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Athleticism, Politics Indomitable Parts Of Olympic

Athleticism, Politics Indomitable Parts of Olympic Games

The Olympic Games, dating from the time of the ancient Greeks, always have been a mixture of superior athletic achievement and a showcase for peace and harmony among nations. But critics say those noble goals have been submerged by an overemphasis on national pride and politics.

Jacques Rogge, president of the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee, said in August that the staging of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing August 8-24 will serve as a "force for good."

Rogge said the Olympics are not about nations or national supremacy.

"It's about the pursuit of excellence by individuals who train very hard ... and do that within the Olympic spirit of fair play [and] brotherhood," Rogge told reporters.

President Bush announced September 6 that he had accepted China's invitation to attend the Beijing Olympics.

Bush said the event would be a "great moment of pride for the Chinese people" and also a "moment where China's leaders can use the opportunity to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance" in Chinese society.

Bush, a lifelong sports fan and former owner of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team, stressed he is attending the games "for the sports and not for any political statement."

But some members of the U.S. Congress want to craft legislation calling for the United States to boycott the event in protest of China's human rights policies. This would follow the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980 to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan the previous year, and the Soviet-led boycott of the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984 in retaliation.

Other events showing the Olympics' political side include the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany; and the "Black Power" salute by two African-American athletes at the 1968 Mexico City games to protest civil rights conditions in the United States.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said his experience running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City illustrates his leadership and management credentials for winning the White House.

Romney, credited for saving the Salt Lake City games from corruption and financial disaster, said he accepted the position as chief executive officer in 2002 "with no plans to parlay the experience into political advantage." He took the job, said Romney, to serve the Salt Lake City community and the United States, not to "run for [future] office."

Susan Brownell, a professor in anthropology and foreign languages at the University of Missouri, wrote in a 2006 essay that the "greatest legacy" of the Beijing games will be a "largely intangible one -- its human and cultural legacy." Brownell sees the Olympics as providing China an opportunity "to improve its public educational level and morality with education in Olympic history and values."


Not everyone shares such optimism that the Olympics are living up to their creed that the "most important thing ... is not to win but to take part ... not to have conquered but to have fought well."

John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic languages at the University of Texas and author of the book, The Olympic Crisis: Sport, Politics, and the Moral Order, told USINFO that the Olympics have been corrupted by commercialism, "greatly inflated" prognoses of economic benefits to the country staging the event and jingoistic appeals to nationalism that ultimately only benefit commercial interests.

On the economic front, for example, Hoberman said the city of Montreal still may be paying off massive debts incurred from hosting the Olympics in 1976, while Greece suffered economically from what Hoberman said was a $12 billion investment in hosting the games in 2004.

"The hype and the way" the games are presented "in the sports media really distort what is happening on the ground and what the real lasting [negative] effects" are from the event, said Hoberman.

Politicians worldwide, he said, are fraudulently using "ad nauseum" the nationalistic argument that a country's success is tied to winning Olympic gold medals. That argument, he said, is an "illusion."

For instance, he said by "astronomical disproportion," the most successful Olympic country in the history of the games "in terms of winning gold medals" is East Germany, which no longer exists.


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