Jul 28, 2008
The Olympics are presented as a festival of brotherhood among nations, something that brings about the friendship of people all over the world. The reality is that the games have always been a faithful reflection of the tensions and political conflicts that exist between countries and blocs.
It’s enough to cast a glance at what has happened since World War II to understand this.
For over 30 years, for example, China, the largest country in the world, was excluded from international sports competition because the imperialist powers, with the U.S. in the lead, refused to recognize its existence. In the London Olympics of 1948, the Russians, Germans and Japanese were excluded as undesirables. For years, East Germany and West Germany, as well as North Korea and South Korea, presented separate teams, not because the people in these countries felt themselves members of split nations, but because the victorious U.S., British and French imperialisms had divided these countries with the aid of the Russian bureaucracy at the end of World War II.
In 1956 at Melbourne, the games were disturbed by strong international political tensions. A month before the celebration, the French government had ordered the hijacking of the plane in which Ben Bella and other Algerian leaders traveled. At the same time, the student revolt in Budapest broke out, serving as a prelude to the Russian intervention in Hungary. Finally, French and British troops parachuted into Suez in an attempt to prevent Egypt from nationalizing the canal that ran through its country.
Under such conditions, Egypt and Iraq decided to boycott the Olympics in Melbourne since, they said, “the nations guilty of aggression against Egypt aren’t excluded from the games.” Holland, Switzerland and Spain chose to stay away to protest the events in Budapest, Hungary.
In 1968, a week before the games held in Mexico City, the police and army cold-bloodedly fired on a demonstration of unarmed strikers and students in the Plaza of Three Cultures, killing close to 1,000 people, among whom were many women and children. This didn’t bother Avery Brundage, then president of the International Olympic Committee, who affirmed that the games were a “true oasis in this so disturbed world.”
This “disturbed world” included the severe racism of the U.S. which had led to the struggle for Black Power in this country, and the support by all the big imperialist countries for the apartheid regime in South Africa – not to mention the American war on Viet Nam. So, of course, politics sprang up in the very center of the “oasis.” When two black U.S. athletes – Tommie Smith and John Carlos – demonstrated their support for Black Power from the height of the podium, they were immediately expelled from the Olympic village by order of the International Olympic Committee.
In 1972 during the Munich Olympics, a Palestinian commando unit kidnapped Israeli athletes. This event ended in bloodshed when the German police entered, firing on everyone. There were 18 dead, among them eleven Israelis, five Palestinians, and two Germans. The German and Israeli governments preferred to sacrifice the athletes rather than let the Palestinians appear victorious in the situation.
A few days later, U.S. black athletes Matthews and Collins were excluded from the games for having exhibited an attitude called “disrespectful” to the U.S. national anthem.
For the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the African countries boycotted the games as a sign of protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa. When the Organization of African Unity petitioned the International Olympic Committee to exclude New Zealand because it had recently sent a rugby team to South Africa, the leaders of the International Olympic Committee refused to hear them, alleging that the Committee couldn’t discuss with a political organization.
In 1980, the United States recommended the boycott of the Moscow games and was able to get about 60 nations to refuse to participate. They denounced the USSR’s war against the people of Afghanistan and proclaimed they couldn’t go to Moscow under these conditions. Does anyone believe these same leaders who intervene to oppress people in countries all over the globe pitied the fate of the Afghan people? They used the occasion to score a goal against the Russians; that’s all.
The Russians tied the score with their own boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Soviet leaders said the organizers of the games violated the “Olympic Charter,” so the Russians stayed away, they said thanks to the lack of security for their athletes in the face of an “unfettered anti-Soviet campaign on the part of U.S. reactionary circles.”
The 1988 Olympic games were held in South Korea. The North Koreans boycotted the games because they weren’t co-sponsors. Ethiopia and Cuba joined the boycott out of solidarity.
In Barcelona in 1992, the German team was united after the fall of the Berlin wall. But war was already breaking out in Yugoslavia. That country was banned from taking part, while athletes from Serbia and Montenegro were allowed to compete – but only as individuals.
In the 1996 Atlanta games, an American terrorist placed a bomb in Centennial Park, which killed two people. The media was quick to blame a security guard who had intervened to defuse another bomb. But in fact the killer turned out to be the same fanatic who had also assassinated a doctor in Buffalo because he performed abortions.
In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, athletes from South and North Korea carried a joint banner at the opening ceremony but competed under the separate flags of their divided nation. The same week, the Pentagon said that it considered North Korea a major threat. U.S. imperialism still props up the division of Korea despite the wishes of the Korean people.
The 2004 Athens Games, the first Olympics after September 11th, might as well have been called the Police Olympics. About 70,000 cops were deployed to patrol Athens and the Olympic venues. Before the games, police rounded up homeless people, locking them up in psychiatric hospitals. Refugees and asylum-seekers from countries where wars were going on were detained or deported.
As long as imperialism rules, there will be poverty and oppression in the world. As a consequence, the Olympics will not be free of politics.