Why Mongolia needs an Olympic gold medal

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What Mongolia needs most at this point is an Olympic gold medal. Right now, pretty much everyone who cares about what is going on in the country is scrunching up their foreheads. They need something to lift up their spirits. Alarm bells rang throughout the nation after the Minister of Finance, B.Choijilsuren, made sure to milk every single drop of grim fact about the country’s finances and dim prospects during his public address about the country’s economy given earlier last week. The new Finance Minister said the country is in great debt and has suspended four projects started by the previous government, as financing for the projects was not included in the state budget, and thereby deemed “illegal” by the new cabinet. The projects include the Good Investment, Good Student, Good Fences, and Good Herder projects, which largely issued soft loans to participants in the projects. In response, former Speaker of Parliament Z.Enkhbold and former Mayor of Ulaanbaatar E.Bat-Uul retaliated against Minister B.Choijilsuren’s decision and claimed that the projects were not doing anyone harm, and that they were not included in the state budget because they are to be repaid by borrowers and by the state. Z.Enkhbold also claimed that the state's budget deficit is the same as it was four years ago, when the Democratic Party took over state affairs: one trillion MNT. He said that the new cabinet is trying to discredit the Democratic Party and is causing economic turmoil by spreading exaggerated claims about the country’s economic woes. The Democratic Party are saying the B.Choijilsuren's announcement was a way of indirectly saying the the Mongolian People's Party will not keep their election promise to not increase Mongolia's debts further. Though there is still debate about whether the economy is really as bad as the new Finance Minister makes it out to be, mainly because GDP is still growing (an expected 1.3 percent this year) rather than shrinking, the impact of inflation on people’s lives makes it difficult to be optimistic about the economy. It is a fact that long before the public briefing by the Finance Minister, business activities and the living conditions of the people of Mongolia have been taking a hit from the economic slowdown. But after the briefing, things went from bad to worse. Currently, businesses are cutting costs and families are tightening their belts all across the country. The country owes 23.5 billion USD to foreign lenders, five billion of which is owed by the government alone, and state budget revenue this year is expected to be 1.8 trillion MNT short of its goal, according to B.Choijilsuren. As Mongol Bank’s foreign currency reserve is in the red, currency exchange centers and banks can pretty much name whatever price they want for currency trade. USD rates were as high as 2,280 MNT, the highest ever recorded in history. Already, the prices for goods are rising due to the depreciation of Mongolian currency. A local newspaper reported recently that the price of a Toyota Prius XW20, the most popular and sought after car in Mongolia, has risen by 500,000 to 1,000,000 MNT since June. Car prices have been dropping steadily since last year, and they were expected to drop even further after import taxes were lifted through the economic partnership agreement with Japan, Mongolia's primary supplier of used vehicles. Grocery shops and corner stores have increased prices for many of their goods by a few hundred MNT, especially imported food products. Drinks that cost 1,200 MNT two weeks ago cost 1,400 MNT this week. Similarly, many other product prices are increasing by small amounts. The erratic inflation rate and the grim outlook the Minister of Finance provided are aggravating frustrated business owners and people trying to make ends meet. There is a palpable tension growing in society as people become unable to afford the things they could purchase only a month before. Living in an unhappy society is miserable, at best, and downright dangerous, at worst. But there is one thing that can lift people’s mood: if Mongolia wins medals at the Olympic Games. It has been proven to heal social tension in Mongolia. In 2008, the riot of July 1 left the people of Mongolia shaken, and there was a dangerous vibe in the streets of Ulaanbaatar. The riot resulted in the deaths of five people and the burning down of the Mongolian’s People’s Party headquarters in the heart of the city. The global economic recession of 2008 didn’t help either. But when Mongolia won gold medals in judo and boxing at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, it lifted the tension in society, and the optimism planted the seed that would help Mongolia overcome the effects of the global economic recession. People in the street smiled and hugged, when the streets had previously been empty and disheveled. And here we are again, another Olympics and more economic turmoil. So far, Mongolian fans who have been staying up until the early morning hours in the hopes of seeing Mongolian athletes win medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics have been largely disappointed with the results, especially after the elimination of former Olympic champion N.Tuvshinbayar in judo. Aside from D.Sumiya’s silver medal in judo,  D.Otgondalai won bronze medal in men’s 60 kg. Mongolian fans are still not quite satisfied with the number or the color of the medals Mongolia has won, especially after the buildup of expectations put forward by officials who promised at least eight medal wins. If Mongolian athletes fail to capture a gold medal, the disappointment will surely worsen the tension in society. It seems that much more than just sports achievements rests on the shoulders of the Mongolian Olympians. So here is hoping for a gold medal, not just for Olympic glory but for the morale of the nation.

Khash-Erdene Bayarsaikhan