How and When the Olympic Games Became an Extension of Politics

The heart aches over the Tibetan youth who yesterday tried to snatch the Olympic torch in Greece at a time when his people's rights are bring trampled. He is probably unaware that the idea of the Olympic torch was hatched during the Nazi Olympics of 1936 in Berlin. The first torch bore only three rings, the symbol of the German steel company Krupp that produced the Wehrmacht might which crushed Europe. Had the organizers been more historically conscious, they would have canceled the torch ceremony altogether.

Sports and politics, as this example proves, are deeply entangled. It may sound silly to ban the torch ceremony because of its Nazi origins, but less so than banning Richard Wagner's music that was adopted by that regime. Still, such has been the conduct in Israel (and rightfully so).

Did the Soviet Union withdraw from Afghanistan because of the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Games? Or was the U.S. hurt when Moscow returned the favor four years later? On the matter of China hosting the games, International Olympic Committee president Jacque Rogge said it would open up China to the media. He may be wrong, but it did work in South Korea, which was transformed from a dictatorship into a democracy in the timeframe between 1981, when it won the bid to host the Games, and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Critics rightfully say China discriminates against minorities. But women in Saudi Arabia can't vote and are kept wrapped up in veils. Why has no one raised a cry over whether it should be allowed to participate in the Games? Meanwhile, if it were up to a UN vote, Israel may have been boycotted from the Olympics because of alleged human rights violations in Gaza. So what gives?

Unlike Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, the sanctimonious West cannot treat China with a mix of colonial patronage. China has been around for a long time. Confucius predated Plato, Socrates and Hillel the Elder. After massacring Native Americans, and enslaving Africans, the West cannot cry that they should be like us.

Alos, if we ban all the countries named by Amnesty International as human rights violators, then eventually we'll have an Olympics with only four participants: Holland, Norway, Iceland and Costa Rica. And in any case, sports without politics are a bore. Israel is right to be willing to play against enemy states - even those that deny its right to exist.

Of course, sometimes one cannot overlook a nation's transgressions, such as in the case of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But equating China in 2008 to the Nazis is like drawing a parallel between Israel's West Bank policies and the Nazis. One should listen to the Dalai Lama who said one could support freedom in Tibet without calling for a boycott of the Olympics. Otherwise, perhaps it's not too late to move the 2012 Olympics from the U.K. to a less controversial location, say, Costa Rica.