International Incident at the Vuelta
Dateline: Lisboa, Portugal.
In response to some loose-tongued commentary during this day's Vuelta a Espana stage between Catalayud and Tarazona, the Portuguese Minister for Sport and Character Assasination announced that legal action, seeking damages, would be taken in response to what he said amounts to the defamation of national image. Though pressed on the issue of damages, the Minister refused to specify an amount. As the minister retreated from the hasty press conference, one intrepid reporter noticing a lower level lackey attempting to quietly exit the room, made a running tackle, pinning the bureaucrat to the ground until he cried tio (uncle), and made the following, somewhat less than official statement: "The Ministry has long hoped to initiate a complete overhaul of the National Sport Centre, which not coincidentally, serves as the Ministers' official residence. An amount in the billions of Euro's would not surprise me."
cropped from the AFP photo at the BBC
If you missed it, the cause of this flurry of legal action boiled down to a thirty second analysis by the commentators of Eurosport Television who, during Nelson Oliveira's solo attack at the end of the stage, and though noting his seven National Time Trial Championship victories, soured the keg by adding that, "after all, they were only Portuguese National Championships."
While all this was taking place across the ocean, I sought out my own local source for all matters Portuguese. You may know him as a well-regarded business owner and popular folk singer, but what you may not know is that he also serves as the Grand Poobah of the Portuguese Society of Californiao (there is a name to give the Donald apoplexy). After one mis-direction, to the Office of Portuguese is not Mis-spelled Spanish, we made it through to a sub-adjutant at the Ministry of Sport, etc, etc., who said they were mobilizing for war and thus did not have time to talk, but would message me a text statement.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, I thought (realizing that it sounded vaguely Portuguese). What is this; could a comment that most people are probably oblivious to really lead to conflict between nations? How did we go from "legal action" to "war" in the span of sixty minutes?
When the text came through it essentially stated that the words of the two "highly regarded", and thus prominently influential, race analysts was hurtful and disparaging, that it suggested Portuguese racers are of a lesser ability due to the lack of competition within the nation, and that this in turn cast all of Portugal in a dim and weak light. Without a full retraction, apology and ample compensation, there could be no peace.
Stranger things, I thought. "Stranger things."
I had one last question for my undisclosed informant, to whit: Did not the fact that Oliveira win the stage after a solo effort of more than 20km beating out, in the process, the likes of the three N's - Nico Roche, Niki Terpstra, and Sylvain Chavanel - refute the very notion of Portuguese inadequacy? (Yes, I know, and it only took me two hours to realize there were only two N's). There was a reshuffling of paper sound in the background of the text (in imitation of a bad connection, I guessed). After exactly one minute (strangely the same time gap between Oliveira and his nearest chasers) a terse reply came through - "That does not negate what was said, nor erase the damage done!"
Well, it has been one weird Vuelta this year, and a war over words might almost be fitting at this point. It will be interesting to see what the final week holds in store.