Can we move along now?
After more than 2 weeks I have tried, Lord knows I have tried, to keep quiet out here in public with my disinterest and disdain of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s only 17 days, I said. (Not counting the year long media blitz leading up to it). Head down, eyes averted. It’ll all be over quicker than a polar vortex cold snap.
I don’t remember always being this Grinch-like when it comes to the Olympics although, over dinner a couple nights ago, I was reminded otherwise. Maybe that’s true. All the chest-thumping nationalism makes me a little queasy. It’s something Americans did.
Of course, perhaps that had more to do with sour grapes. Americans always had something to thump their chests about. 1980. Lake Placid. A ragtag bunch of U.S. college level hockey players and NHL rejects stunned the mighty U.S.S.R. Red Army team. The team Canada stewed over since it was obvious they were clearly made up of professional players. And it was the Americans who beat them.
Canada, well. It always felt like moral victories, pride in unexpected 2nd place finishes. Greg Joy. Elizabeth Manley. Ben Johnson. Kudos for just showing up and doing your best. That was the Olympic spirit, right?
But I have to tell you, since we went and joined the elite, at least in terms of winter athletics, with the whole Own the Podium and We Are Winter, the nationalism is just as creepy. CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA! doesn’t sound a whole lot sweeter than U.S.A! U.S.A! A tribal chant is a tribal chant is a tribal chant.
National identity defined by the prowess of a select few athletes. Hey world. Bow down before us. We Are Winter, don’t you know.
Sure. But then again, we aren’t Sparta. And the outcome of the Peloponnesian War does not depend on the fitness of our warriors.
Wouldn’t it be great if we showed such enthusiasm, if governments and corporations showered the same kind of attention and cash on solving our looming environmental crisis, our homeless crisis or growing income inequality crisis. Infrastructure. African debt. Worldwide poverty.
I know. I know. I find it trite to even be writing this. Apples to oranges. Can’t something just exist, free from politics? Let us just enjoy this for what it is. Uncomplicated, easy-to-follow and pick sides, us-versus-them, root, root, root for the home team. Just for two weeks, every other year.
But…But…None of this is free from politics, is it. Nationalism never is. Especially this time around. If the Sochi Olympics weren’t driven by politics, then the word politics is meaningless.
We all know this by now.
And, of course, the Ukraine, and Russia’s indirect involvement in the chaos and killing going on there. While we are celebrating golden days at the Olympics, people are getting gunned down in the streets in Kiev. So shocking that it even managed to push Olympic news from the headlines or at the top of the TV news hour. For a couple minutes or paragraphs. Then it’s Back to Sochi for the ice dancing competition!
We have somehow miraculously separated one type of nationalism from another. You can root for Canada. You can root against Russia when they compete against Canada. But do not meddle in the politics between the two. Do not impose your non-sports opinion into this particular arena.
We’ve arrived at a point where people, influential people will state with a straight face that politics has no place in an international sporting event like the Olympics. With a straight face. It’s all about the athletes. It’s not about politics.
The Olympics have rarely been devoid of politics. Twenty-two African countries boycotted the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal to protest the inclusion of New Zealand in the games after their rugby team had toured apartheid-era South Africa earlier in the year. An apartheid-era South Africa that had been banned from participating in the Olympics because, well, apartheid. The U.S. led boycott of the 1980 summer games in Moscow to protest Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. The so-called Black Power salute by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium in Mexico City, 1968. Jesse Owens in Munich, 1936.
Exactly, right! Jesse Owens goes over to Germany, wins a bunch of medals, giving the finger to the Nazis’ Aryan ideals of some master race. Up yours, Herr Hitler!
Yeah well, what the fuck did we just show Vladimir Putin by showing up in Sochi? (Check out Andrew Wheeler’s Hitler Had A Circus and You Bought A Balloon for a much more thorough analysis of that point.) By giving him an international stage to smooth out the jagged edges of his growing totalitarianism and return to Soviet-style repression. What notice did we just finish giving the world? Hey everybody! There are absolutely no repercussions to any of the actions you take, no matter how brutal or anti-democratic. At least as far as the IOC and medal loving people everywhere are concerned.
The Games must go on!
What about the athletes, often goes the argument. What of their tireless efforts and determination in becoming the best that they can be, and their desire to compete with the world? Why should they be punished because of our political differences?
That’s like attempts to paint critics of a war as somehow being against the troops. Direct the focus to only one aspect of a much bigger issue in order to shut down that larger, more divisive discussion.
We’re told the Olympics encompass more than just sports, aren’t we? Our drive to amass medals and stand atop the podium to hear our national anthem played stands for something greater and higher than simply being the best at hockey or going fastest down a hill, doesn’t it? Otherwise, it hardly seems worth the rah-rah we put into it. The glory fleeting and limited, the need to defend it the only lasting thing four years hence.
I thought Olympic athletes were supposed to represent all aspects of a country’s ideals and aspirations not just the fun, sports side. What’s that say about us that we simply shrug off any political implication of sending our delegates, our sports ambassadors to perform for tyrants, despots and thugs without so much as a word of dissent? Core values? What core values?
Owning the podium doesn’t mean much if you can’t even claim to own a conscience.
— self-righteously submitted by Cityslikr