Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Dark Days of the Olympic Games

Despite my previous post about the Olympic Games being a great force of victory for the human spirit and human achievement, I’d be remised, if I didn’t acknowledge that the modern Olympic Games can also divide people. Because virtually the entire world watches the Games, the Olympics have a tremendous value for terrorists and political leaders seeking to make grand statements on a global stage. The most notable of these occurred at the 1972 Munich Games when terrorists from the Black September branch of the PLO kidnapped and murdered eleven Israeli athletes during a botched German rescue attempt. 

Jim McKay's (ABC sportscaster) iconic statement delivered during those games may forever live in our memories:

"When I was a kid my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.

Even though the actions taken by the Black September group where widely condemned throughout the Western world, one cannot deny the stomach turning reality that it brought attention to the Palestinian cause that it would not have achieved, had such an attack occurred on a Thursday in Tel Aviv.

Nor was it the only case of politics and the Olympic games colliding. Cold War tensions brewed up in 1980 and 1984 as the United States boycotted the Moscow games in 1980 to protest the Soviet War in Afghanistan, while the Soviets followed suit in Los Angeles in 1984, presumably as a response to the U.S. actions in Moscow. These actions didn't do much other than deprive athletes who trained their entire lives of the chance to compete. Perhaps the most iconic moment in U.S. Olympic history was cast against the backdrop of the Cold War...I think the phrase "Do you believe in miracles"? will cover it. In these politicized contexts, victory becomes something greater...its' not just the victory of a bunch of college kids over this great Soviet hockey machine, but rather a victory for freedom over the repression of communism.

As the Cold War has been left to thaw a new political dimension has been created. Greater spotlight has been shined on human rights issues like China's conflict with Tibet, and the plight of the aboriginal peoples of Canada in a large part due to Olympic Games coming to Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010. Modern Olympic History is perhaps most remembered for the verbal snipping match that occurred between President George W. Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from Beijing in 2008 after the Russian-Georgia conflict had begun while the men where there for the start of the Summer Games. The bottom line is that for all the pageantry and beauty of the Olympic Games sometimes politics intervene, giving the games their dark moments.

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