‘Olympism’ is the embodiment of a Eurocentric, racist ideology upon which various Olympic hosts draw to produce a public image addressed to the rest of the world. This has been true from the first modern Olympics to the current day. Should we let this continue?
All the Yes points:
- Historically, the Olympic Games are the product of Eurocentrism
- The institution promotes racism and social exclusion in favour of a good ‘public image’ for the host
- It sanctions and encourages ‘Islamophobic’ panics and promotes the excessive ‘securitisation’ of the globe
- Commercialisation and its consequences
- Dosen’t promote standing out from the crowd, and doing other things; that may be more important to humanity than sport.
All the No points:
- It is an honour for the host city and provides global recognition
- The host city becomes an international hotspot for business investment, develops a new ‘creative industry’ and encourages new practices of cultural consumption
- The Olympic spirit is a universal message for peace and togetherness
- It is a vital institution for the maintenance of a transnational athletic community
- It promotes a healthy lifestyle
Historically, the Olympic Games are the product of Eurocentrism
Since their modern introduction in 1896, the Olympic Games and so-called ‘Olympism’, the philosophy of the event, were permeated by exclusionist nationalist ideology disguised as a cultural event. The origin of the modern Games is usually attributed to a Frenchman, Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin (1863-1937), who was acting out of an anti-German sentiment: his inspiration to revive the Games and establish an International Olympic Committee (IOC) stemmed from his determination to hearten his French compatriots after their devastating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870). His selection of venue for the first Games, Greece, was also important: decades before de Coubertin’s initiative, the modern Greek state (an institution that was born out of the Western European political conviction that the modern Greeks are the descendants of ancient Greece, the cradle of the Olympics) supported a similar Olympic movement. The discourse of Hellenic excellence was still alive in 1896, when the Games took place in Athens, despite the country’s economic collapse and political upheavals. We forget that the very idea of ‘ancient Greece’ still figures in political debates as the birthplace of a white ‘Europe’ that has no political or cultural debt to other, non-European cultures. The Olympic legacy is embellished with the rhetoric of universal respect, solidarity and peace, but in fact is defined by multiple discriminations and human rights violations.
‘Olympism’ is the embodiment of a Eurocentric, racist ideology upon which various Olympic hosts draw to produce a public image addressed to the rest of the world. The involvement of nationalism and politics in the Olympics is as enduring as the institution itself. Notorious cases include: the American complaints about biased British Judges in the Olympic elections of 1908; the resignation of an IOC British member when, after the outbreak of the Great War, the German members of the Committee were not ousted; the refusal of Canada to allow Taiwanese athletes enter the country for the 1976 Olympics as competitors of the ‘Republic of China’.
The institution promotes racism and social exclusion in favour of a good ‘public image’ for the host
Even non-European cities tend to silence the deeply racist, exclusionist nature of the Olympic project, which supports national narratives of excellence, but leads to exclusion of the poor and socially disadvantaged. Research by the Geneva based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) shows that the effects of the Olympics involve forced evictions and displacements, and discrimination against racial minorities and homeless persons. As pointed out by Tourism Concern, the sole aim of the host city becomes ‘the creation of sports stadiums, new hotels, car parks, or pretty façades’ for Olympic tourists. In the process of doing so, whole socio-cultural groups may be ‘wiped out’ of the host state’s records. This ‘spatial cleansing’ was performed in Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, and is currently under way in Beijing and London (in preparation for 2012). Should we let this continue?the olympics are a complete idiotic waste of public money, it should be a crime!
It sanctions and encourages ‘Islamophobic’ panics and promotes the excessive ‘securitisation’ of the globe
The Munich Olympic tragedy and now 9/11 have become common denominators in discourses of state protection. They have also entered the organisation of the Olympic events, encouraging the consolidation of ‘Islamophobia’ (We may be debating what the term really means, especially in academic contexts. We do, nevertheless, witness the impact this has in terms of discrimination and hatred expressed against Muslim communities around the world) and leading to a ridiculous securitisation of the host city – a securitisation often translating into ‘Americanisation’. It is not just the host city, but also the hosting nation-state as a whole that is treated as a ‘zombie zone’ of insecurity. In tandem, global Olympic visitors are constructed as vulnerable subjects, in need for protection.
Protection by whom, however? Athen’s invitation of NATO forces to supervise security during the 2004 Olympics is a case in point: NATO accepted the Greek invitation and promised the provision of technology for airspace and maritime surveillance as well as the deployment of its chemical, biological, radiological and Nuclear Defence Battalion. For some, especially those well-disposed towards ideas propagated by the Greek Communist Party (KKE), such security arrangements operated as an excuse ‘to justify pre-emptive wars, such as those against Afganistan and Iraq, and to restrict civil rights and liberties’ (Consulate General, LA, CA, 26 June 2004). The Olympic Games become thus implicated in global power games that reproduce the idea of ‘risk’ without offering any concrete solutions except for more securitisation – and more insecurity.
The idea that we live in an insecure world is not unreasonable. If we are to treat globalisation in terms of an increasing connectivity in economic and cultural life across the world, we also have to view the ideas and realities of ‘risk’ as an issue that concerns humanity as a whole. Think about Chernobyl, whose consequences reached every corner of the planet – and then attempt comparisons with the 9/11 events: its victims were not differentiated in terms of country of origins, ethnicity, race, class or gender – they were just victims. And they are all dead or maimed. The very attack upon the symbols of American power par excellence (the Twin Towers) was enabled by the existence of global infrastructures (transport and communication systems); its symbolic impact (both as an exposure of American vulnerability and a reminder that none is safe, after, all) around the world were also amplified for the same reasons. Tragedy knows no racial, social or political boundaries.
To argue for an ‘independent state response’ to security threats of the 9/11 magnitude, especially in the context of the Olympic Games where so many lives are at stake at any given moment, is rather absurd – not least because these threats are real for all of us, irrespective of power positioning. Global cultural and economic connectivities have produced economic and political interdependencies. The need for political interconnectedness, the fostering of transnational solidarities – a united response to global threats (including that of terrorism) in short – are immediate needs. Perhaps NATO is not an answer to the fear of a new ‘Olympic’ tragedy, but we do need to encourage transnational security collaboration to counter the threats posed by a minority of terrorists.
Commercialisation and its consequences
The original ‘spirit’ of the Olympics was supposedly that of sporting competition between amateurs, who competed for the honour of doing so, and to test themselves against the best sportspeople from around the world. However, the Olympics has become ever more commercialised, high-jacked by global corporations and turned into a giant advertising hoarding. The kinds of monies and rewards potentially avaliable from excelling on the international stage has served to incentivise not only professionalisation, but also corruption and cheating, not least in the form of doping. Whatever the idealistic intentions apparent in the modern Olympics at its birth, it is now little more than an exercise in global capitalist marketing and a means for competitors to develop their celebrity profiles, which are then cashed-in for lucrative advertising and product endorsements. The professed aspirations of the Olympic movement and the grubby reality of the contemporary Olympics are now utterly opposed…
The original ‘Olympic spirit’ responded to the needs and circumstances of that bygone era! The ‘professionalisation’ of the event has also led to the improvement of athletic standards, supported new talents and consolidated the idea of a transnational athletic community that initially existed only in peoples’ imaginations. It is not injudicious to say that we need media conglomerates, global corporations and mobile capital to support athletic excellence. Only romantic fools would argue for the preservation of a ‘pure’, non-commercialised, athletic competition these days. This argument is normative (it tells us what is ‘bad’ and potentially corrupt) but not necessarily very realistic. ‘Celebrity profiles’ can also work as good role models – in fact, given that today everything is mediated through internet and TV advertising, such good role models are necessary for educating the young generations.
And there is more: it can be argued that celebrity profiling is tied to processes of democratisation. We have, of course, known of some elected politicians or candidates with a background in sports (Ventura, Coe) who mobilised their previous ‘symbolic capital’ (their global fame in sports) to built a political reputation, even gain political credence. But athletes may also use their fame just to promote a good cause. Take for example the straightforward analogy between the political debate in Austria, Belgium, Britain, and France to boycott the 2008 Olympics if China does not alter its treatment of the Tibetan minority, and the open petition that French athletes launched to Chinese President Hu, asking him to respect human rights and not ‘spoil the games’. Operating on the threshold of formal (led by elected politicians) and informal (led by the person ‘next door’-turned-celebrity) political struggles for justice, athletes may use their symbolic capital to empower oppressed socio-cultural groups better than foreign governments, which have to gauge the international consequences of a spontaneous outcry against injustices. Advertising may also become a useful means to a noble end: it certainly does not oppose the spirit of the original Olympic movement but comprises its continuation.
Dosen’t promote standing out from the crowd, and doing other things; that may be more important to humanity than sport.
As I’am going though school in year 10 at the time of the 2012 olympics living in England; I have been made to believe that all these people that are in the olympics or people my age who play sports more frequently are better, and more loved than that of people that do the sciences and the arts. I denfintly more than often have been met by repulsive tennages that have givin a well over average amount of confidence which has been supplied by sports teachers that don’t know when to stop. If we then endup with 72% of boys in a class having the upper hand in confidence, making in fun,making jokes, making their life unbearable; to a dramatic point where they ask themselves- is the one thing making them diffrent making them inferior. When we make toys about people beating other peop in brutal in sports like football or other contact sports, what are we really sparking inside the fabric of the education of young people: and are these people really more important, just of they kicked a ball into a net.
It is an honour for the host city and provides global recognition
Who would have thought that Athens, the capital of a small, insignificant state would have been given the privilege to host the event? The institution provides unknown corners of the world with the opportunity to become globally known and respected. All cities should have the right to a public voice and image.
Let us not forget that this is a long-term process that commences with the announcement of the successful bid, and proceeds with the development of a whole new ‘village’ – the symbol of urban regeneration and a source for national pride. If the Olympic symbol, emblems, anthems and motto are a celebration of universal values, the choice of the host city should be a celebration of local and national values.
It should also be seen as an urban face-lift opportunity. It is expected that the London 2012 Olympic/Paralympic Games will be the catalyst for the regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley in east London. This is an area ethnically diverse and in desperate need for development. At the moment, a great part of it is contaminated (with poor water supply and overflown with rubbish), derelict (with bad, old buildings that would rather be demolished) and neglected (its communities suffer from poverty). It is expected that over 4,000 new homes will be built for the Olympic Village, and after the event will be converted to new neighbourhoods with new local schools, community and health facilities, as well as appropriate utilities, roads, and transport infrastructure. Even a great metropolis such as London has its dark spots. Should they not be iluminated a bit?
Citizens of the host city, often uninterested in the Olympic spectacle, can end up having to foot the bill by paying extra taxes, or having their existing taxes routed away from other services.
The construction of Olympic facilities, company investment and the regeneration of areas in host cities can be very disruptive, pricing local residents and shopkeepers out of their areas. Building an Olympic site can necessitate the demolition of homes and historical places (for example, a set of allotments in east London which are hundreds of years old are being bulldozed for the sake of a walkway which will be used for ten days in 2012).
Previous Olympics have shown that Olympic resources, when the games are over, do not always benefit the host city or society. Olympic sites can become ghost towns, so characteristic of the year they were built in as to be aesthetically odd, impractical, inhospitable and unfashionable a decade later.
The host city becomes an international hotspot for business investment, develops a new ‘creative industry’ and encourages new practices of cultural consumption
New businesses are set up in host cities, and international investment flows in. The new Olympic sites operate as labour markets, where many unemployed may find a job, even if it is temporary. This can (potentially) contribute to the development of business skills, inject workforce in key sectors (tourism and leisure, media and other digital industries) and enhance the employability of the existing workforce and all those who seek employment (self-employed, freelancers or even voluntary staff). On a more collective level, it may also promote the engagement of communities and localities in the Olympic project through voluntary activities – these communities ALSO partake of the development of ‘creative industries’ tied to the Olympic Games, as they find their own unique ways to express ‘culture’ through the organisation of local events and the performance of local culture for global guests.
Olympic tourism, traditionally international in nature, generates new regimes and practices of consumption, as well as new creative industries (that trade in mascots, Olympic images and rituals, music, audio-visual products etc…), which generously contribute to the host city’s international profile. Especially Olympic consumption practices (from collecting souvenirs, to photographing host places and cultures, to attending the athletic events ‘on location’, all well-established rituals of ‘participatory observation’) should be considered as a creative process that enriches our global ‘travelling cultures’. Otherwise put, every person who decides to visit and ‘consume’ the culture of the Olympic ‘hosts’ is a tourist who produces their own version of this culture and place – a version that survives and further develops in the narratives, images and objects they take back ‘home’. This global circulation of national cultures (and of their local versions) is constitutive of the ‘cosmopolitanisation’ of taste (what we can consider as the ‘aesthetics’ of cosmopolitanism).
Contractors in the new Olympic sites partake in the abuse of social rights: these grand Olympic employers are notorious for their tendency to ‘hide under the carpet’ the exploitation of contractual workers and the endangerment of human lives. A BBC radio programme revealed in 2003-4 that Olympic construction sites in Greece had very poor safety standards. The official number of work-related deaths was 14 – though it is rumoured that they were in fact as high as 40. The general secretary of the Greek Construction Workers’ Union explained that those who complained about the poor working conditions and the absence of health and safety rules were likely to be sacked. This is just an example of what generally happens in Olympic villages ‘under construction’: they offer temporary work – and who else would be forced to take them up if not the poor and the migrants?
Olympic tourism simply extends this vicious circle, whereby socio-culturally excluded groups, seeking a way out of poverty, are attracted by job opportunities related to the Games, only to be pushed thus further down the social ladder. For example, experience has shown that the trafficking, exploitation and physical abuse of sex workers (to cater for the visitors’ demands) intensifies before and during the Games. The host city/country will not do much to regulate the booming sex industry for obvious (profit-making) reasons. There is no doubt that sex workers have to be recognised as legitimate workers, professionals like anyone else – but this has to be done by citizens and authorities alike in an organised, just manner.
The emergent creative industries of the Games can become communicators of nationalist symbols and rituals that endorse one-dimensional visions of the world. The messages of creative industries can easily erase social and ethnic difference, or glorify it: for example, marginal identities within the nation-state may figure in the televised opening and closing ceremonies as picturesque exhibits for the ‘tourist gaze’, rather than cultural forms habitually rejected in everyday national life.
Let us not focus exclusively on Olympic products (mascots and other paraphernalia): who actually sells them ‘on location’, if not temporary workers? Who stands at the reception desk of your hotel, if not the middle-aged man who tries to top-up his pension? Who cleans your room, if not the migrant woman with the deepening wrinkles and the tired smile? This is the type of business the Olympics support. If you ever visit a country during the Games, take a long and hard look around you to see who does what in terms of provision of tourist services: it will, most likely, ruin your holidays for good.
The Olympic spirit is a universal message for peace and togetherness
The Olympic Charter talks about the ‘establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity’. Should we just erase this message from the history of humanity?
Athletes dedicate the best part of their lives to this ideal, by constantly improving their performance. Individual performance stands here for ‘celebration of collective values’ – including that of fair competition. Individual athletes represent whole nations – their competing (from the Latin, cum-together and peto-search) actualises transnational togetherness and the search for commonality and global cooperation.
In two instances, we can see messages of peace and togetherness. First, in the 1936 games in Berlin, Adolph Hitler notoriously refused to honor the accolades of African-American runner Jesse Owens. While the leader of a military state refused, a German athlete trumped the chancellors negative message with a positive message of peace and togetherness. German Lutz Long offered Owens advice that eventually cost Long the gold medal and propelled Owens to the top.
Next, Germany was obviously divided into West and East Germany. At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the two came together to compete. This was a significant mark. Although divided in leadership and ideology, two bickering nations can coincide in peace and harmony.
Above all, the Olympic spirit is a beacon of hope. Countless times the games have instilled hope and togetherness in many. In a world of growing animosity, it is encouraging to see a sense of peace and togetherness gather every four years.
The Olympic charter’s call for a ‘peaceful society’ and the ‘preservation of human dignity’ is a very noble one, but its means are rather odd. Through fierce athletic competition between nations (and it could be argued races), individual rivalries between athletes, who, training for 75% of their waking life, probably play a very little role in their society anyway.
The Olympics is an arena for individual achievement: however, if someone is to win a race, others must lose. Emphasis is not placed on athletes improving their personal best but on who wins.
Having many nations come together shows worldwide solidarity, but it is a strange sort of solidarity, nations united by their athletes in lycra and branded shoes. The cultures of nations are shown by little more than flag waving and the appearance of their mascots.
It is a vital institution for the maintenance of a transnational athletic community
It brings together various national ‘teams’ and sends a message in support of athletic excellence that transcends ‘colour’ and ethnicity and promotes professional collegiality.
It certainly brings together national teams – but only to facilitate competition! To place the right emphasis, it ONLY brings together NATIONAL teams, turning athletic competition into a form of state-sponsored competition. Athletes are not treated as individuals, but representatives of a national culture.
Not all Olympic athletes are ready to congratulate their ‘peers’ when they lose – and accusations of playing ‘unfair games’ are not unheard of in these cases.
It promotes a healthy lifestyle
The athletes competing in the olympic games have worked hard for years, showing dedication to achieving physical greatness. They keep to a strict diet, and put in hundreds of hours training in a week, all for the honour of competing against the best athletes in the world. Those that are caught cheating are dealt with harshly, which teaches against honesty and dedication to one’s dreams.