Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, in the documentary Hitler’s Olympics: How One Man Invented Olympic Ritual, tells how the Nazis reconfigured the opening ceremony as a propaganda extravaganza. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels used it to project the unity and power of Greater Germany while diverting the world’s attention from their concentration camps.
We can already see in our mind’s eye Helmsman Xi brazenly exploiting the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics to project the unity and power of Greater China while diverting the world’s attention from his concentration camps.
Thousands of the best athletes in the world will be there in the March of the Nations waving excitedly before the cameras. Not a few of the participants will be holding aloft Bing Dwen Dwen, the toy panda created by Xi Jinping’s genocidal regime ‘to serve as an ambassador, bringing joy to those who participate in and watch the Beijing Winter Olympics’.
Bing Dwen Dwen, according to Beijing, was chosen as the official mascot for the XXIV Winter Games because he has a suit of ice, a heart of gold and a love of all things winter sports. Bing, we are told, encapsulates the innocence and purity of the spirit of Olympism, which is also captured in Beijing’s promotional slogan for the event: ‘Joyful Rendezvous Upon Pure Ice and Snow’.
The purported purity of Olympism has its origins in the ancient Olympics, particularly with the notion of the ‘Olympic Truce’. That is, the tradition of allowing not only the athletes themselves and their families but ordinary spectators to travel in complete safety from their homes to Olympia, the site of the games, during the period of the Truce (Ekecheiria). The concept, obviously, is suggestive of the idea there are things in this life more important than war – a powerful motif when interposed with the bloody history of the twentieth century and beyond.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), with its genius for self-promotion, has extrapolated the Olympic Truce ideal of the ancient Greeks for its own marketing purposes. According to Thomas Bach, current president of the IOC, only the Olympics can ‘bring the entire world together’. The Olympic movement’s stated aim, consequently, is to ‘build a peaceful and better world through sport’ and ‘bring hope and togetherness’ to the planet.
Is it churlish, at this point, to ask how a four-person bobsled team whooshing around at an (admittedly astonishing) speed of 162 km/h constitutes a victory for world peace when simultaneously witnessed by hundreds of millions of people? Especially if your country loses.
The woozy claims of the Olympic movement get even wilder. The IOC maintains that it ‘encourages political leaders to act in favour of peace’. And yet President Putin, only days after the closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, ordered the annexation of Crimea. After the 2008 Summer Olympics, with its motto of ‘One World, One Dream’, Beijing stepped up its militarisation of the South China Sea. And then, of course, there was the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Why, we might ask, all this talk of world peace? Because the IOC, with its magnificent headquarters in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, might be the greatest financial racket ever known to humankind. It receives billions of dollars without being obliged, in any lawful or equitable way, to share the proceeds with a host city.
And the kicker? As a not-for-profit organisation building world peace through sport, the IOC pays no taxes.
Prospective 2022 Olympians, then, might be advised to steer clear of the IOC’s ‘purity of sport’ argument, which is fraudulent on every level possible. We can’t even say that participation is for the glory of the sport. That went by the wayside when Olympic regulations regarding the amateur status of athletes were discarded in the 1990s.
If I were a professional athlete, I would be tempted to abandon the purity-of-sport humbug altogether and remind the rapidly growing ‘Boycott Beijing’ movement that, as a professional sports-person, my situation is equivalent to that of a sole trader. For me, who must ply my trade, an ice hockey rink remains an ice hockey rink whether it is located in Sochi or PyeongChang or, yes, Beijing. I might care about (say) the Uyghur Salvation Front, but I cannot ignore my Self-Preservation Fund.
There are at least two advantages in viewing the Beijing Olympics from this perspective. Firstly, how many of us have bought bargain-priced products made in the PRC, some even in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and now demand our top athletes forego their once-in-a-lifetime moment in the snow or on the ice to satisfy our latest political sensibilities?
Secondly, has the time now come to address the root of the problem concerning international sport? Surely the underlying issue is the unchallenged authority of the International Olympic Committee, a private organisation that has commandeered – dare I say, ‘culturally appropriated’? – the legacy of ancient Greece for its own avaricious ends. No wonder a rogue organisation such as the IOC has no moral quandary dealing with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
At the Sochi Games, for instance, costs blew out more than threefold because a posse of Putin’s pals pocketed a reputed $7 billion in commissions. The XXII Winter Olympics certainly brought these shady characters, if not Russia’s taxpayers, a degree of ‘hope and togetherness’. Many had been feeling the squeeze of sanctions imposed on them by Western lawmakers and financial institutitutions. The Sochi Games, if that were not enough, also involved the largest state-operated doping scandal in the history of sport.
Boycott the Beijing Olympics if we must, but let us begin, as they say, ‘the conversation we need to have’ about ending the IOC’s stranglehold on the legacy of the Ancient Olympics.
We owe it to the generations of world-class athletes who are not even yet born. Let us start with plans to create a new international games, permanently situated in Athens perhaps, that do not provide a global stage for disseminating the criminal lies of a latter-day Joseph Goebbels.
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