Friday, August 1, 2008

Politics and the Olympics

No pun, no attempt at a joke in the headline - this article is serious. Everyone stop smiling, put on your serious face. You, you in New York, you're not looking serious enough... better, we can begin.

Politics ruins the Olympics. It's an unfortunate truth, but it does. At the end of the day, the Olympics aren't about me, they aren't about you, they aren't about journalists, they aren't about Tibet and the aren't about Sudan. They aren't about capitalism, they aren't about communism. They aren't about civil rights in America, they aren't about human rights in China. The Olympics are about the athletes, and we should have the decency and respect to let them have it.

It makes me sad that this Olympics probably won't be remembered for the heroics that will be on display in one week's time. The stories that come out of it will be about all the protests surrounding the torch relay, the internet being censored, the air quality (and pollution in general), Falun Gong, Tibet, Darfur and the evil Chinese Olympics mascots. Then, of course, there's the calls for boycott from bloggers, celebrities, politicians and former-athletes alike. You even get bullshit pictures like this (I'll link it, but no way in hell am I letting it and my page touch).

The thing is - the IOC really put everyone in this position. It's terribly unfortunate, but it was a sign of hope, and it failed. I'm not really sure what they were expecting, were they hoping that, in the seven years between awarding the Olympics and the arrival of the Olympics, China would completely change it's image, standards and ways? It was never going to happen, and it doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Not to get into the political argument of whether a democracy would actually work in China (hell, it barely works in India), but just to point out that China and democracy have never gone together. If you look at Russia, they've had 'democracy' for over a decade now, and the entire concept is a little buggered up because they've never really had it before. So I'm not entirely sure what the IOC expected to happen in China.

But now's the time to put everything aside. We recognize that the Olympics will have politics flying around it, but it's not the place of the athletes to stand up for the loud and angry. The Olympics are for them, and no one else. They're there to represent themselves, and their countries, and to showcase their athletic talent. Lifetimes of work, practice and effort have gone into getting them to this point. The BBC has a great series called Against the Odds where they profile athletes who have overcome great hurdles (not real hurdles, well, maybe in a few cases, real hurdles) to get to these Olympics, and it's not for us or anyone else to take that away from them.

We recall the Moscow Olympics where 62 capitalist countries (powers and those in their sphere of influence) pulled out because of, for all intents and purposes, Communist USSR hosting. We recall the boycott taking place, but we don't recall who won anything. Medals may have been handed out, but they can't really be considered achievements because about half the world's countries had no one competing. It also ruined what was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity for the athletes who would have been representing those 62 countries to capture some glory.

So, with the Olympics about a week away, it's high time for us to shut up, sit down, and watch the sports on display. It's the one time every four years where I actually give a rat's arse about most of these sports, and I won't have loud-and-angries ruin it for me. This is about the competitors, the athletes, the coaches doing what they love in their country's name.

Athletes are athletes, let them be athletes. If you have a problem, send a letter to your MP, or your senator, or whoever represents you. It's not the place of the athlete to represent their governments, it's their place to represent the competitive spirit of their country. They fought hard to get this point, and we need to support them and cheer them on as they go for golds in their respective sports. Let's try not to let politics get in the way.
Related articles (there are many, but these are my favourites)
- A BBC article where Hu Jintao calls for mutual respect, and for politics not to overshadow the Games
- The Point/Counterpoint between Bucholtz and myself in the August issue of The Journal where we argue the issue Should politics have a place in the Olympics?


Mike Woods said...

Amrit, I disagree that the Olympics are merely about athletes competing for their respective countries. Consider the following passages from the Olympic Charter, which outlines, among other things, the fundamental principles of the Olympics:

"The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man,
with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."


"Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion,
politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

That sounds pretty political to me. The Olympics are, unfortunately, not just about athletics.

The whole Olympic Charter can be found here:

Phil said...

The first part of the Olympic charter quoted above, concerning the harmonious development of man, is "political" only as far as it happens to be a statement of a broad normative goal. Other than that, it has no relevance to any current short-termist geopolitical wrangling that so often leads to boycotts.

Some governments have made insincere and ineffectual boycotts of various parts of these upcoming Olympics to appease public opinion in their countries - an expression of cynicism which stands in firm opposition to the broad (if somewhat naive) goals set out in the Olympic charter. As an example, many of these same nations (France, Germany) stood, feigning righteousness and concern for human life, in defence of a Ba'athist Iraq where their economic interests were the true concern.

At the end of the day, the Olympic movement is unconcerned with global politics, yet it is global politicians who try to steal the limelight from the athletes who care little for such posturing.

You lot got me on a bad day!

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