The Olympics and politics

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On the eve of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing there is a lot of talk about China, politics and sport. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Chinese regime tell us that the Olympics are neutral and only about sport, not politics. But a look back in time tells us something different.

In fact many Olympiads have been surrounded by political controversy: Berlin 1936, Munich 1972, Mexico City 1968, Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 to name just a few. But perhaps the most politically overt statement made at an Olympic Games was when American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the Black Power salute on the medal podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. This was an anti racist and pro civil rights protest.

Smith had won the 200 metre race, with Australia’s Peter Norman coming second, Carlos came in third. When the three went to collect their medals at the podium the two American athletes (who were influenced by the Black Panthers) wore a single black glove and received their medals shoeless. This was to symbolise black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride and Carlos wore beads. All three athletes also wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges.

What is less known is that Norman not only donned the badge but he also suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute. When asked about his support of Smith and Carlos’ protest, Norman said he supported their cause and also opposed his own government’s White Australia policy.

The picture of the three on the podium with Smith and Carlos giving the salute with their heads bowed made front page news around the world. Subsequently the IOC ordered that Smith and Carlos be suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic Village. This led to the two athletes being expelled from the Games.

Smith and Carlos were ostracised by the US sporting establishment in the following years and were attacked in the media. Australia’s Olympic authorities reprimanded Norman and he was also ostracised by the press. Despite Norman running qualifying times for both the 100m and 200m during 1971 and 1972 the Australian Olympic track team did not send him to the 1972 Olympics. The Australian Olympic authorities also attempted to exclude Norman from the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney.

The fact that Smith, Carlos and Norman were all punished by the authorities for their views only proves that the Olympics are not at all ‘neutral’. The IOC is in fact very political. It is just that they represent the views of the establishment, the big business sponsors and the host country.

The Olympics have always been a reflection of the political situation. That is why the issues surrounding Tibet, human rights abuses and worker exploitation in China can not be separated from the 2008 Olympic Games.

By SP reporters