Gregory Paul: "No More Olympics in Despotic Countries, Please"
Whether the Olympics should even exist is open to challenge. It is not as its PR machine claims a movement of amateur athletes. The show is run by a nonprofit corporate entity run by elitist bureaucrats most of whom have never deeply participated in athletics, and with a chronic whiff of corruption. Then there is the enormous expense of hosting the games with billions that could be better applied elsewhere. And the hyper PR of the games is helping over glorify sports to such a hysterical level that athletes led extreme lifestyles obsessed with a sport. That in turn contributes to the perpetual problems with performance enhancing drug use.
But assuming the enterprise continues to operate, can we please at least have a situation in which the games are held only in one-person one-vote democracies that respect rights and reasonably low levels of corruption? Is that too much to ask?
Why are the thuggish, corrupt elites that run nondemocratic governments rewarded with the vast PR prize of hosting the Olympics? That the Nazis enjoyed the resulting benefits was an accident – the summer games had been assigned to Berlin while Germany was still a democracy. But since then the USSR, China and now Russia have tried to boost their political fortunes with the help of the leadership of the Olympics. The ongoing winter games in Putin’s version of the Russian empire are egregious because the region is the site of past atrocities involving the conquest and retention of the area under the Czars, during the Soviet era, and since the formation of the Russian Federation. That has elevated the threat of terrorism to the point that attending the games is sufficiently inadvisable that some athletes’ families are staying home. Add to that the homophobic bigotry of the strange regime that still has Lenin’s tomb open on Red Square, yet is allied the venal, reactionary Orthodox church whose giant cathedral also overlooks the same square.
Why not use the Olympics as a means to reward stable democracies? There are plenty of them around. That would include most of Europe, North America, parts of South America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, India has been a stable democracy, but it has serious human rights issues including prejudice against gays and massive violence against women. South Africa might qualify, although they may not be able to afford it. A set of qualifying criteria could be set up, in collaboration with international human rights organizations that monitor levels of democracy, human rights and corruption, and would certainly be glad to help out.
That would send the message that autocratic regimes need not apply. Leaders that rule by fear will not be rewarded with image enhancing megasports events. Also benefiting would be the participants, who would no longer be conflicted by having to strive to achieve their athletic dreams in a place with dubious politics. The danger of terror acts would not be eliminated – remember Munich and Atlanta – but they would not be sky high like they are in Russia.
For example, competitors for the 2014 winter games were Salzburg Austria and Pyeongchang South Korea. Imagine if the current competitions were being held there. Minimal worries about suicide bombers, none about bigotry against gays, no concerns about supporting a nasty regime, little about local corruption. Nor repulsion at the poisoning of stray dogs that is going on around the Russian games. It would be all about the athletes.
While we are at it, it would be a very good thing if the Olympics were reformed so that they were run by the athletes. The latter, those currently active and retired, should be in charge of the show, perhaps with those who have qualified to participate in the competition having a life time vote for electing the leaders, and deciding on key issues. That may require that athletes show some gumption and stand up for themselves, rather than perpetually be led around by their noses in fawning supplicant anticipation of the next games. Specifically, leading sportspersons should go on strike until they gain control of the system.