Olympics = Politics + Protest (Get Over It)

Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

I chuckle at the quadrennial debate regarding the link between Olympics and politics. The most recent reverberations were sparked by those who feel China should not be hosting the Olympics. They cite human-rights transgressions as the cause, and they cite Tibet. And have used the recently begun Olympic torch relay as their stage.

The protests in London earlier this week caused consternation on our shores, where the torch has arrived and was carried through the streets of San Francisco today. Things were thankfully peaceful, as city officials kept everyone guessing as to which way the torch would move and, in the end, canceled a scheduled rally.

The images have stirred the usual debate about whether politics belongs in the Olympics.

Of course they do. The Olympics are political. And there may be no more appropriate stage for people who live in a free-speaking society to air their grievances.

The Olympics are political because the athletes are competing for their home nations, because the victors are serenaded with their national anthem, because the medal-count is tallied according to nation.

The Olympics are political because they have always been used not only to showcase athletic brilliance but as a platform for national pride – in all its forms, ugly or not.

The Olympics are political because we learn much of what we know about other nations from tales told by the athletes, or even by simply seeing the smaller nations pridefully march their flag around the Olympic standium during the opening ceremonies with only a handful of participants.

The Olympics are political, and were so even before allowing Adolf Hitler to host the Games, and attempt to use them to proclaim dominance of the Aryian race. (Though it kinda blew up in his mustached face.)

The Olympics are political because The Soviet Union and the U.S. for many years used it as our own private arena to determine which nation was most mighty.

The Olympics are political because individuals – athletes – have felt so moved by its aura to  risk their own well being by using the Olympics to convey their own frustrations and views about their homes.

The Olympics are political because we should never forget the nine Israeli athletes who died after being taken hostage in 1972. Nor should we forget Alice Hawthorne and Melih Uzunyol, who died from from the bombing of the Olympic park in Atlanta in 1996.

Beijing is going to be a mess, something Olympic officials should have known since even before it awarding the 2008 Games to the controversial nation. But they will go on, and we will continue to learn more about that nation, its good and evils.

And, as almost always, our hope is that we become better for it, that we become smarter (Did you know what Tibet’s flag look like before this week?). That we become more caring and more compassionate. And that we try to right the ills that we might not ever know of had not the Olympics been so, well, political.

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