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Home > Media

Blessed Relief

15 July 2006

Forgive us, if you please, for having the mind of a twelve year old, sniggering along to the latest Finbarr Saunders but we've got a bit of a problem with Sport Relief. In fact, we find we can't handle any concept with the word 'relief' in the title, but especially not when there's partially famous people involved.

Of course, we've got nothing against nationally organised showers of charity, as even we Godless cynics recognise the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. In fact, we gave at the office several years ago, and happily wear a faded lapel sticker to prove the point. We are also immensely proud of the fact that we haven't verbally assaulted a chugger in central London for several months, and even once bought a copy of War Cry in the pub without coming over all self-righteous. We do, however, feel there are times to take a step back from mindless tin rattling and ask, exactly, why we are giving.

You may wish to call us heartless bastards for what we are about to say, especially when all hell's breaking loose in Mumbai, but so be it. But why, in the name of fuckery, are we, as a society, clambering to make donations to aid thousands of street kids in India, when we are talking about a country which has spent the last fifty years developing and testing weapons of mass destruction and possesses, as far as we know, anything between 30 and 400 nuclear warheads? A country that is increasingly being referred to as an 'industrial powerhouse' in the same breath as China, which you probably had a phone conversation with last time you phoned for a bank balance. At the time of India's 1998 nuclear tests which put South Asia on a knife-edge, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee defended his country's right to these weapons as 'India's right as one-sixth of mankind'. It's just a shame, then, that they are so bad at looking after the welfare of their sixth part of the world.

Yes, we as a nation share much of the blame for India's crushing poverty, because we have a history of walking in and fucking things up for the locals. We are, on a much smaller scale, still doing so today, doomed, as we are to repeat the failures of the past. In the past week, however, the Indian government has ordered three warships and a couple of dozen cruise missiles from Russia, all at the knock-down price of three-quarter of a billion pounds from a ten billion annual defence budget. A country, then, that has the potential, and certainly the manpower - Indian companies are leading the way in high-tech industries - to dominate the world economy for years to come; yet it still cannot come to grips with a terrifying infrastructure, crushing poverty and crippling caste and ethnicity problems that would make it a true world leader.

Here's not to say that India - or any other country - should stop defending its borders while its own citizens live in poverty. We have led from the front with such behaviour, pissing every spare penny we've got on nuclear weapons that will never be used, and then sending out for a second mortgage to replace them. Sport Relief is not even entirely about India, with half of the funds raised going to UK projects to cover all the crap that falls through the gaps in society, the stuff our inclusive welfare system has excluded; while there's other important work being done, notably in Afghanistan and Guatemala.

This is all Devil's Advocate stuff, you understand. We wouldn't dream of depriving the needy and shat-upon of this world of the help they deserve to give them a leg up, and neither would we encourage you not to follow your conscience, especially in those telethon-critical hours immediately after the pubs close when a man's grip on his credit card is at its weakest, and the worst is only revealed when the statement arrives several weeks later to a cry of "I gave how much?" We've been there, lucky old Children in Need. But: unlike the sweet old dear we know who endlessly collects 'for those poor cripples' and then talks over the heads of the disabled at resulting press calls, we need a healthy dose of cynical bastardism to reign in our conscience.

OK. We give up. Send money.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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