The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Imaginary Player - This Mutiny I Promise You

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 28, 2021

This article has been submitted by The Imaginary Player, Trevor Smith.

“Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.”- Paul Valery

Baron Pierre de Coubertin is said to have created the modern Olympic games with one main goal in mind: to connect countries from around the globe in the pursuit of excellence and the spirit of competition. Since their reincarnation over a century ago, the Olympics have become one of the largest media events in the world (the Sydney games in 2000 saw over 16,000 broadcasters and journalists, and an estimated 3.8 billion viewers). This growth has been at once both prodigious and frightening. The games’ development has brought a heightened sense of connectedness to us all and has united the world in competition. Yet with so much attention and pressure associated with said competition, the event’s political overtones (not to mention daunting complexity and size) make it an economic and diplomatic biohazard without equal. With the Games of the XXIX Olympiad fast approaching, we are reminded just how volatile a political experiment this celebration can be. The controversy that swirls above the Beijing games is not unique to this August’s proceedings. Indeed, despite the best intentions of Coubertin and visionaries like him, the modern games sadly stand as a testament more to posturing and opportunism than athletic distinction.

The Olympic games were awarded to Beijing, People’s Republic of China in the summer of 2001. At the time, it was hoped that the chosen Olympic slogan of “One World, One Dream” would prove prophetic and that the games would unite the world in the event’s spirit. In this belief, the Chinese government has promoted the games as their country’s “coming out party,” China’s emergence on the world stage as a political superpower. One might rightly question what the 100-metre dash has to do with politics, but it is clear that civic, politically active parties view the national pride and honor gained from Olympic success as a priceless commodity. As the chorus of concerns about environmental issues and human rights violations have grown decidedly more deafening, major nations have begun considering boycotting the events in protest. China’s recent actions in Tibet have kindled more speculation that powers such as France and the United States may reach a moral impasse and use the games as a soapbox upon which to denounce the Chinese regime. The motivation for said vilification has nothing to do with competitive swimming, or basketball, or cycling. It DOES impact the participants of these events though. The political powerplay between superpowers will determine whether or not athletes who have committed their lives to the Olympic ideal of competition in its purest form get the chance to represent their countries, families, and selves. If the Olympics are lost to these hostilities it will be a sad reminder to us all of how vulnerable our dreams are to circumstance and how dedication does not promise vindication.

“The true conservative is the man who has a real concern for injustices and takes thought against the day of reckoning.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

It must be noted that the concerns and controversy over the games are not necessarily without merit: pro-Tibetan organizations as well as political groups upset with China’s involvement in the crisis in Darfur rightly object to the host country’s international attitudes and alliances. Further, Beijing has long battled with extreme air pollution that could potentially harm athletes and spectators alike. Locals without residency permits, as well as the mental illnesses, are to be barred from the city (despite claims that over a million residents will be displaced from their homes for the event). The government has forbidden any protests prior to or during the games. Yet boycotts and protests seem to loom. While no state has indicated formal boycott plans, France has suggested it will sit out the opening ceremonies (how does one say “empty gesture” in French exactly?) and calls for a boycott have come from former French presidential candidate François Bayrou. Last year, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu urged China to intervene in the ongoing protests in Myanmar, saying that not taking a stance would lead him to support an Olympic boycott.

What of the US? Where does the world’s last remaining superpower, the nation China seems destined to supplant as global leader, sit on this issue? Surely all of this uproar and furor has America and its leaders feeling tepid about embracing the games; common sense tells us the US would be obligated to set a moral precedent for others to follow. Thankfully for American athletes, George W. Bush has never been a strong supporter of common sense. His administration has said it won’t support protests because the Olympics are “only a sporting event.” If only it were that simple, W.

“Shut out all of your past except that which will help you weather your tomorrows.” - Sir William Osler

It is important for us to remember that the 2008 Summer Games are not the first Olympics in which politics have played a major role. A quick glance at any history book or sporting almanac will show that this marriage between the games and political grandstanding has a long tradition. The 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, are remembered as Hitler’s Olympics. He used the global stage the games provided to show Germany and put forward his party’s propaganda. While governments may not have protested his revolting policies, his promotional plans were undercut by the immortal Jesse Owens and his four gold medals. Precedence established, the Melbourne games of 1956 saw boycotts from Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon in protest of the Israeli invasion of Egypt. Boycotts of the 1976 Montreal Games by 26 African countries followed on political grounds, as did the withdrawal from the 1980 Moscow Summer games by the USA and 61 other states in the largest boycott in Olympic history. One thus quickly comes to appreciate that the idea of using the Olympics as a platform upon which to cast a social agenda is not a new one.

The challenge that now befalls Beijing is how to overcome the threat of such opposition and objections. From the 241 participants from 14 nations that participated in the first modern games in 1896, the Olympics have grown to host 11,100 competitors. For a comparison of their importance and breadth, the UN has ten fewer member states than the 203 participating countries expected in Beijing. That the Olympics have been and will continue to be used as a political device, by both China and its opponents, is certain. What will remain unclear is whether it should be. Environmental, health, and human-rights issues will continue to dog the event until the Olympic flame is lit on August 8. Some sides will argue that the athletes deserve the right to showcase their dedication and abilities on a world stage, that they have earned the right to represent their country regardless of the political climate around the event. Other pundits might suggest that the Olympics are simply too global a stage to let the opportunity to take a stand on these issues pass. Neither is wholly right and neither is perfectly wrong. All that can be said with great certainty is that this issue is far from resolved; for better or worse, the entire world is now watching, and waiting.

This article has been submitted by The Imaginary Player, Trevor Smith.

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