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Sports in prison

A short note described the pair as ‘used to torture political prisoners’

On a recent trip to Hanoi, I caught a glimpse of a pair of boxing gloves that was on display at Maison Centrale, known by its Vietnamese name Hoa Lo Prison, in the historic French Old Quarter.

Initially, I thought the pair was one that was used during the prisoners’ free time to keep themselves busy and preoccupied, allowing the guards to relax a bit.

But the grey pair wasn’t used the right way.

A short note described the pair as “used to torture political prisoners.”

Though the gloves showed no signs of dried blood, I am sure a lot had been splattered all over the vicious pair that was put on display.

I suddenly backed away, feeling a bit sick that such a creation that was many times used to promote discipline and physical well-being was even worn to inflict bodily hurt and pain.

Next to the boxing gloves was a photo of American servicemen who were caught during the Vietnam War playing basketball.

The photo had a far more delightful register to museum-goers like myself since the POWs were obviously having a ball playing.

Last time I was in Hanoi, I covered the Southeast Asian Games so the busy schedule during the 12-day sports spectacle prevented me from paying the museum a visit.

Boy, I was glad that I got to drop by Hoa Lo, which the American POWS nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Since it was a time of war, the happy faces on some of the captured US soldiers may have been part of the Vietnamese propaganda.

Aside from sports, the soldiers were also seen in pictures celebrating Christmas and getting hold of items shipped from the US mainland.

It was also in Hoa Lo where the late Arizona senator John McCain spent almost six years behind bars, including two in solitary confinement.

McCain was captured when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down at Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi in October 1967.

He was immediately brought to Hoa Lo where he was interrogated and beaten up regularly by his captors.

This piece was supposed to focus solely on sports but I simply could not help but delve on the subject of war and violence as well.

I have been to similar places in Germany and Poland and even in neighboring Cambodia either on official coverage and during vacation times and often saw that prison and sports do mix.

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