Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Politics of the Olympic Spirit

The Olympics are back...so let the medal counting begin. I know people have strong opinions about the role and scope of the Olympics and I'm waiting to hear therm. I've heard the argument that the Olympics are just another forum to perpetuate international rivalries, increase national pride and justify higher military spending. On the other hand, I think many consider the Olympics an event that unites the world under the umbrella of sport and does nothing more than showcase the planet's greatest athletes.

For me the Olympics are a melange of NBC feel-good stories and something exciting to do at work (toggle between live streaming videos). However, I can't deny the politics that contribute to the controversy (and mystique) of the Games. After the USA men's basketball team lost to the Soviets in 1988, the U.S. responded with a campaign to allow professional basketball players - the much famed original Dream Team - in order to assure that they would never lose again. Much of this motivation was not rooted in the teams loss, per se, but that the loss came against the mighty Soviets. (The controversial gold medal loss earlier in 1972 only fueled the fire).

In Athens, Arash Miresmaeili of Iran will not be participating in the Judo events because he was paired with an Israeli for his first match. (Arash carried the Iranian flag into the Opening Ceremonies).

The governments of Russia, China, the U.S. - and I assume other countries, although I'm not sure - all offer direct monetary rewards for medaling. For instance in Russia a gold medal will earn you $50,000 (at least in the Winter Games). The average monthly income is just under $200/mo. These countries obviously place great weight on high medal counts. I'm just curious how interested these governments are in patting their athletic programs on the back vs. promoting an image of international dominance.

What do you all think about the political implications of the Olympics? Is it right for a 1980 semifinal upset in hockey to feed America's anti-Communist sentiment? Where is the border between the celebration of athletic success and the promotion of political agendas? President Bush's latest campaign advertisement makes reference to the Iraqi national soccer team and says that, thanks to President Bush, another free nation has joined the Olympics. Is this okay? Should hockey and soccer be tools for Cold War politics and the War on Terror? Obviously I'm a little concerned and I want to hear what you have to say about it.


At 8/18/2004 01:05:00 PM,

My problem with the Olyimpcis is the same problem I have with the Yankees. Janelle gets mad at me for this, but I'm almost unable to root for the USA on grounds that they are the big bad powerhouse with the most money. Of course we're going to win a lot of medals, we have the money to waste time traning for things like equestrian and synchronized swimming.

Last night, though, I caught Janelle falling into my view of things. She said (about the Women's gymnastics finals): "I hope we don't win this one, because that's all those Romanians have." I'm willing to bet that the order of the medal count will closely follow the order of worldwide GNP. (This'll soon change, but look at the difference in India's and China's delegation size for an example) So, if were looking for the greatest athletes in the world, I don't think the olyimpics have it. Maybe they have the greatest athletes in the world who can afford to be athletes.

On a side note, why do those gymnasts have to dance? Can't they do flips and twirls without music? I mean, nobody says, "wow, her dance steps on that floor routine were amazing."

At 8/18/2004 01:20:00 PM,

Oh yeah, here's what I was initially going to post on before I began my liberal rant about economic inequality.

I heard on NPR that American athletes were specifically requested to shy away from ostentatious victory celebrations. Here's a piece of the news report:

"A surge in anti-American sentiment around the world, fueled by opposition to the war in Iraq, has forced the U.S. Olympic Committee to give its athletes a very different kind of coaching in a run-up to the Athens Games, which begin Friday with Opening Ceremonies. A series of informal meetings focusing on sportsmanship and decorum were designed to help U.S. Olympians soften their image while thickening their skins in the face of expected hostile crowds."

The sad thing is I'm not sure who I'd worry about more representing America abroad--a group of hairless guys in speedos and aneroxic pre-teens in leotards, or our suit-wearing cowboy from Texas, Mr. Bush.

At 8/18/2004 01:43:00 PM,

Ok, several things in response to Chris' posts before I actually post my feelings on the Olympics. (In no particular order)
1. I also like the flips and twirls but they have music bc the dance moves ARE a judged part of the program. If you can't dance you don't get a high score.

2. I don't root for the US bc I don't view the Olympics as a country vs. country situation. I root for individual athletes. (by the way, Pieter van den Hoogenbond is the best name in history)

3. We don't have the greatest atheltes in the world bc we have the most money. A majority of our athletes work menial jobs at Home Depot or places like that, or play professional abroad. (as in water polo, which is actually a major sport in Europe). The train hard bc that's what they choose to do. They aren't rich and they probably never will be. I admire the fact that they give up, or at least postpone, whatever normal everyday thing they were going to do so that they can put in time training.

Getting back to the original post, I think that is the key point. The difference between the US, Australia, etc and the smaller, poorer countries is that we HAVE those jobs to work WHILE we train. In other countries, they dedicate themselves to a sport bc it is a way to a better life, whether it be endorsements that may come or the money from the government for winning a medal.

I guess what I'm saying is we don't "waste" money trainig for events bc we have the most money. MOst of our athletes work hard and pay their own way bc they have a passion for what they do. (I'm excluding the basketball team and any of the other rich spoiled babies who don't know what the real world is like)

4. As for the toning down of celebrations, I'm all for it. I'm tired of Americans entering a public arena and acting like morons.

At 8/25/2004 02:09:00 PM,

I don't mean to imply that b/c we are a rich country, we give our athletes money in a way that allows them to do nothing but train. I realize that a lot of them work hard for little cash at places like Home Depot. (who should pay all the 126 medal winner employees at least something for their commercials).

What I wanted to say was that indirect factors related to GNP that DO help the US (and other 1st world countires) be more competitive. First, where in the US our athletes can find jobs that pay sustainable wages and also allow them time to train. I think many would be athletes in the 3rd world are relegated to working so hard for so little that training isn't really an option. Survival is the only option. Second, enough surplus wealth is around that our olympic committee can use it for things like top-rung coaches and training facilities. Some sports, like equestrian for example, aren't even an option for poor people.

Though I don't believe that we win because we are rich, I do believe that b/c our economy allows us relativly more leisure time, better training facilities, effect coaches, access to high school/college sports programs, etc. we have a better shot at "the gold."




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