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Power, Politics and the Olympics

by Cathy Pollak
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olympicflagHave you ever called someone you knew to ask a simple question and before you know it you are having a full-fledged discussion about everything that's wrong with the world.

This happened to me when I phoned someone to ask a simple question about "paint" and in polite conversation asked if they had been enjoying the Olympic Games, as I have.

Oh holy hell.

The person I was speaking with said they absolutely DO NOT watch the Games because the Games are shaped by politics.

Oops, I knew our light-hearted discussion was over at this point.

I guess it's obvious politics and not sport dominate the Olympic events. But if you've ever spoken to someone who feels VERY strongly about this, ummm, look out.

So we had a huge discussion about everything wrong with the Olympics for the past, I don't know 100 years.

I was just calling to ask about some paint colors but instead we went for the gold...

1906, Athens

An Irishman is forced to compete under Great Britain's flag due to Ireland's lack of an Olympic Committee. He protests during his medal ceremony by climbing the flagpole and waving the Irish Flag.

jesseowensberlinolympics19361936, Berlin

Hitler was upstaged by black U.S. Track Star Jesse Owens who won four gold medals. This was the Olympics Hitler was trying to turn into a Nazi propaganda show showing superiority of the Aryan race and was embarrassed by the outcomes of the black athletes winning so many medals.

1948, London

Germany and Japan are not included because of WWII.

1968, Mexico City

The Black Power salute by two American athletes during their medal ceremony as a protest against racism. They were sent home.

1972, Munich

The killing of the Israeli athletes by the Arab group known as Black September.

The list goes on and on and includes boycotts in Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles. Yes, the Olympics are riddled with controversy. I just hadn't come across someone with so much knowledge about them and with such a strong opinion for not watching them.

I guess when I watch the Games I don't put that much gumption into the history that gets us to Beijing today. I enjoy the competition, I even enjoy the patriotism to one's country.

olympicceremonyLet's face it, nationalism at the Olympics begins the moment athletes take the field during the opening ceremonies behind their country's flag. It perpetuates when flags are raised during medal ceremonies.

I feel like I cry with every athlete during their anthem. I'm happy for them. I think most people are. I really don't think about politics right then. Should I be?

Are the Olympics, at best, government arranged spectacles made possible by politicians from independent nations wanting the world's media to come and see their newly renovated Olympic city?

At their worst, do the Olympics allow totalitarian governments to appear as if they are enlightened components of the international community while on the world's stage?

I have no idea.

I never really thought about it so much until yesterday. It's possible nationalistic passions fueled by international and ideological contention can and do become the focus of the Games.

I just know I love watching the Games. I always have. I know my boys love watching the Games too.

And yesterday when the hooligans and I were doing our own Olympic racing in the pool, we were all very happy.

I'm not sure it's possible to keep politics out of the Olympics. I'm not sure if the idea of One World, One Dream is even a possibility.

Doesn't the Olympic's political role help in the pursuit of world peace?

 

Cathy owns a vineyard and winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  She is a food writer for Davis Life Magazine and blogs daily about wine, food and everyday living.  She lives with her husband and two sons.  You can visit her at noblepig.com.

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