The corporate Olympics hardly seem worth the time and effort to watch these days; and I’m not sure that it ever was. With apologies to the “clean” athletes, following millionaire doped-up athletes flying corporate banners in pursuit of victory at any cost is rather a contradictory pastime for progressives. A lack of sportsmanship and the emphasis on competition among countries stirs up fervent patriotism and arguably serves as a springboard for the jingoistic fervor that sees citizens of one country cheering the violent attack of another country. For George Orwell, sport was “war minus the shooting.” Indeed, the original Olympic events and athletes likeliest had their genesis in war and as agents of war (see John Keegan, A History of Warfare, Vintage Canada, 1994, p 246-252).
As the gymnastics scoring shenanigans mentioned in Richard Oxman’s article, The Fall: Olympics (Opiate)/People Power, indicate, the system is corrupt, and encapsulates on a smaller scale the world’s capitalistic system. Importantly, Oxman notes the impact people power can have. A burst of spectator power moved the gymnastics judges to ever-so-slightly ameliorate one competitor’s undeservedly low score but to negligible overall effect. Just like the unsustained demonstrations of the anti-war “focus groups” on 15-16 February 2003, ultimately the guardians of the system prevailed. The important lesson to be gathered from this is that elites are willing to accept an acute bout of large-scale dissent; therefore, protest must not only be massive but enduring.
That people derive pleasure from watching sport is, in itself, innocuous but the showcase sporting event serves other ends. Besides being a cash cow for certain elite figures, the corporate Olympics function both as a huge propaganda machine for capitalism and a huge distraction.
Olympic stories of noteworthiness are often buried, marginalized, or twisted. Witness the regard for athletes who are guided by moral principles. Iranian double world judo champion Arash Mirismaili refused to compete against his Israeli opponent out of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people. Such dedication to principle over the selfish individual pursuit of gold seems to epitomize an athlete that people can openly admire. Now the sporting authorities are considering punishment of this morally-principled athlete.
It is nothing new to the Olympics. It was not so long ago that two American sprinters incurred the enmity of Olympic officialdom for observing their principles. At the 1968 Mexico games, 200 meters gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos stood up publicly, in a big way, for civil rights on the medal podium. For their peaceful black power salute they were both suspended and whisked out of the Mexican Olympic Village.
While much of the world is fixated on the Olympics, US-backed Zionist forces are ethnically cleansing Palestine and US occupation forces with Iraqi quislings are mounting an assault on a Muslim holy center in Najaf. Many civilians are being killed but US officials have made clear on various occasions that such numbers are unimportant to them. Egregiously enough one US military officer expressed particular concern for the mosque; the inescapable logic was: buildings over people. This is hardly surprising given the obvious insignificance of Iraqi life in comparison to Iraqi oil.
The Olympics is instead eyed as a propaganda tool by US politicos. When the word spread that George Bush was set to appear at an Iraqi soccer match, the Iraqi players were reportedly miffed. Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir was quoted as saying: “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. He can find another way to advertise himself."
Another midfielder, Ahmed Manajid, asked, “How will [Bush] meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?”
One can’t help but wonder how it feels to don the uniform of a nation that is slaughtering Haitians, Iraqis, Palestinians and other nationalities? How can one possibly feel national pride under such circumstances?
Certainly it is not to be suggested that life grind to a halt everywhere because of evil imperialism in the world. Sport has its place in society and people need to consider what that place should be. A question prods, especially for progressives: How can one reconcile the profit-driven participation of their nation in spilling the blood of others with the participation of their nation’s athletes in the capitalistic sport spectacle known as the Olympics?
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Other Recent Articles by Kim Petersen
Futility of Revolving Warmonger Regimes
* The Progressive Paradox: Defining Viability
* The Shame
* The Wrong Direction
* The Pornography of War
Fairy Tale of Liberation