Meant to be a peacemaking sporting event, the Olympic Games have seemingly turned into a political showcase for many nations, countries and people in recent years. In fact, the Olympics have generated more news coverage on political, economic and social issues than the sporting event itself.
From the 1972 Munich games that shocked the world when a terrorist group hijacked the Olympic Village demanding the release of Palestinian political prisoners and resulted in several deaths, to the 1980 Moscow games where countries boycotted the games due to the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan, the Olympic Games have constantly been used as a political bargaining chip for some countries and individuals.
The Case Of Rio
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games were no different. Like Beijing, Rio wanted to prove to the rest of the world that it is capable of ascending to the global stage. However, despite how surprisingly successful the Rio games came out to be, behind the spectacular closing ceremony, they were held at a great price.
Many overlook the litany of problems Brazil faces, including its worst economic crisis in 30 years, the political turmoil with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, corruption, the Zika virus and the severe health and safety complications. Evi van Acken from Belgium has also claimed to have caught dysentery due to the huge amounts of sewage in the Guanabara Bay which denied her the chance to win a medal. At the same time, the water in the swimming pools in the Olympic stadium has also turned milky green while contestants were still competing.
Political protests filled the stadium with spectators holding up the ‘fora temer’ sign condemning Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer. Hundreds of residents were also evicted to make space for the Olympic Games. The aftermath was even uglier: stadiums and swimming pools left unused, Brazil is still in recession, the lack of sanitation is still a prominent issue, and the financing of the upcoming Paralympics also comes into question. It, therefore, begs the burning question of why Brazil even wanted to bid for hosting the Olympic Games at all?
The Many Scandals
What also made headlines during the Rio games was the Ryan Lochte scandal where 32 years-old Lochte and three other US swimmers lied about being robbed at gunpoint when they actually vandalised a gas station and tried to flee the scene afterwards.
The ridiculous part of this scandal was when Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrade said everyone should “give these kids a break” when on the other hand, 20 years-old Gabby Douglas was deemed “unpatriotic” and “disrespectful” on Twitter and on news outlets for not smiling enough and not putting her hand on her heart during the national anthem. This huge difference in treatment, as some said, may have been due to the racial backgrounds of these US representatives: Douglas is a young black woman while Lochte is a white man.
The Need To Fight Racism
Racial issues during the Olympics are not at all new. Back in the 1936 Berlin Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany, African-American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens won Gold, defeating his German counterparts, which ultimately crushed Adolf Hitler’s idea of Aryan supremacy. Ironically, despite Owens’ victory which was celebrated internationally, he was not greeted with warmth back in America and was not invited to shake the president’s hand either.
What is more tragic is the fact that even in the 21st century, as a country that prides itself on democracy, liberty and freedom of speech, America has let the world down with its hostility and discrimination against ethnic minorities while this same group of people fought hard for America, winning countless medals to bring glory to the country and its people.
No Change In Sight?
Perhaps politics will always be an inevitable part of the Olympic games. However, one should be reminded that the Olympic Games are meant to be an event where the greatest athletes and fans of different races, colours and genders gather together to compete and enjoy the Olympic spirit. Rule 50 of the International Olympic Committee Charter even prohibits any political, religious or racial related demonstrations on all Olympic grounds.
In spite of all the negativity Brazil has received, the Rio games did have the first-ever refugee Olympic team of athletes representing Syria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan who were given a standing ovation by thousands of spectators as they entered the stadium.
This is the moment when all hate, discrimination and political conflict were put aside, and the true spirit of the Olympic Games was honoured. This is what the Olympic Games are all about, and worth all the sweat and tears the contestants have put into in all the years of training. Hopefully, this spirit will continue and wash away the political, social and racial overcast that foreshadowed the previous Olympic Games.