and politics. And consensus needs to be reached to suit the majority of those involved. Which involves compromise and negotiations and egos and financial considerations. In that way, the average suburban amateur football league is no different from any national league, is no different from the IOC or FIFA, and is no different from a local council, or national parliament or congress or the EU or UN. Everything is political when you have to manage and respect the expectations and hopes of any group of people, large or small.

And it’s especially so when it comes to the Olympics. The big difference, and this goes for any sports involved on an international level, is nationalism and wider ideologies comes into play in a big way. The Olympics were conceived in politics – de Coubertin’s ideal to cultivate and nurture a physical education culture in France to prevent another 1870 war and have Germans marching down the boulevards of Paris again. And they are an event that captures our imaginations and support because they are conducted under the national flags, with teams competing as nations and celebrating victory with national anthems. The only way to un-politicise it would be to have no Olympics. Or, perhaps, move more towards the YOG formula of not competing as national teams at all – indeed, go the whole hog and remove any national affiliations and flags and anthems and insignia and compete as individuals. It might even work and have the same cachet and affection amongst people. Even then, I’m sure we still find the likes of us in the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia or the UK to getting satisfaction by claiming individual performers, the Michael Phelps, the Ian Thorpes or the Mo Farahs, as our “own”.

*Actually, as an aside, if we were going to go that route, we’d have to stop any national funding of athletes. In which case we could take it further it would probably be left to corporations to sponsor athletes. Would we get as much enthusiasm cheering on say, a “Bayer” team against those sponsored within the “Procter and Gamble” or “GlaxoSmithKline” teams? It’s not that outlandish – we follow manufacturers teams in Formula One and one of the great emotional rivalries of Aussie sport is with Ford versus Holden (GM) in V8 racing (though I wonder how long that will last now that both are quitting manufacture in the country). And we’re already used to following our teams taking on sponsor names, competing in sponsor named arenas in sponsor named leagues. Anyway, would economic political be any less political than social or national political? *

But I digress. I guess you’re asking, and it’s probably more germane to this board, whether politics should be a determination in suitability to host big international events. That’s a lot more difficult to ponder. I, living in a reasonable free, pluralistic, liberal western society, only naturally share what I expect is wide distaste by people from similar societies and backgrounds when I see a big events hosted by nations with social policies or practices I personally find against my beliefs in the way I think human relations should be organised and conducted.

But it’s not that easy really.

Does anybody agree that if more countries like Russia and countries in the Middle East became more democratic, then maybe Sport and Politics could separate a bit more?

I would extrapolate that what you’re really asking is: “Would we, in the liberal West, be less uptight about the likes of Russia or Qatar hosting if they were a little bit more like us in the way they manage their societies?”

And, the simple answer is, of course yes. We in liberal nations I think truly believe to our cores in the ideals of fairness and social justice and try to work towards achieving that, and see many of their policies as counter to our most cherished idealistic goals.

But that’s not to say that Russians aren’t proud of their country and identity and believe order and conformity I more important in maintaining their country and benefitting the majority of people. Or that the majority of Chinese are not proud of their country and history and culture and think their political system has worked best in building a strong society for them. Or that Qatar, or the nations of Africa like Uganda or Nigeria aren’t deeply committed to their core in their spriritual values and the need to follow in traditions that shaped their world views for centuries upon centuries. As much as we would be outraged for them to impose their beliefs on us – the notion of allowing sharia law within particular groups living in western nations, for example, is one that many of us have a problem with – so they, quite understandably, bristle when we insist they should adopt our ways. Nobody likes a nosy and judgemental foreigner telling us our shortcomings and how we should be managing our affairs. We are far from being a world where we share an overwhelming bank of common values and beliefs. Racism and slavery, are probably our two main common universal agreements. And even then I’d venture it’s not 100 per cent consensus.

Then there is the question of why athletes, sport, and events meant to bring us together, should be the one to be at the front line of international political debates and conflicts? Why should they be the ones to pay a price, or be denied competing in front of their home country, because some countries disagree with their governments policies? And yet those same nations are happy to trade with each other, engage in international forums, cooperate when their diplomatic interests are aligned. Why should Australian companies, for example, sell uranium to China and India, why should the City of London be so intricately involved in investment in Russian gas and oil, or why should the US, Russia and China cooperate as far as their shared concerns over Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism bring them together, yet we wring our hands because our athletes may compete on the same soil we’re quite happy to visit for holidays or business? Why should we welcome the Moscow Circus or the Beijing Opera or Gulf state trade delegations to our shores, yet baulk at sending them our athletes who have worked for nothing more than personal satisfaction, or not thought really beyond being successful and rich and famous and getting their picture and name on an energy bar wrapper or cereal box?

I remember once reading one of the IOC bigwigs – Pound or Samaranch or Rogge – addressing the subject with the comment along the lines of: “Well. If we allow them compete with us at a games on our soil, we can’t then turn around and tell them ‘it’s okay to play with us in our home and entertain us, but we can’t go to your home let you host!’.” And there’s some truth in that – we in countries with NOCs that participate in the games do so in the collective agreement that we will also compete against rival athletes from countries that don’t share our political systems and beliefs – that the sports field is equal to all. It’s then double standards to say there’s one rule for participation and another for hosting. If we are going to be subjectively selective about criteria for hosting, at least go the whole hog. Like in the case of South Africa in the 70s-90s. The world and the IOC reached political consensus in that case that their government was too odious to have any dealings with, participation-wise and hosting-wise.

I’ve expressed the view in the past that hosting a games is a prestige exercise, but it also comes with a price. For all the honour it gives us and the vanity stroking we get when our nations are chosen to host a big event, it’s been said often enough that we also have to be ready to accept our countries and practices are in the spotlight and ripe for comment in the years leading up to an after a hosting. All our dirty laundry is likely to be put into a glare of publicity – be it, as I said during Sochi, the way we treat our original inhabitants, the way we protect our environment, the way we treat our non-orthodox sexualities, or the way we oppress or integrate our internal national enclaves or ethnic minorities. The best publicity and international effort issues such as Aboriginal treatment, Tibet, Brazilian social priorities and gay rights in Russia ever got was by those respective nations hosting games.

One has to also question whether isolating and refusing to engage with those we disagree with is the best way to win them over to our points of view. Is the liberal west more likely to export its beliefs and values to nations like Russia, China or the Gulf by engaging with them, with having free and open discourse and interaction with them, or by shunning them and isolating them and forcing them to draw inwards on themselves. Are the rights of those minorities we champion in those countries, the gays and Tibetans, best served by being open to their countries, or by consigning them to the no-go zone?

I’m not saying there is any “right” answer. Personally, I’m very conflicted and subjective in how I apply some of the thoughts above to how I judge “suitability to host”. I recognise, for example, that gay rights is a not a universally accepted right in a majority of countries around the world (or even in the Commonwealth) and what I consider fundamentally “right” can’t be foisted on those who don’t believe or accept it. But while I don’t think the likes of a Nigeria or Ghana should be barred from international competition, I also don’t think they should be considered for any major event hosting. I’m not a fan at all, to say it mildly, of Qatar’s 202 WC hosting, but that’s not so much to do with their political and social and religious mores, and more with the ridiculousness of a tiny, one-city state hosting such a major event in such an unstable region with such a brutal hot climate.

And it’s very easy to see things in hindsight – that Russia’s actions in the Crimea should disbar them from the Paralympic or the 2018 WC. But when they were awarded, the WOGs and the WC were given to a country with tradition, interest an passion in those events, with no prior hostings in those areas, which was slowly growing in fits and starts out of an economic and political pit going back to Soviet times. Just as Berlin 1936 was awarded as a vote of confidence and encouragement in the stuttering Weimar republic, not as an expected reward for a future authoritarian regime. In Berlin’s case, it probably would have been best in hindsight for the future of the world to have stripped them or boycott them once the Nazis got their hands on them. In Russia 2018’s case, I think the original choice was acceptable and even laudable, and provided Putin doesn’t spiral even deeper into neo-Stalinism and brutal repression, I don’t think it’s right yet to shun an isolate the country by stripping them of the tournament.

I guess it all comes down to our own personal moral compasses where we draw the line personally. And while I do think that once you’ve been chosen to host, it implies you’re fair game for the spotlight and criticism, I’d also say that it also implies the prospective host has a moral obligation not to ramp up repression or injustice under the aegis of being a host apparent. There was a strong case to strip Berlin of 1936, and there’d be strong case to strip Russia of 2018 if its tanks rolled into Kiev, Vilnius and Riga or Putin started setting up gulags again.

Forthe IOC or FIFA it just means reading the tea-leaves and listening to the attitudes an commentary of the times. I personally don’t think (at least with the IOC) that they’re stupid or blind to prevailing views or criticisms around the world. I’m sure individual IOC members are as moved by political values as any of us is in how they approach their role. And others are also pragmatic about what is best to secure the future of the games while reflecting the incredible contrasting mosaic of the world political scene.

Edited by Sir Rols
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The Games will always be political and the IOC will always deny that fact. This denial allows them to partner with anyone they please and to insist that the rest of the world is ruining "pure sport" by voicing their concerns.

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Especially after the referendum in Crimea, it's going to be an even tougher challenge to separate Sport and Politics.

No, it's just going to be as impossible and futile as it's ever been.

Edited by Sir Rols
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