“The Olympic Games,” says the president of the American Olympic Committee (AOC), belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Accordingly, he says, there should not be a boycott of the upcoming games.
Concerned about the possibility of one, the AOC circulated pamphlets that assert “fair play for athletes.” Athletes should not be used as pawns in political debates, says the AOC.
On the other side of the debate is the Amateur Athletic Union, which points out that the host country has broken Olympic rules that expressly forbid discrimination based on race, religion and so on. Participation would suggest support for the regime’s bigoted policies, says the union.
The mayors and governors of New York and Massachusetts chime in, also strongly supporting a boycott. Various religious groups, mainly Catholic, similarly call for one. Nations like Great Britain, France, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands also moot shunning the games.
Are Russia’s Sochi games, to commence in 19 days, actually in peril?
No, not at all. The scenario sketched out above is real, and it really happened. But it all happened many years ago, prior to Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.
At the time, the head of the AOC, the loathsome Avery Brundage, dismissed growing concerns about Hitler’s persecution of Jews. It’s a “Jew-Nazi altercation,” sniffed Brundage, one that shouldn’t concern anyone else. Later, when it was evident that a Berlin boycott would fail, Brundage would go even further, blaming a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy” to jeopardize Hitler’s Olympics.
If all of this sounds a little familiar, it should. The Sochi games haven’t been controversial because Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin has avowedly anti-Jewish policies, like Hitler did. Putin has a different target: gays and lesbians. In most other respects, Sochi and Berlin, however, bear eerie similarities. The boycott debate has been heard before. And the result will be the same as it was in Berlin: the boycott efforts will fail, and the Sochi games will go ahead.
They shouldn’t. While the Olympic Games are indeed about athletics, anyone who suggests they are without profound political value is an idiot. Hitler certainly believed as much, and he used Berlin to provide a smokescreen for his military plans, and the Holocaust itself. The Olympics, he enthused, “awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die.”
Sounds like a modern-day politician, doesn’t he? Hitler knew the Olympics’ propaganda value. He used the 1936 Berlin games for agit-prop, covering the Olympic complex with Nazi banners, and giddily promoted Aryan athleticism. The Berlin games achieved their objective: no less than the New York Times later declared that Berlin brought Nazi Germany back “in the fold of nations” and “made them human again.”
Putin, as you may have heard, doesn’t like gays very much. He has passed what he calls “homosexual propaganda” law. It outlaws promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations.” It prohibits parents and teachers from telling young Russians that gay relationships normal. It also bans pamphlets promoting gay rights. Anti-gay violence in Russia has accordingly surged, and vigilante groups have formed to hunt down LGBT Russians online.
In the lead-up to the games being held at the Black Sea resort town, however, Putin has also made reassuring sounds about understanding and respect. Sounding rather like a certain German chancellor, Putin told the head of the International Olympic Committee that “we will do everything to make sure that athletes, fans and guests feel comfortable at the Olympic Games regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation. I would like to underline that.”
That, of course, is a lie. Participation in Sochi will do nothing whatsoever to advance human rights.
As in Berlin, 78 years ago, our participation will set human rights back.