By: Zachary Draves
The International Olympic Committee recently issued a policy memo prohibiting any sort of political expression on the part of the athletes at the summer games in Tokyo.
The memo was a direct response to the recent surge in athlete activism across many aspects of the global sporting landscape.
To paraphrase, they said that political activities such as kneeling or raising a fist in the air would be punishable on what they deem to be a “case by case” basis.
Whatever the matter, the fact remains is that the IOC’s hypocrisy is as rich as president Thomas Bach’s net worth.
The idea that the Olympics would be a space free from politics is as laughable at Kanye West hinting a run at the presidency.
Just look at the history, the modern Olympic Games, which were founded in 1896 in Athens, Greece was rooted in politics.
The French aristocrat Barron Pierre De Coubertin was the founder of the IOC and the games itself were set up to get French men in top physical shape to out due German men in athletic activity.
This was during the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, in which the French Empire and German States of the North German Confederation were in armed conflict.
As a result, the games were another way to settle the score and see which territory is the strongest.
From there, the Olympics were riddled with politics.
Dr. Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic athlete, now an Olympic historian and Professor of Political Science at Pacific University put it best:
“The IOC has so many political skeletons that it requires a walk-in closet. I mean it staged the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with the full awareness that Adolf Hitler the Nazis were gaining power and using it against Jewish people. It allowed Apartheid South Africa to compete in the Games until grudgingly banning the country in the face of implacable worldwide pressure. The IOC’s longtime president Juan Antonio Samaranch was an unrepentant functionary for the Franco regime in Spain.”
In addition, from the 1956 games in Melbourne to the 1988 games in Seoul, Korea, the politics of the Cold War played itself out on the world stage.
The USA and the Soviet Union were the two most dominant superpowers and were at each other’s throats over everything.
Economics, the space race, and now sports.
Some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history were by Americans and Soviets in a team and individual competitions.
Perhaps the most notable and arguably the most inspiring moment in Olympic history was the protest by the Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 games in Mexico City.
We all remember that beautiful iconic image of them raising their black-gloved fists in the air in protest against racism and of white Australian sprinter Peter Norman who stood in solidarity with them by donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights button.
Tommie and John were kicked out of the games and all three were subjected to a life of hardship, threats, and surveillance by their own governments.
The sheer irony is that now the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame this past year inducted Tommie and John and they are celebrated by many in the Olympic and Sporting establishment, yet they institute a regressive, suppressive, and oppressive policy that seeks to destroy those who choose to honor their legacy rightfully.
Some of the most tragic examples of politics being intertwined at the games was in 1972 in Munich and 1996 in Atlanta.
In 1972, 11 Israeli Athletes were slaughtered by the Palestinian terrorist group “Black September” in the Olympic Village.
In 1996, the Centennial Olympic Park was bombed by a White Supremacist terrorist during a rock concert during the games that killed 1 person and injured hundreds.
One can argue that the IOC during the recent 2012 games in London and the 2016 games in Rio, on what would have been the anniversaries of these tragedies, failed to acknowledge it in some capacity that would have been in keeping up with the Olympic ideal they claim to hold dear.
But in the spirit of so-called “neutrality”, no such recognition was given.
Evidently, this recent move came after public protests at the Pan American games by American athletes Race Imboden and Gwyn Berry in solidarity against gun violence and white supremacy.
The USOC took action to punish these courageous athletes and essentially gave off the message that if you know what is good for you, keep your mouth shut.
And let’s not forget U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe who has been a consistent force for political and social change in the before, during, and after the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Megan spoke out against the IOC and proclaimed “we will not be silent”.
And of course, we cannot ignore Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Maya Moore, Malcolm Jenkins, Serena Williams, and other athletes who have been at the forefront of social change.
It is worth noting that racial justice groups like the NAACP and Color of Change have also issued statements condemning the ruling by the IOC.
One can also make the point that some politics are acceptable while others are not.
As Dr. Boykoff points out, “Sport is politics by other means and the Olympics are no exception. It’s a certain type of politics – progressive, social-justice politics – that the IOC opposes.”
One needs to understand the history of the Olympics thoroughly and carefully and not be blinded by the pageantry and spectacle.
When doing so, one can learn that the Olympics are itself a political event where political battles, tensions, and debates are brought out to the fore.
The IOC is only interested in the politics of money and greed and not in the politics of justice and equality as many of the athletes are dedicated towards.
If there is no mistake here, the Olympic charter is about promoting peace, humanity, and human rights?
Shouldn’t they practice what they preach?