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The Olympics and Totalitarian Regimes

The Olympics and Totalitarian Regimes

By Christopher Adams

As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world waits curiously to see how the games will pan out. Activists have already attempted to disrupt the games, and done something the Chinese government is terrified of, like the unravelling of a banner that read “FREE TIBET” right next to the main Olympic stadium With so many foreigners entering the country for the games, as well as the millions of Chinese citizens that have a bone to pick when it comes to their government, the authority’s personal ninjas are going to have to work extraordinarily hard to suppress any banner unravelling and general activism.

And all of this begs the question – should countries with abysmal human rights records even be considered as hosts of the Olympic Games? According to the International Olympic Committee, the answer must be yes. This is the very organisation that allowed the Nazis to host the Berlin Olympics of 1936, as the regime’s suppression of Jews, Gypsies and other “undesirables” spread its shadow across Germany.

Fast forward a few decades and another farce of an Olympics was allowed to be held: this being the 1980 Moscow games, which began around nine months after the ill-fated Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As the flashy opening ceremony was taking place in USSR’s capital, Afghan villages were being systematically flattened by Soviet tanks. Soviet helicopter gunships became the nightmare of Afghanistan’s rural populace, as they targeted both the mujahideen and innocent civilians on the mountainsides.

Some may argue that allowing the Olympics to be held in states such as the USSR, Nazi Germany and China gives them an incentive to “clean up their act”. This is a nice idea, but if history is anything to go by, an idea is all it is. Hitler did remove the signs around Berlin saying “JEWS NOT WANTED” for the duration of the games, but after the games finished the signs went back up, along with an increase in anti-Semitic Nazi policies. Three years and two weeks after the close of the Berlin Olympics, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, signalling the start of World War Two.

The Soviet Army continued its annihilation of Afghanistan for another nine years following the close of the Moscow games. By the time the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the country was in state of ruin, which eventually enabled the Taliban to fill the power vacuum the Soviets left in their wake.

“Sports and politics don’t mix” is another well voiced argument on this subject, and was debated when nations were considering the moralistic issues surrounding sending their athletes to both the Berlin and Moscow Olympics. The same argument is currently being waged in regard to the Beijing games. This argument is, however, a convenient excuse to turn a blind eye to what a charade the Olympics can be. The reality is that politics cannot be avoided when the Olympics are held in places like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and China. What happened when the recent Olympic torch relay reached the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is evidence to this fact. At the culmination of the ceremony, held beneath the towering walls of the Dalai Lama’s former palace, Communist Party Secretary of Tibet, Zhang Qingli proclaimed: “Tibet’s sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it. We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist (sic) schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.” Qingli’s statement provoked condemnation from the IOC, but the undeniable truth is that politics are already playing a big part in the 2008 Olympic Games.

Huge residential areas have been bulldozed to make way for Olympic facilities in Beijing, leaving thousands of residents displaced. The Chinese government continues to be the world’s number one executioner of human life, while undertaking a program of neo-colonial expansion into Africa in a desperate search for mineral resources. Does a nation such as this fit into the ideals of fair play and peace inherent in the Olympic spirit? No. As history has shown – every now and again the Olympics have a tendency to be little more than an expensive sham.


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