Power, Politics and the Olympics

Have 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 the 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.

1936, 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.

Let’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.

If anyone else saw the Men’s 400 meter Freestyle Relay last night where the American’s took the win from the French at the last possible second, OMG they went berserk.  I went berserk with them! I cheered and jumped up in my living room, I was so happy for them.  I really wasn’t thinking 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?

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  1. I used to get excited about the politics of EVERYTHING…but now, after my small time on earth, I realize not much really changes. So, why not enjoy the competitions ? The people competing in the Olympics have worked hard to get there. They are the best of the best, rejoice with them, cry with them, be proud of your country, be happy for another country !Boycotting the Olympics will probably not change anything, but if it is a conviction..then by all means, boycott !

    You know, I almost decided to turn a wonderful evening with friends into a discussion of the politics involved in this Olympics..I bit my tongue, resisted the urge to pontificate, and had a far better time tonight ( last night ?) than I would have otherwise. I hate to admit it, but I think our guests had a far better time too for my resistance.KathyB.

  2. Barbie with a T 2

    Politics are part of the Olympics, but that should not take away from the beautiful performances of the athletes from all over the world. Last evening when the media interviewed our President, of course, they asked if he and China discussed the world situation, and Bush said yes, they discussed in full detail all aspects of the problems our countries and troops are involved in. Yet, at the same time, it appeared as though our President and Laura were both enjoying the performances very much. Is it an act, or is it genuine? The ground is squishy between the US and China, the US and France, etc. but the games are a rivalry between all the countries, not just the ones that have relationships in peril. After all sports are rivalry and let the best man win. By the way, I am enjoying the Olympics, just like you are. I do think the comradarie outweighs the rivalry. On with the games!

  3. Bunny 3

    I watch the Olympics for the athletes and what it took for them to get there.

  4. Dee 4

    Sure, everything is political these days – sports, religion. But there are moments – like the Olympics – when even a hardened cynic can indulge in the warm and fuzzy triumph of the human spirit, no?

  5. I look forward to the Olympics and hate it when politics rears it’s head. In this summer’s case. I’m saddened that as Beijing opens itself up to the world, it found time to deny a visa for an athelete from Darfur because they don’t support his politics. So much for “welcome friends”. I really think all atheletes should have the opportunity to participate. And I wish they’d finish the broadcast before 11:30 at night. People have to sleep!

  6. Ben and I were talking about that the other day. We were having lunch at a little bakery/deli and they had the TV on CNN. The reporter was doing her best to stir stuff up by bellowing how a Chinese Man had stabbed to American male volleyball players. Ben pointed out that she wasn’t simply talking about stabbing, it was an American who was stabbed. Then they had a follow up report about China’s economy and a few negative commentators. As a person who works in the media, I can tell you this–they are instigators. All they want to do is stir stuff up!

  7. As you know, I’m with you when it comes to the Olympics. I enjoy it for the competition and patriotism. I tear up every time I hear our national anthem, and even if someone else is on that podium, I get emotional thinking of all that they’ve done and worked for, and the culmination of them standing up there, seeing their flag, hearing their song. That relay last night was one of the most awesome Olympic events I’ve ever witnessed. I was screaming at the top of my lungs. It’s for reasons like that that I love the Olympics.

  8. I loathe watching most sports, but I can often watch certain Olympic events. I get totally drawn in to the athletes’ personal stories. I love the patriotism that each shows for his country and that even with all that rivalry between nations going on there is also a sort of brotherhood in the world of athletics and a mutual respect born of similar trials and difficulties. I really do feel the Olympics brings people of different countries together while at the same time allowing them to maintain this intense nationalism and pride for their own country and athletes. It’s this human side of things that makes it interesting for me. Wherever humans are involved, human thoughts and emotions both good and bad are in evidence. It’s unavoidable. Those things seem to be highlighted for better or worse in the Olympic games. Would this person have all the humanity stripped from the games with only a show of brute athleticism left? We may as well watch wild animals battle it out over a carcass–fascinating perhaps on a very base level, but lacking those extra layers that provide real depth and interest.

    On the other hand, some of those sportscasters go too far drawing out the human emotion and make it really schmaltzy. Sometimes I wish they’d just shut up and let the stories tell themselves.

    I really haven’t gotten too invested in many of the athletes or events in this Olympics or in past Olympics, but occasionally I do. It is really heartbreaking when you have a favorite and they do so well only to find out later they were using steroids (or whatever it is they use) or their lives have gone to shit since. I remember how much I loved watching Marion Jones because of the joy on her face as she was running. I loved watching Oksana Baiul figure skating for the same reason. How disappointing to see their failures, but they are after all human and that humanity is part of what draws me, a total non-sports fan, in.

  9. Trisha 9

    I know politics interfere but I think the Olympics is more about the competition of the best against the best. A chance for the world’s best athlete’s to show their abilities. I love watching the Olympics and don’t ever really think about politics too much. I know that is an underlying concept but really – do you think the athletes think about it while they are competing?

  10. jancd 10

    My family, too, went crazy when those cute Americans won the relay swimming last night. I do not want the one world thing, so I love the competition from the different countries, even if we do not come out on top every time. I can remember as a child watching the Olympics with my family and my own children remember the fun times we had watching when they were children. I hope it continues.

  11. Marcy 11

    Yeah we’ve been watching the Olympics. I especially clapped and cheered when the tiny little USA gymnast nailed the balance beam. God I can’t remember her name now, sorry blond moment… but she was one of the favorites and I know it wasn’t Nastia Liukin, but the other one.
    I know what you mean about calling someone fora qucik conversation and it turns into a long drawn out debate, lol. Did you EVER get aroudn to talking about paint??

  12. I don’t care for the drama from politics however, I DO LOVE hearing about love triangles between swimmers in different countries.

  13. All I know is that I love me some Olympics! And there is ALWAYS something to watch! So fun, so fun.

  14. Alisa 14

    Anything can be politicized if people are looking for it. Personally, I’d rather my kids watched the Olympics than the so called pro’s in sports. At least in the Olympics they have to pass drug tests.
    I actually saw President Bush speaking on tv last night and was impressed by how well he did at turning the interview away from politics and towards the games.

  15. Wow–I’d never even thought about all that until you just now brought it up–and I’ve only had one sip of coffee so my brain isn’t even close to processing it yet!

    I did enjoy watching some “synchronized diving” last night. Who knew there was such a thing!?

    And I hope you got your paint question resolved!

  16. We don’t have tv but we went to my inlaws and we were watching the sychronized diving it was so cool and my daughter was jumping round the room doing headstands etc… Then the gymnastics came on and the chinese team looked 6 years old but they have to be 16 to compete. We are taller here so lets give them 6 years slack they are still 12. The olympic sportscaster forgot his name was talking about it in not an outraged voice but sort of out of the side of his mouth kind of way. I figure its China’s problem. They are being dishonest and everyone knows it. It is obvious. They don’t care if they look stupid they just care about winning. It is sad, really but I wasn’t mad I was still able to enjoy what we were watching.

  17. Cheryl 17

    “I just know I love watching the Games. I always have.”

    That’s enough for me, too. Fully aware of how hot dogs are made, I still enjoy them. Sometimes a bit of intentional disregard is healthy. No babies being thrown out in my house due to unfortunate bath water. Bigger fish to fry. :)

  18. Brooke in WI 18

    you-berserk in your living room? me-berserk in my bedroom, I was practically screaming at my TV. As SOON as the race was over, my phone was ringing off the hook. My sister, doing the same thing, wanting to know if I saw it. AWESOME!!! And no, I rarely think about politics when I think Olympics. I think, no sleep because I am obsessed, awesome athletes who’ve worked their tail off to compete, I could go on and on. GO USA!!!

  19. dlyn 19

    I do actually think about the politics of the world during the Olympics, but it takes a backseat to enjoying the triumphs and trial of the athletes themselves. That is what matters to me – the individuals and how hard they have to work to get there, and for the ones who come out on top, to win. I believe that competition is a positive thing and I am not much into the idea of one-world stuff. But as much as I enjoy the competitive aspects of it, my favorite thing is seeing the athletes from different countries appreciating and congratulating each other. That is what it ought to be about – healthy competition tempered with the camaraderie of working toward a common goal and appreciating the efforts of the other competitors and respecting differences.

  20. Bridgett 20

    Sure, One world, one dream is possible. Not as a whole of course, but aren’t they proving that right now with so many countries coming together in one place living out their athletic dream? It is a wonderful thing and we are enjoying it so much at my house. Who cares about politics and the past slights. Live now.

  21. *deep breath*

    Good thing the discussion didn’t go on about the commercialization of the Olympics. That’s the point that gets my hackles up. ;)

  22. I’m not a fan of the Olympics, but that’s mainly because I’m not a big sprots fan. I’m not opposed to the games overall, but they can put a spotlight on countries with horrific human rights abuses.. some say China qualifies.

  23. ALF 23

    I love, love, love the Olympics.

    Some people just have too much time on their hands and need a hobby or something constructive to worry about.

  24. Everything is political now. The enviorment. Gas prices. Even Paris Hilton for crying out loud!

    I was SO GLAD America beat that trash talking French team! I cannot tell you how happy I was. My daughter was already in bed so we taped it for her. She watched it this morning (without knowing the outcome) and was sure the French would win. When she realized the Americans won she said “They WON! I can’t believe it!” It was a great moment and one that will be discussed for many, many years.

  25. melissa 25

    I love the Olympics! That being said, I hate China. I try not to purchase products from from that country. I don’t hate the people, just the politics.
    That being said, I have been watching them and love when we win, but I can accept when we don’t and I always feel the victory in who wins. Does that make scense?

  26. Where DO you find these people? I must say that I don’t like the Olympics either, but it has nothing to do with politics. I just get so bored watching them.

  27. I love the Games as well, and yes there was and always be politics involved, but when I watched them I don’t think of that at all. I watch the results of years of training and the joy of winning, that’s waht I watch and enjoy watching!

  28. Madelyn 28

    “I was just calling to ask about some paint colors but instead we went for the gold…”. I love your turn of a phrase!
    I was on my feet a foot from my television screen myself – you would think my own personal screaming pushed him to the wall first!
    Thanks for visiting my place.
    Go Team USA!
    ~Mad(elyn) from Alabama

  29. Claudia 29

    I don’t watch the Olympics, not because of anything political, but because I once saw the female volleyball players and their bodies and realized I would be very, very depressed if I kept watching.

  30. I start crying when the first country walks in and don’t stop til the last one hits the stadium. When they talk about the one athlete who has come to represent his/her country, or all the athletes who haven’t a shot in hell of winning a medal but still come to say “Hey, I may be from Jamaica but we can still Bobsled” – my heart grows. To have such a love of your country and of your sport, these athletes deserve to be honored, not glossed over in the discussion of politics.

  31. This is one of those years that makes it a hard one for sure…and one that keeps a lot of people, including me conflicted…for me watching the games makes me feel hopeful that what you say is possible–that all countries can come together and compete gracefully and in the name of peace—the realities are that they are fueled by politics and petty gains. The opening ceremony alone was spectacular and yet frightening in the sheer power of what the Chinese govt. can do, will allow and the force of its propaganda machine.

    In the end I watch because i feel proud and inspired by the athletes I love watching them and what they can do and applauding their accomplishments.

  32. I don’t watch the Olympics, but that’s because I don’t enjoy watching sports. I don’t even enjoy watching sports I enjoy doing. I can’t sit still and watch other people have fun. I’d rather just be having the fun myself. I’ll watch a little gymnastics or the equestrian events (of course) a little bit but that’s about it. I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to watch sports just because they happen to be the Olympics.

    I do understand the power and politics thing. As much as the viewers (and participants) like to feel that it’s an international event made to engender cooperation and sportsmanship, the fact that governments are invovled means the opposite can happen. Political grudges can show up on playing field. The boycotts happen. My husband fears for the athletes from places like Russia and China. He is certain that they are imprisoned or severely punished if they don’t perform well (I don’t know how true that is).

    I read this hilarious story a couple of years ago about how the Olympic Village is one big party place. Once your event is over, you’re free to hang out and drink and hook up. They say the swimmers are the worst because their events are over first, so the party lasts the longest for them. Athletes from countries where they know they don’t have a chance against the power nations are also infamous for getting the party on. Heck, why not hook up? Everyone is super atheltic, so they have hot bodies.

  33. Corinne 33

    I am in awe of the life-long committment that the athletes make to their sport, and the fact that in many countries they often have to hold down “regular” jobs while training!

    Although politics plays a part in everything, to me the Olympics are and always will be about the Sport.

  34. Lo! 34

    I wish we could get back to the spirit of the Olympics and simply have some good, old-fashioned, healthy competition. I realize that they’ve probably never been completely devoid of political garbage… but it seems to have gotten worse in recent years. Or maybe it’s just that we hear about every little thing nowadays.

    Enough already. Let people who excel in their respective sports compete with one another… and let’s not get all caught up in where they’re from or what that might mean.

  35. Olympics in my humble opinion are sporting events…nothing more. Politics are interjected by politicians and we can choose to ignore the politics…which I do.

    Good post.

  36. Kari 36

    I’m with you. Last night, I happend to flip to the channel just in time to watch the freestyle relay race. I don’t even care for swimming at all, but, I couldn’t help but jump up and down and cheer for our team when they won. It was a spectacular race. I try not to think about the politics of it all. I enjoy seeing all the different countries that are represented and while I’m always rooting for our own good ole USA, I feel happy for any athlete who wins at the Olmpics.

  37. Traca 37

    Poltics and the Olympics never meant much to me…until I met Lisa. My friend is a swimmer who trained all her life despite some horrible personal obsticals.

    She competed…and won a spot on the US Olympic Team. And then Soviets invaded Afghanistan. President Jimmy Carter led a multi-national protest. The result? The U.S., along with 64 other countries, boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games. All of Lisa’s training and sacrifices were meaningless in the face of politics.

    More on that story here:
    link to seattletallpoppy.blogspot.com

  38. Erin 38

    I have always loved the Olympics. My husband was asking me last night why I can’t stand other televised sports (such as football, basketball, etc) and yet I am such an Olympics junkie. Well, beyond the obvious seeing the best athletes in the world compete in what seems to be a collegial environment (with the exception of those French “we will crush you” comments – just watch what you say, eh) I have always held onto the idealistic notion that the Olympics bring together nations that have severe conflict for two weeks of peaceful competition. People from waring countries get to look into the eyes of their supposed enemies and see their own eyes looking back at them. So, Cathy, I, like you,have always held onto the notion that the Olympics is one of very few things that actually bring us that much closer to world understanding. Sure there have been political conflicts, but they aren’t the point of the Games. And while they may be important in a greater context, I am one of those people who can enjoy the games for what they are. And my God, wasn’t that men’s relay just the greatest sporting event you have seen in years?! My husband and I screamed our heads off then the US won! That is the spirit of the Olympics.

  39. phillygirl64 39

    I’m not a huge sports fan…just huge (lol)…I have to confess that I choke up whenever I hear that Olympic music start up

    I don’t watch them as avidly as I used to…to be honest, I liked the coverage better when ABC and Jim McKay (RIP) were doing it…

    FWIW – What the French said is no different than the trash talk that freely flows between teams and fans here…you’d be cheering ‘Atta Boys!!” if the US guys had said the same thing to them

  40. I always love coming here ~ feel like I’m at a garden party with a lot of cool women that are not afraid to speak!

    Luv watcing the Games/as I am not a huge sports fan but have always been drawn to watching Olympics ~ the best part is seeing how much my kids love it as well. I love watching+being in the *global* mindset of highlighting all our positive similiarities rather than differences……

    yeah~hav had surprising conversations often

  41. Marcy 41

    Yes, Cathy, the YUMS do come in orange. Not sure what food flavor they are called though, maybe just orange, lol???
    Go to the YUMS website, linked on my side bar and you can see them, they also have shirts to match every shoe color and flip flops too:)))

  42. There is nothing in this world including the Olympics that we humans can’t corrupt. But by the same token the Olympics lift up ideals, possibilities, which can cause us to strive for a better world.

  43. Terrie 43

    You raise some very good points to ponder. I will be chewing on this post for a long time. You expressed some of the same feelings I have had in recent Olympics years, and your phone contact did, too. I suspect that like so many issues, there are no easy and clear cut answers.
    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

  44. Kate 44

    I do hope your paint question was answered.
    I’ve always enjoyed the Games. Watched it last night and cheered. And the Opening Ceremony was the most awesome thing I have seen on TV, in the movies, it was just the best thing I’ve ever seen. Period. I doubt it will ever be topped.

  45. My big issue on this is that WE have to wait for the Right Coast to have their prime time show before we do and we’re closer to China. What is up with that?

    But yes, we yelled loudly when the relay team won, neighbor’s open windows aside, simply celebrating an effort that was magically winning by such a slender margin. I thought of the swimmers, their hard work, team work, and their mothers sitting in the stands. I didn’t think of politics.

    If the pundits stopped flapping their jaws about it, it wouldn’t be as big a deal. The last time I checked, athletes don’t exactly ask to be born in particular countries, but what they are born with is an amazing ability to use their bodies. I celebrate that (without the performance enhancing drugs, of course…). Good one.

  46. What a great post – I wish that politics did not play such a role in the Olympics – This is one event that should be “Neutral” and off limits zone for all the crap. To watch the Americans last night with such heart and spirit was amazing – we were screaming and yelling along with everyone else. The smiles on these athletes faces is what this is about – I do not care what country you represent – these people have passion and pride and that has to much value and should never be overshadowed by “politics” that has no place here.

  47. Tipper 47

    I always enjoy the spirit of the Olympics. But I don’t think they can ever be held without Politics being involved too.

  48. I love to watch the Olympics. I refuse to let the politics ruin it for me. All I know is when I look at those athletes, brimming with talent,hope and pride, it doesn’t matter to me where they come from. I get verklempt at every medal ceremony, no matter who wins. It reminds me that no matter where we’re from or what our politics are, we all have hopes and dreams and aspire to greatness.

  49. I think there will always be an ugly side to everything, so it depends on what our minds wish to dwell on. For this Olympics, I am focusing on the handsome dudes … erm I mean the world-class sports performances and the record making moments …

  50. Marjie 50

    I think that hosting the Olympics helps the host nation, and the host city in particular. I think each host tries to put its best foot forward. If that politicizes the Olympics, OK. At least some good comes of it.

  51. Krissa 51

    I don’t know about the politics involved in the Olympic Games, all I know is that I get chills seeing these amazing athletes coming together to represent their countries… it is just unbelievable that we can all come together and compete with strangers from different countries and be happy for those who succeed because they truly deserve it. My family looks forward to every event!!!

  52. I’m not a huge Olympics fan. I like to watch certain competitions, like swimming. I really hate the whole extravaganza that is the opening ceremony. It’s gotten too out of hand for me. How many starving children could be fed for what it costs to put on all that hoopla? Guess I’m just an old fart where this is concerned.

    I do think the Olympics are very political but I sure as heck wouldn’t have a big ol’ argument about it.

  53. Kyddryn 53

    The many nations send their very best athletes (even if they only have three) to compete for the title of best in the world. When they compete, I don’t think it’s Americans versus the French – I think it’s swimmers striving to do their best and come out ahead of others who are equally intent on winning.
    It’s gymnasts flying through the air, curling, twisting, dynamic, defying gravity for a few precious moments – not Japan versus China, but man versus the inevitable pull of the Earth.

    When they fall, when they fail, I don’t really care what their flag is – I feel for them. I felt it keenly when the Japanese girl fell from the uneven bars – I just wanted to hug her and reassure her that she was marvelous.

    It doesn’t matter the uniform – when they do those releases on the hight bar, the uneven bars, I hold my breath until they’ve grabbed hold again.

    Ultimately, the Olympics represent an ideal, represent the hope that nations can set aside their differences for a short time and shine.

    Yes, the event is political – all around the athletes. They can’t help that, but they don’t have to buy into it and they shouldn’t suffer for it.

    Shade and Sweetwater,

  54. eliza 54

    ah, yes, don’t you hate that?
    i’ve always loved watching olympics and this year try to entice my son to watch it too. i don’t care about the politics behind the olympics, let them who deal with it deal with it, not me.

  55. Paula 55

    I guess I just enjoy watching the athletes compete. ALL the athletes. I like cheering for them and seeing my kids get excited watching people strive to be the best of the best.

  56. I have no comment on the political aspect of the Olympics, mostly because I don’t care to expend the energy.

    But that 400 meter relay….WHOOOO HOOOO….good stuff!

  57. HoneyB 57

    Because I have never been an avid watcher of the olympics, I never really thought much about the political aspect of it. FOOD for thought!

  58. Dragon 58

    “I was just calling to ask about some paint colors but instead we went for the gold…” This line almost sent coffee out my nose. :)

  59. Lara 59

    I enjoy the Olympics as well, and I much prefer not to infuse them with politics. And I totally went berserk in my living room during that relay race, too! Rob and I have the best time watching the events together, and I always did as a kid, too. I hope I always do. :)

  60. Flea 60

    I have no idea about politics in Olympics. I just know we were force fed sports as children and I no longer watch any of them. I tried last winter Olympics, but Curling was the only thing on. Ever.

  61. Lex the mom 61

    I watch for the spirit of competition & because I know what these althletes have done to get where they are. All of them are amazing! I don’t watch all of it because, you know, table tennis is not a fun watch & in the Winter Games, curling, huh?

    I never really thought of the politics involved, but I try not to think about those.

  62. Jason 62

    I think everyone knows the Olympics are political. Anytime you have one country or nationality pitted against another you’re bound to have politics rear it’s head. The beauty of the Olympics is despite all of the politics and machinations of small people greatness can & does shine. Athletes rise to the occasion & the true spirit of mankind is magnified in their efforts.

    Love the post!

  63. Katie 63

    I love the Olympics too political or not. But its hard to get around the political aspects at time. This year it is Joey Cheek.


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