Stop the Olympic Games
Last updated: March 2, 2017
‘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?
Historically, the Olympic Games are the product of Eurocentrism
‘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
It sanctions and encourages 'Islamophobic' panics and promotes the excessive 'securitisation' of the globe
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.
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
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.
It is an honour for the host city and provides global recognition
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?
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
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).
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
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 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
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.