Just Another Arena?
The Olympic Games are considered as the Greatest Show on Earth. However, it may be said that this leading International Sporting Event, somehow, turned into a platform to exhibit political might in the 20th Century. The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics (July 23 – August 8, 2021) were no exception to this. In the Japanese capital, players of four football teams knelt down before their respective matches to protest against Racism, athletes from Australia and New Zealand marched at the Opening Ceremony with tribal flags, along with the Union Jack, and women’s teams of various countries condemned Gender Inequality… these developments proved that it was not just a sporting event. Each and every initiative made a strong statement or exhibited enmity against social evils. In fact, it would be an understatement to call this oldest sporting event socially-connected. Instead, Olympic Games are an essential part of Socio-Political life. While the Olympics are a platform for some people to stage protests, the mighty rulers use this opportunity to show their glory!
One may recall the 1936 Berlin Olympics that were organised by then Nazi Germany. The host nation had used the event to showcase the superiority of Aryan blood. It may be noted that not a single non-German (i.e. Jewish) athlete secured a place in the German team. Moreover, the spectators had greeted Germany’s medal-winning athletes by outstretching their arms in Nazi style. When James Cleveland ‘Jesse’ Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) – an American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games – won medals in Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 – April 30, 1945) refused to shake hands with him. It was the Führer who introduced the tradition of carrying the Olympic torch from Greece as a pioneer of the Aryan civilisation. The torch was first used at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. The modern torches of the Summer and Winter Olympics are built to resist the effects of wind and rain, as they carry the Olympic flame, and bear unique designs that represent the host nation and the spirit of the Games.
Victories and defeats in Olympic Games were not limited to sports during the Cold War. Instead, those were considered as a struggle between the Free World and the Socialist World. The US did not allow its athletes to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The erstwhile Soviet Union, too, did not take part in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. When the Global Community recognised the economic growth of Developing Nations in the 21st Century; China, Russia and Brazil also got an opportunity to host the Olympics. In 2021, it was Tokyo’s turn to carry forward the tradition.
The influence of Politics on Sports is inevitable, especially when it becomes an important part of the entertainment business and economy. However, there is a difference between influence and control. It is condemnable if a Sports Event is conducted on the basis of a Political Plan, and it has happened repeatedly in the case of modern Olympics. Former American heptathlete Jane Wardell Frederick had been one of the many 1980 US Olympic Team athletes, who were denied fulfilling a lifetime dream of participating in the Olympics. When the then US President Jimmy Carter made an Executive Decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Games, Frederick reportedly said: “President Carter crossed the line of letting Politics dictate how Olympic competition would unfold for generations to come… for as America used its influence to keep many countries and their Olympians from the Western Bloc from attending the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.” She added: “So did the USSR do in boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games… keeping thousands of Eastern Bloc countries’ athletes from fulfilling their dreams… as the worst ticks (blood suckers) are politics.” It may be noted that Frederick set the first official world record in the women’s heptathlon by gaining a total number of 6104 points on April 24, 1981 at the Mt SAC Relays in Walnut, California.
Notably, China has won an unprecedented number of Olympic medals over the past decade and a half, but the names of famous Chinese athletes are not widely known. It is heard that China produces athletes in an inhumane environment. Therefore, the credit goes to the State in the end, and individual success or talent becomes irrelevant.
Since 2014, the Ruling Party in India has been encouraging various athletes to join Politics. Following the announcement of the venue for the 2020 Olympics, the main theme of the Japanese initiatives to host the event was the revival of the nation, rather than the advancement of sports.
Perhaps, the time has come for the Global Community to understand the difference between Show and Exhibition.
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