Commentary: Going to the dogs

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While the rest of the world is soaking up the competition — and the controversies — of the Sochi Winter Olympics, an ugly issue long-ignored by the International Olympic Committee has re-surfaced.

It’s bad enough that the celebrations surrounding the American snowboarders who won gold medals have to be tainted by news stories about the extraordinary security measures required to stage the Games, the horrific facilities (including yellow tap water) athletes and visitors have encountered and the dark cloud of Russia’s virulent anti-gay political repression.

Even after the spectacular Opening Ceremonies, news quickly leaked out that the faux pas seen on American television, in which one of the oversized mechanical snowflakes failed to morph into an Olympic ring, was censored for Russian viewers, who saw instead a pre-recorded version filmed during a practice session in which all six rings properly materialized.

In fact, the media coverage of stories unrelated to the athletic competition itself has been so intense that poor Vladimir Putin hasn’t had time to ride around the Olympic Village on horseback with his shirt off — not even once.

And now, although it’s four years away, the next Winter Olympics, which will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, has churned up yet another controversy, according to a Wall Street Journal story.

The issue is whether (alleged) Korean appetite for barbecuing dog meat might scuttle the Olympic spirit.

[By the way, the stirring song titled, “The Olympic Spirit,” was written by Academy-Award winning composer John Williams as the theme for the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, back in 1988).

In Sochi, according to the WSJ story, “The canine question has been about the number of strays [running] around the venue.”

Of course, that won’t be the case in 2018.

But when the head of the organizing committee for the 2018 games in Pyeongchang was queried about Koreans’ culinary traditions, his response dodged the issue.

“[The question of eating dogs] cannot be raised at the [Olympic] Games because there is no practice of eating dogs in Korea,” Kim Jin-sun told reporters in Sochi when asked how his committee would address the matter of dog meat on the menu.

Technically, the consumption of dog meat is officially outlawed in Seoul; however, according to the Journal’s reporting, there is minimal enforcement of the ban, and the city government doesn’t keep records on the city’s dog meat restaurants.

“We don’t have a specific category for dog meat restaurants,” Lauren Suk, a Seoul government spokeswoman, told the newspaper.

But WSJ reporters in the newspaper’s Seoul bureau said that there are a number of dog meat restaurants right near their offices in the center of the country’s capital city. And elsewhere in South Korea, there are virtually no restrictions on eating dog meat.

“There are some dog meat restaurants [in Seoul] that are not registered,” Suk explained, “and those that are registered would be registered as Korean food restaurants.”

Can sports stop the slaughter?

Koreans, among other Asian countries, have a long tradition of eating dog meat, which some devotees believe provides the same stamina and energy that dogs enjoy. Most people who eat dog meat, however, are from older generations, because, as the Journal phrased it, “The appeal of the cuisine has dwindled among younger Koreans.”

Ya think?

The fact is that the ban — such as it is — on dog-meat restaurants Seoul was originally put in place in the mid-1980s because of concerns about a backlash that could threaten the 1988 Summer Games. In the three decades since then, however, the dog meat “industry” continues to operate in the shadows and remains largely unregulated.

Even high-profile campaigns by international animal rights groups protesting the practice — and the crowded, unsanitary conditions on so-called dog farms — have failed to halt the tradition.

Look, I’ve seen the vendors selling young puppies jammed into cages at urban “wet markets” in South China. No way can anyone pretend there’s anything appropriate about the breeding, butchering or consumption of dog meat.

Here in the USA, it took the public outrage over a sporting icon’s indulgence to enact meaningful oversight that has severely curtailed the once-common practice of dog fighting.

Who’s to say that Olympic athletes couldn’t initiate a similarly effective campaign against eating man’s best friend?

Just don’t kid yourself that the corrupt fat cats sitting on the IOC will ever bother to confront the issue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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