Sydney celebrated the end of the Olympics with a flourish the other night, something I think was truly appropriate considering that anyone with a brain should be overjoyed to see the Summer Olympic Games are over for another four years. I had hoped that the fall of the Iron Curtain a decade ago would have purged politics from the Olympic movement, but I failed to underestimate the tenacity of the political classes and their media allies.
The Olympics supposedly celebrate athletic competition, and when they actually do that, they are a wonder to behold. However, once again the Olympic Games ultimately have become a celebration of statism, and for that, I would be just as happy for the modern Olympics to face the same fate as their ancient counterpart did in the Fourth Century, A.D.
I say these things having had numerous friends making Olympic teams. (My daughter’s former boyfriend from college took fifth in the decathlon at Sydney, and I kept up with his progress on an hourly basis through the Internet.) My comments are not made to cast aspersions upon their accomplishments, nor do I have any criticism of international athletic competition per se.
However, that being said, my objections to the Olympic Games are based upon the fact that the political classes will always find a way to use the games as a vehicle not to promote the individual, but rather growth of the state. The results, as one can imagine, have been quite ugly.
Perhaps the single worst assault upon the games and their supposed ideals came at Munich in 1972 when members of a Palestinian resistance group broke into the Israeli living quarters in the Olympic village. Before the carnage was through that night, 13 Israeli athletes and a number of the perpetrators died.
As an athlete who has competed against Olympians, I saw the attack as nothing short of state-sponsored murder. To make matters worse, members of the East German team guided the Palestinians to their victims by. There is no doubt that this outrage was organized at the highest levels of communist-bloc governments.
(Understand that I don’t see the communists or Palestinians as the only purveyors of state-sponsored murder. I see no difference in killing athletes at the Olympic Games in order to make political statements and killing Serbian civilians with bombs on Orthodox Easter, as was done by the United States in 1998.)
By the late 1980s, many others and I found us to be weary of the nationalistic fervor of the East-West struggle being carried out in Olympic competition. Even the “Miracle on Ice” at the Winter Olympics in 1980 at Lake Placid, New York, in which the American ice hockey team defeated the heavily-favored Soviet Union team, was made into something that it wasn’t: proof that the “American System” was superior to that of the U.S.S.R.
The fall of communism in 1989-1990 also brought a welcome end to the East-West childishness in athletic competition. However, undaunted by the loss of communism, the political classes have substituted other crass forms of politics for the void left by the downing of the Iron Curtain.
First to be emphasized in this new political age was the organization of the individual games themselves. The International Olympic Committee has decreed that future Olympics must be socialistic enterprises. The 1984 and 1996 games, held in Los Angeles and Atlanta, respectively, had large amounts of corporate sponsorship. Furthermore, the Atlanta games also took the air of a street festival as merchants set up stalls to sell their own Olympic goods.
To the socialistic Europeans who dominate the IOC, this was even more horrible than Hitler’s obscene extravaganza of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. To people who see small businesses and their proprietors as little more than nuisances, the presence of large numbers of black Americans who made up most of the merchants unnerved the Europeans. In fact, the very dominance of private enterprise in Atlanta was proof to the IOC members that “obscene” capitalism should not be part of the Olympic Movement.
The Sydney Olympics was run and financed by the various governments of Australia, and Athens, Greece, host of the 2004 Games, will follow suit. In fact, it is doubtful that the Summer Olympics will again be held in a U.S. city because it is unlikely that taxpayers will be willing to impose the burdens upon themselves that the games will require.
Of course, the political classes do not stop with turning the Olympics into pure socialist enterprises. They have also injected Political Correctness into the games with a vengeance. Take Cathy Freeman, for example. A descendant of one of the aboriginal tribes that inhabited Australia before the coming of the British, Freeman is a first-rate 400-meter runner and a genuine national sports hero.
However, the media turned her 400 victory into one display after another of P.C., something that I believe ultimately cheapened her hard-fought win. It was as though cheering for Freeman and allowing her to light the Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremonies would somehow atone for how Australians had treated the aborigines. (They received the same genocidal treatment as the Indian tribes in the United States.) In the end, it was a sickening display of the Politics of Guilt.
The U.S. media also fawned over every accomplishment by American female athletes to the point where I found myself cheering for the opposition. When Norway beat the U.S. women in soccer, for example, it saved the rest of us from having to hear once again that Title IX was the reason for all of this success.
The genuine successes of the African women in the track events expose the Title IX falsehood. If there is any continent where women truly are second-class citizens, it is Africa. However, African women won a number of races, including the 10,000 meters, the marathon, the 800 meters, and the 1,500 meters. The 1,500 winner was from Algeria, a Muslim nation where large numbers of people frown upon women even engaging in athletic competition at all. Yet, here they were, competing against and defeating their wealthier and most state-protected counterparts from Europe and the United States.
Of course, the greatest obscenity at the Olympic Games is the medal ceremony itself. The winner and the crowd are “serenaded” to the victor’s national anthem. While that might serve as a great source of pride for some, it continues the lie that governments are greater than the individuals they rule. This is not to say that some winners become genuine national heroes, like Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who took the 800 meters. However, she is a hero to the homefolks whether or not the flags are raised and national anthems are played at the games.
If I had my druthers, the Olympic Games would be based upon individuals, not governments. Have true open competition in which athletes make standards and are admitted regardless of nationality. If that means that 20 Kenyans and two Americans qualify for the 1,500 meters, so be it. There is no reason that a deserving Kenyan should stay home while his inferior American counterpart goes to the games.
Such an event, of course, would require a radical reconstruction of how many of us see ourselves. Yet, I think it would be a welcome change to the avalanche of statism that presently stinks up the current Olympics.
October 3, 2000
William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.