The Olympics – political games?

In ancient Greece, when the Olympic Games were running, weapons were silenced. Wars were put on hold. This is not something that we can observe anymore. The political implications of the Olympics are becoming ever more complex, but they do not appear to approximate the world in a more peaceful condition. In Rio, we encounter a ‘refugee team’ for the first time. A significant number of Russian athletes have been excluded due to notorious and state-induced doping. All Russian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympics. But Russia, though probably among the worst, are not the only dopers.

In previous years, some countries abstained from participating in Olympics organized by other states, due to political misbehavior or just inconvenience (Taiwan was excluded from the Montreal Games in 1976; the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984). The Berlin Games in 1936 were not boycotted. There were protests against the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games, due to human rights issues, but no boycotts. The Olympics have also attracted terrorist attacks (a Palestinian commando killed Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich) and during the Games in Mexico (1968), black power symbols were put on display.

So what is the role of the Olympics now? Should we stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone? Or should we accept the unavoidable, and let politics impact the Games?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 3 years ago

    If we want to keep the Olympic spirit, we all must agree that the Games are a politics-free zone. The problem is not that politics are now influencing Olympics, but that we do not believe anymore in the bureaucracy that runs the Games. Clear and transparent procedures must ensure that only the strongest win; these are substituted by rumors about cheated victories and double standards. All this poisons the beautiful games. If politicians are arguing for better governance, better political systems, why it is so difficult to ensure a fair play at the Olympics?
    If there are cheated victories or unfair exclusions of strong athletes from competition, what is the real price of these gold medals that make athletes rich after the Games? Or if the athletes are materially rewarded in their countries for the cheated victories even if the Games system permits this, why are we then arguing for the Games being a corruption free zone? If politicians and bureaucrats cannot ensure a fair play for just a few athletes, what should ordinary citizens expect from politics?

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  2. Sergei Medvedev 3 years ago

    From its inception on the eve of World War I, at the dawn of the age of imperialism and revolution, the Olympics have never been a politics-free zone, and Pierre de Coubertin’s idealism was illusory and misguided. Indeed, all through the 20th century, the Olympic games were increasingly politicized and securitized, generating scandals, boycotts, large-scale corruption and mismanagement and, sadly, terrorist acts. In the course of the century, they have become pageants of sovereignty and national ambition, a replacement for, and a reflection of, geopolitics and war.

    In each era, they have followed the dominant political conflict – Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 30s, the Cold War from the 1950s to the 1980s, decolonization from the 1960s onwards, the Middle East conflict from 1972… Now, they follow the dividing lines of Putin’s “hybrid warfare” and the cultural cleavages between the West and Islam, with striking images of beach volleyball in Rio: bikini vs. burkini.

    And yet, despite the media hype, corruption charges and doping allegations, there is no better place for the global humanity to come together and communicate, to recognize and rethink cultural and political difference, to celebrate the human body and the very fact of our common humanity. A world without the Olympics would be a much sadder and darker place.

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  3. Andrey Makarychev 3 years ago

    Sports mega events became a political issue basically for those regimes that attach high symbolic and normative value to sports as a playground for national consolidation. Russia is definitely one of them. The thing is that Putin became a victim of his own intentional politicization of sport and its consistent elevation to the top of Russia's symbolic order. Putin's mythology appears dysfunctional without the triumphant Sochi Olympic story and the biopolitical cult of the healthy body. This explains why the doping revelations are so sensitive for the mainstream discourse: They not only put the Russian government in an uncomfortable defensive position, but deconstruct a major element of Putin's symbolic edifice.

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  4. Justas Paleckis 3 years ago

    Unfortunately, there is no chance to make the Olympics a politics-free zone. The normal rhythm of the modern Olympic Games during the last 120 years was twice interrupted by World Wars. This time Rio was still lucky, that for the time being there are no very big wars. But no one seriously considered the proposal to introduce a certain period of truce in Syria, in Ukraine for the period of Olympic Games. When athletes competed in Rio, fortunately, no new war started (as was the case in Beijing during the Olympics). And politicizing the Olympics, as well as other popular sports world championships, is becoming more and more fashionable. In the future, this trend will be even stronger - if not the third break in the history of the modern Olympiads occurs again.

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  1. Arseniy Frolov 3 years ago

    Before declaring the Olympics a politics-free zone we should ask whether the Olympics has ever been non-political?
    As it was mentioned, throughout the history of the Games revived by Pierre de Coubertin they were followed by political scandals and conflicts. Moreover, there is no point in proclaming the Games a politics-free zone, as from the very beginning they were revived to serve one "political" purpose - to unite Europe.
    I wounder whether it is possible in present to revive the Olympic Games in the form they had during the Ancient Greece. The Olympic Games were at the center of the Greek culture: they were basis for calendar, and they were untended to "stop the flow of time" (that is why all wars were suspended during the Games). By winning, an athlete gained immortality and eternal glory.
    The Games used to be the pinnacle and reflection of the Greek life.

    The present-time Games are the reflection of ours.

    Arseniy Frolov
    GSR Alumni 2015

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  2. Mathias J. Jongkor 3 years ago

    As we know the notion of international Olympic Game, whether winter Olympic or summer Olympic Game around the world should be non-political. Becuase it will bring states together to compete in different varieties of sports and entertain the international community and put the politics aside. Naturally, during the events all conflict around the world must cease or hold as Prof. Klaus Sabers in his statement. The United Nations resolution calls for hostilities during the period of the Olympic Game. Surprisingly, this year, the International Olympic committee has allowed refugee teams to paly under the name of refugees and funded by the UN. Despite the fact that some states take advantage of Olympic Game to utilize the political purpose. In Rio, the security level is very high and alert. But the good thing is that the modern Olympic Game has covered all over the world allowing the champions achievements alive and the athletes have to accept the defeat in the spirit of democracy and entertainment the international community.

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  3. worldklaus 3 years ago

    I believe that with the Nazi Olympic Games in 1936 in Munich, the Olympic spirit was lost and the event became a global commercial enterprise, managed be a corrupt group of IOC officials. Since the 1936 Munich games the Olympic spirit exists just as “story” which is marketed to increase revenues. At times, there have been certainly global politics at play, but the driving force behind the decisions was always the IOC’s termination to make the Olympic games a commercial success. I believe that the public in many democratic states will oppose hosting future Olympic Games, as the games are not seen any longer to benefit the host country and I do not believe that income inequality in Brazil is now not less, than it was before the games. Autocratic leaders will continue to exploit the Olympic Games for propaganda purposes, which also happened for the 1936 Munich games. Because of its Global presents the Olympic Games can not be a politic free zone, but the importance of the Olympics in comparison with other global events will diminish further.

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  4. Razan 3 years ago

    Nowadays, it seems impossible to seperate different international events from the political sphere. The idea of athletes coming from different backgrounds and cultures, which are already shaped by the political situations, makes it even harder to pretened that the Olympics or other international events politics-free zone. Moreover, globalization is playing a huge role in promoting and spreading the messages for human rights, which in turn would differently shed the lights on these events and push towards individual or collectivist acts against or pro a specific case.

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  5. CHEN Hengzheng 2 years ago

    For me, the Olympics literally mean a great international sport event, attracting attentions from audience around the world; in essence the Olympics stand for a precious spirit, to fight and win, encouragement for human kind. Considering what the Olympics can bring, I would like to take the Beijing Olympics Games for an example just because its deep impression on me. Though during the preparation, government regulated the city strictly and caused kinds of inconvenience to local residents. Besides, people benefited a lot from it and Beijing really got renewed. In order to make Beijing capable to host the event and serve visitors from worldwide, urban infrastructure improved in an incredible way and provided a lot of job opportunities. If we still believe in sport spirit and regard fairness as a treasure, we’re supposed to stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone. Down to earth, it’s undeniable that nowadays the Olympics are affected by political factors. To avoid this or to reduce familiar incident, transparency is needed, admission to attend the Olympics should be determined by the Olympic organizing committee. In the race, fair judgement is also required. The primary problem is the government grasp too much power, sometimes handle matters roughly. As far as I am concerned, maybe it’s a good way to arouse awareness to have restrictions on government by public opinion

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