The board game company Hasbro will unveil a new version of Monopoly this fall — a “cheaters edition.” It has the same rules as the classic but encourages players to break them, rewards successful cheaters and penalizes those caught in the act.
Go ahead, groan. But admire, however reluctantly, how devilishly this taps into our times.
News of the new game broke last week just before the international Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned bans on 28 of 43 Russian athletes accused of being drug cheaters. The athletes had been deemed by the International Olympic Committee to be part of an elaborate state-backed doping program conducted at the Winter Olympics hosted by Russia in 2014.
The ruling was another blow for the IOC. If you establish that a country engaged in systemic doping but can’t make penalties stick, something’s wrong with the process or the evidence or both.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the doping scheme fake news. Now he’s ice-dancing. Some of the 28, some of whom won medals in Sochi four years ago, could now be eligible to compete in the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start Thursday. They would join a sizable Russian contingent that will compete as “Olympic athletes from Russia,” not as the Russian team, as per the IOC sanction. Their flag will be the Olympic flag and their medal-ceremony song the Olympic anthem, but they’ll be there.
North Korea will be there, too, participating in opening ceremonies with South Korea. The athletes will march in under a blue-and-white flag meant to symbolize unity — a fig leaf, true, but still more unity than our Congress could aspire to. But the simple presence of North Korea makes Kim Jong Un the week’s other big Olympic despot winner.
The North called the South via a hotline dormant for two years, and before you could say tough new UN sanctions, Kim had his Games invite. And now he can rub it in. On Thursday, barely 24 hours before opening ceremonies, Kim reportedly will stage a big military parade, the kind with real missiles and rockets, not the less-harmful ones hurtling down icy luge and bobsled tracks.
That’s the way it goes with the Olympics — one foot in escapism, one foot in the ugly real world.
Over the next two weeks, you can thrill to the athletes and their exploits. Or you can pause to consider South Korea’s army of drones overhead — drones with cameras, drones with facial recognition software, drones to capture other drones, plus anti-drone shotguns and radio-signal jamming guns.
You can watch figure skater Mirai Nagasu try to become the first American woman to land a triple axel in the Olympics. Or you can stop by the local cinema to catch Academy Award contender “I, Tonya,” about the first American woman to land a triple axel in any competition. But it, too, is a blend of escapism and real-worldism because Tonya Harding also is the skater who pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution after her ex-husband orchestrated an attack on Nancy Kerrigan to try to keep Harding’s rival out of the 1994 Winter Games, a reminder that sometimes figure skating results really are a crime.
Nagasu, by the way, is the daughter of Japanese immigrants. One of her U.S. teammates, short-track speedskater Maame Biney, is herself an immigrant.
She came here at 5 years old from Ghana, one of those hole-y countries. Less than a year later, she and her father, Kweku, were driving home in Reston, Virginia, when he pointed to a sign in front of a rink: “Learn to skate.” He asked whether she was interested.
Now she’s 17 and completely incandescent, a breakout personality and perhaps a breakout star, a girl from Ghana representing America.
Speaking of tapping into our times.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.