The Olympics: World’s Largest Political Event
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
The parading and preening begins this coming Friday. This time from … where else? Russia.
It is reported that the cost of setting up the infrastructure, and basically prettying-up the place (Sochi, Russia), has cost more that any other Olympic Games venue … EVER.
As I understand it, Sochi is in a geographical location much like southeastern North Carolina. It is subtropical in climate. I mention this so you will be not wondering how the heck they got those palm trees to grow amidst all that snow? The palm trees are native. The snow is not, except for that in the mountains, of course.
So, we’ll enjoy snow in a sub-tropical location — and politics in a non-political venue. Got that?
The Olympics is about as non-political as the Democratic National Convention. Heck, it ‘s ALL about politics, local and geopolitics. Having said that, I admit, I miss the East German judges! They were as predictable as sunrise and I miss the great laughs we had watching them score events. Talk about biased! Only the Mainstream Media, in the US, can hold a candle to those East German judges for bias!
Let’s consider a bit of the history of the Games. Afterwards any lingering doubt you may have harbored concerning the “unbiased” Games should be totally eradicated.
It was around 3,000 years ago that the Games began. They didn’t have sponsors, so the games were dedicated to the current crop of gods in their polytheistic religion(s). I have no clue why it was decided the Games would be held every four years. But they did establish that the venue for the Games would be upon the plains of Olympia. (I have contended for decades that the Olympic Games should be returned — permanently — to Greece!)
Enter politics: Around 393 AD Emperor Theodosius ordered the games halted and banned as a pagan cult.
Theodosius the Great was the last Roman Emperor to rule a united Roman Empire. He established Christianity as the state religion and successfully defended it against paganism and Arianism. He founded a dynasty which ruled in the east and west until 450 and 455 respectively. OK. So it was a combination of politics and religion early on that scrubbed the Games. Still, politics had reared its ugly head amidst the sanctity and purity of sports. Yeah, riiiight!
Well, so much for the Olympic Games until April of 1896 in Athens, Greece. Even in 1896 there was no advertising and the attendees were folks who lived and/or worked nearby who, somehow, heard about the games or saw something out of the ordinary going on and stopped to investigate..
So, what did they DO at the games? What were the sports in which they competed? Pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon and gymnastics were all events at the first Olympics. These Games were probably the least political of all the Olympic games, ever. See, the athletes were not chosen and they did not represent nations at that Olympics. If they heard about those Olympic Games and could get transportation to Athens, Greece, they showed up and competed.
1924 saw the beginning of the winter Olympics. All game activity previously had been centered upon contests more likely enjoyed in in the summer months.
At the beginning and the middle of the 20th century world wars intruded upon the Games and the politics of the Games. As a result, there were no Games in: 1916, in 1940, or in 1944.
This year (2014) the Games are being held in Russia. Russia has gone through a bit of a rough patch with the Olympics over the decades. Though Russia did send a few athletes to compete in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games, they did not compete again until the 1952 Games.
This is almost laughable … almost! One of the main objectives, as stated in the Olympic Charter, of the International Olympic Committee is to, oppose any political abuse of sport and athletes. See what I mean? The Olympic Games has been influenced by politics since, well, at least the beginning of the 20th century!
For Instance: In 1920 Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey were not permitted to participate because of their role in World War I. Then, politics REALLY became entwined with the Games in 1936 when the games were held in Hitler‘s Berlin. Much to Hitler’s chagrin, black American Jesse Owens picked up four gold medals. That was absolutely delicious!
Then the Commies got involved. The Communists nations first took part in the Games in 1948 in London. Germany and Japan were not invited to participate in those Games due to their respective parts in World War II.
Then, in 1952, the former USSR and West Germany competed in the Games for the first time. But then Taiwan withdrew protesting that the Peoples Republic of China was allowed to compete.
The protest continued: Due to the Israeli-led take-over of the Suez Canal, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon did not take part in the 1956 Melbourne Games. Spain and Switzerland boycotted the Games as well, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.
In 1958 an came an unusual decision by the Peoples Republic of China. They decided to withdraw from the Olympic Movement and all International Federations. It was in 1971 that the IOC reinstated China.
Unfortunately, South Africa marked the end of their Olympic participation in 1960. They did not leave voluntarily. South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games due to its political policy of Apartheid. The IOC restored recognition of the South African Olympic Committee in 1991. South Africa competed in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
The year 1968 saw the first participation for East Germany as a separate nation. The 1968 Games, which took place in Mexico, are better known for the protests of American runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. You may recall that as the two competitors collected their medals they raised their fists in the sign of black power.
Then came the 1972 Games and pure terror. It was one of the most horrifying political events linked with an Olympic Games. It happened in Munich. On September 5th, eight Arab terrorists managed to break into the Israeli team headquarters. They killed 2 people immediately and another 9 were murdered after a rescue attempt, by the German police, failed at the airport. The Olympic Family was stunned. A memorial service took place in a packed Olympic stadium the next morning, September 6th. Later that day competition resumed with the consent of the Israeli team. The Israeli team went home immediately.
The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, in December of 1979, really disrupted the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. A group of non-communist nations chose to impose a boycott for the 1980 Moscow Games. (This was a US led Boycott as a result of the USSR introducing tanks into the war in Afghanistan) However, even though Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Government publicly expressed strong opposition, Great Britain accepted the invitation to participate in the Games. This left Dick Palmer, the British Olympic Association’s General Secretary, to march alone representing Great Britain at the Opening Ceremony.
Then it was “turn about” when, once again, politics came into play at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. This time there was a last minute boycott by the Soviet Union and other communist countries. It is generally agreed that the standard of competition was definitely affected at both Games that were boycotted.
But that was not to be the end of boycotting the Olympic Games. There were more. North Korea, Cuba, Ethiopia and Nicaragua did not participate in the 1988 Games at Seoul, South Korea.
Then came the implosion of the Soviet Union. Following that country’s break-up, the 1992 Games saw a New Unified Team participating for the first time. This team was made up of former Soviet states. Later, in 1994, these states competed at the Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games for the first time as separate teams.
Now, you may ask why I bring up the political history of the Olympic Games? I do so just to point out that the Games have, almost from their modern day inception (`1896), been a political event.
Here in the US, there has been a decided lack of interest in the Games, which begins this Friday in Sochi, a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, located on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. Many Americans, including this scribe, have finally come to view the Games as just another theater for international politics and we are slowly losing interest in them.
The Olympics are dying a slow death as the people of the world have come to understand the games mean absolutely nothing. It is simply a forum for each nation to preen and parade it’s youth as products of their system of government.
Frankly, I’m not so sure folding the Olympic tent is such a bad idea. After all, everyone knows it is the largest hypocritical event on the globe. The games are now played with state sponsored athletes and professional athletes with a sprinkling of amateur athletes salted amongst the throng of hard bodies. Frankly, it sucks!
J. D. Longstreet