The politics of Olympic Games

The Olympic Games have long become a political event. The games in London are no exception. Nor were the Olympics in Beijing poisoned by the aggression of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili against South Ossetia. Wars, sports boycotts, hostage-taking ... A remedy from the politicization of sport has not yet been found.

Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been fighting for maximum equality between men and women. Because of gender inequality the right to participate in the Olympics has been nearly lost by two wealthy Arab countries - Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The countries have very strict rules of Islam, and there have never been women on their teams. Now women will be competing as well, of course, wearing the hijab. As it turns out, bans can be a bit relaxed for the sake of the Olympics.

For the first time in 40 years the national Great Britain football team is expected at the Olympics. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have separate teams, and because of that the Great Britain Olympic team has virtually ceased to exist. For the sake of a home tournament it was decided to revive it, but the preliminary application was submitted only by the players from England and Wales. Scotland and Ulster refused to share their football independence.

The first ancient Olympic Games were held in 776 BC. Initially they had a political meaning. It was assumed that for the time of competition that lasted two weeks the war was to stop throughout the ancient Greece. When in the late 19th century Baron Pierre de Coubertin decided to revive the Games, he declared: "O sport, you are peace!." Unfortunately, politicians do not always want to hear it.

If in ancient Greece the war would stop during the Olympics, in the twentieth century it was not the case. 1916 Games in Berlin, 1940 in Tokyo and Helsinki, and 1944 in London were disrupted because of world wars. These were the only cancelled games in the history of the sporting event. Yet, politics still grossly and shamelessly intervened in the course of the Games.

An example of the politicization of sport for a long time was considered to be the games in 1936 in Berlin.    

Adolf Hitler wanted to turn them into a triumph of the Aryan race. However, the competition in 100m and 200m races was won by a black American Jesse Owens. It is said that the Fuehrer was furious. Legend has it that Hitler did not come out openly to congratulate the winner. But this is only a legend. In fact, there is no protocol that obligated him to do so.  

Why did the Soviet Union team not participate in the Olympics until 1952, although the pre-World War II team of the Russian Empire was involved in the Games? It happened because it existed in a hostile environment, and everyone else tried to isolate it. This was the case with the sporting events. Only in 1952 in Helsinki "Olympic blockade" was finally canceled.

In 1956 the Olympics were held in Melbourne. Australia heard the echo of the events in Hungary, when Soviet troops crushed the anti-Communist uprising of the Magyars. The Soviet and Hungarian water polo players met in the finals, but the match was more of a massacre. The opponents were fighting, kicking, openly insulted the Soviet players for political reasons. As a result, the Magyars won, and decided not to return to their homeland.

In 1964, due to the apartheid regime, the team of South Africa was not allowed in the Games for 28 years. Four years later, GDR team appeared at the main sports festival for the first time. Prior to that, East Germany was not allowed to compete separately, and for three consecutive Olympic Games it competed as part of the combined German team dominated by athletes from Germany. The reason was political: West Germany and other Western countries either did not recognize the GDR or only partially recognized it.

The 1972 Olympics in Munich were marked by the biggest tragedy in the modern Olympic history. Members of the Palestinian group "Black September" took hostage athletes and coaches from Israel. As a result of the unsuccessful attack, 11 hostages and one policeman were killed. The Games were suspended for one day, and the delegation of the Soviet Union ignored the minute of silence. Moscow decided that since Israel was a hostile state it could be ignored.

Delegations from over 20 African countries did not come to the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. They did not like the fact that shortly before the Games, the team of South Africa disallowed from the Olympics because of apartheid policies, competed in the international rugby tournament. Although rugby is not part of the Olympic sports, all attempts to persuade the Africans have failed.

The most infamous case of political interference in sport at the Olympics took place in 1980 and 1984. Due to the introduction of Soviet troops in Afghanistan the delegations of dozens of countries, including USA, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Turkey, Argentina, did not show up in Moscow. The socialist countries headed by the Soviet Union responded in four years by boycotting the Games in Los Angeles. However, Romania and Yugoslavia still appeared in the U.S.

Another long-awaited event happened at the Olympics in Los Angeles - the Olympic debut of China's national team. Earlier Beijing refused to participate in the Games on the grounds that the Olympics allowed the representatives of Taiwan. For a long time, Chine was represented solely by the Taiwanese. Finally, the IOC decided to allow both China and Taiwan in the Games. So far, "two Chinas" compete as different teams.

The 1988 Olympics were held in Seoul. The authorities of the DPRK insisted that the Games should be accepted not only in Korea but also in the North. However, Pyongyang was not given any competition, and ultimately the followers of the Juche idea ignored the Games. They were followed by representatives of several other socialist countries (e.g., Cuba). But the Soviet Union and the Delegation of the European socialist countries have arrived in South Korea.

In 1992 the Games were held against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. As a result, the CIS team arrived in Barcelona, composed of representatives of 12 countries. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been admitted as a separate country. Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro were under the pressure of the international sanctions and not allowed into Spain. Slovenia and Croatia have brought their delegations. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia did not show up in Barcelona since they did not have time to form their Olympic Committees.

Politics returned to the Olympics in 2008. Many people were unhappy with the fact that it was held in Beijing. The Chinese were accused of human rights violations, and during the Olympic torch relay in Tibet the independence supporters staged their political act. The opening of the Games was not attended by some of the leaders of Western countries.

Unfortunately, in the early days of that Olympics, sport was not the main concern for Russia and Georgia. For the first time in history a country leader (Mikhail Saakashvili) timed the beginning of the war to the opening of the Games. Some of the Georgian athletes were engulfed with "Patriotic frenzy" and wanted to withdraw from the competition, go home and pick up machine guns. They did not have time to do this as the war was quickly over.

The U.S. made a statement as well. At the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Stars and Stripes were carried by a native of Southern Sudan Lopez Bomong. This way the Americans expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that Northern China collaborated with Sudan, declared a rogue state by the West. At the closing ceremony the American flag was in the hands of a native of Georgia, Lorig Khatun. This way Washington backed Georgia after the war in South Ossetia.

It is not surprising that these political reminders emerged before the Olympics in London. Apparently, for a long time the politics will affect the important sporting event. A remedy for de-politicization of the Olympic Games has not yet been found. There is no evidence that it is being sought.

Pavel Chernyshev


Read the original in Russian

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov