Politics, we’re told, is sneaking its pointed little head into the Olympic Games. Oh, my! Next we’ll discover there is gambling going on in Las Vegas.
Last week, when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov lectured that “we must not mix sport with politics” and that “all boycotts contradict the essence and the central idea of the Olympic Games,” I couldn’t help but recall Claude Rains as Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca exclaiming, “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
The very next moment the shocked captain was handed his winnings.
The statement by a high official of Putin’s gangster government brought up yet another memory not yet lost down the memory hole: The twisted officiating and numerous do-overs of the 1972 Olympic basketball finals, which, after the United States team won — not once but twice — led, eventually, to a Russian win. And then, of course, to an abrupt end to the do-overs.
As a kid, and a sports lover, my only solace was the principled refusal of Team USA to accept their silver metals. At least there could be honor in sports.
Yes, indeed, the Olympics should be about athletics, not politics. But to accomplish this noble non-nationalism we must divorce nation-states from the contest, let individuals from around the globe compete simply as individuals. Governments, not athletes, bring politics into Olympic competition.
Thus, the Olympics has long been about politics: but almost always the errant politics of puffed-up nationalism, from a deviant French judge to despots seeking to mask their sinister statecraft in the spirit of athletics.
Why such complaint, then, when the politics becomes protest against obvious and insidious tyranny?
As the Olympic torch relay faced protests-turned-wrestling matches in London and Paris — and then hid from the waiting crowds in San Francisco — history should have reminded us that the torch relays were begun by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Why the new rite? Hitler was all for spectacle, and sought to showcase his ascendant Nazi regime to the world.