Read Eric's bio and previous columns


August 18, 2008

Politicize the Olympics . . . and Destroy Them


Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever, is something else – a propagandist for the nefarious Chinese communists. You, dear reader, were probably unaware of this. In fact, it’s certain that Phelps himself was unaware of it.


Yet he was, according to comments made a few months ago by a Michigan congressman urging the president to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing games.


“As the world stumbles toward that communist propaganda extravaganza labeled the Beijing Olympics,” started Thaddeus McCotter, a representative from just outside of Detroit. McCotter was addressing restrictions placed by China on the number of Bibles that athletes could bring with them to the games.


Propaganda is right. The first thing that no doubt flashed through the world’s mind when Phelps stepped up with his relay teammates to complete his awe-inspiring performance was, “Wow, those communist Chinese sure are mighty.”


McCotter was joined by a small, but bipartisan, group of congressmen who wished to see the opening ceremonies of the Games boycotted by American officials for a variety of beefs.


They weren’t alone. Calls for boycotts rose from a number of quarters over the last couple of years, primarily over China’s human rights record. There was a belief that China would use the Olympics as a good public relations opportunity, to let the world see China in a light other than a violator of human rights.


In response to criticisms that boycotting the Games primarily hurts athletes, supporters of a boycott said that underlying the Olympics are politics, that nations in past years have used hosting the Games to elevate their international status. Many pointed to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany’s use of the 1936 Munich Games to send the world a message – Germany was again a power to fear.


It’s not just the Olympics, by the way, that people wish to hijack for politics. Nothing is sacred. The mere presence of certain kinds of characters and plot points in apolitical novels and films are used as ideological ammunition. People even found evidence of ideological struggle in Super Bowl XL, which pitted “regular” blue collar America – the smashmouth Pittsburgh Steelers – against the effete, latte-sipping West Coast liberals of the Seattle Seahawks. (The irony is that the days of the Pittsburgh steel mills are over. Today the city is mostly known for medical research.)


It’s difficult to consider this without also remembering the U.S. boycott of the Moscow games in 1980, or the subsequent Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. Both countries made their point, and as a result the Olympics were nearly killed off. Ironically, it was the Chinese decision to skip the Soviet-sponsored boycott that helped keep the games alive. The message to us is that politicizing the apolitical risks destroying it. It’s a message, unfortunately, that’s regularly lost.


Since the original calls for a boycott were ignored, some of the same people will no doubt find other reasons to air political beefs about the games. The most likely target will be the simmering controversy over the ages of the Chinese competitors in the team women’s gymnastics, and the associated question, asked with arched eyebrow, “Did China cheat to win Gold . . . and why did they do it?”


The response to that, of course, is why they let the jerks win. We should no more allow the Olympics to be hijacked for political purposes than we should tolerate parents who scream and yell at referees at high school sporting events.


Phelps’ achievement should inspire us to greater things. The venue through which he does that should be respected as a celebration for humanity itself, not trivialized as a forum to air international beefs. We’ve got a place for that . . . it’s called the United Nations. 


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # EB068. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause