A Slice of Life

commentary on issues in politics, culture, environment and technology

09 Aug 08 Sport and Politics: The Beijing Olympics

aryans, berlin olympics 1936 Rene Roch, president of International Fencing Federation (FIE), said in Beijing Friday that the Olympics should not be mingled with politics. “No one should capitalize on the IOC to boycott the games,” Roch told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the 2008 FIE World Championships, which kicked off in Beijing on Friday. “We should look ahead in a long term and avoid conflicts,” he said. source: Xinhua

Many commentators have echoed this sentiment; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just enjoy the games and avoid all the political unpleasantness. If only the issue was so simple. In May 1931 the IOC decided that the 1936 Olympic games would be held in Berlin, Germany. This was a great moment for Germany; it gave them a chance to show the world how great and powerful they believed they were. For some people in Germany, like the rising Nazi party, this was also a chance to show the world that the Aryan race was superior to all other races. (Hitler was incredibly annoyed when Jesse Owens’ achievements contradicted this). While the Chinese can’t quite be compared to the Nazis, their motivation is similar; to increase national prestige and to promote trade. source: Bloodshed and Politics Over the Olympic Rings

hitler, berlin olympics 1936During the rebel cricket tours of South Africa in the 1980s, most players used the ‘let’s keep politics out of sport’ excuse to justify their involvement. The South African government’s involvement in the tours was politically motivated. The matches served a propaganda purpose, helped to split the solidarity of the international campaign of isolating South Africa, and satisfied white South Africans’ desire for international sport.

The fact is that involvement in international events and politics is inextricably linked. Involvement tacitly supports the policies of a regime. The decision to award the 1936 Olympics to a country with a human rights record like Germany now seems highly questionable. A more politically aware approach to such decisions is essential. Boycotting the games might not be the answer, but raising human rights issues is a moral responsibility.

Anyone who watched the coverage of the opening ceremony would realise that the olympics is indeed not about politics, or sport. It is about the sydication of television coverage. Athletes have to pass through media cordons before reaching events and there are more commercials than action.

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21 Apr 08 China steps up to the Olympic plate

Scenes of protesters harrasing the progress of the Olympic torch seem incredibly ironic. They underline the fact that the ‘Olympic Spirit’ has become something other than the IOC would have us believe.

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the organisation’s motto. Mutual understanding, a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – that’s the definition of the Olympic Spirit from the movement’s charter.

How many of these qualities does China’s society possess? Even before the Tibetan crackdown human rights abuses by the Chinese authorities were common knowledge, but little action seems to have been taken by western countries. Words of concern and inconsistent economic sanctions aren’t enough to make a difference. Granting the Olympics to China is a tacit approval of the heinous abuses and persecution that exists in this, the last great totalitarian dictatorship.

Parallels can be made with the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
“The decision by the IOC goes towards justifying a repressive political system that each day flouts freedom and violates human rights… Following the example of Nazi Germany in 1936 and the Soviet Union in 1980, Communist China will use (the games) as a powerful propaganda instrument destined to consolidate its hold on power. The decision by the IOC goes towards justifying a repressive political system that each day flouts freedom and violates human rights.” said Francois Loncle, a member of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s Socialist party.

The question must be asked: why choose China? China’s booming economy allows them to throw a huge amount of money at the games, build the best facilities and provide the best junkets for Olympic officials.

The stipulations that athletes do not voice any political opinions could also be seen as an infringement of their human rights. Don’t we have a right to freedom of speech? If the hosting nation’s human rights record was not a great concern would our sporting bodies be stressing these rules?

Perhaps the Olympic movement’s charter should be expanded to include the motto “money, money, money”.

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