The Olympic’s Global 1% Agenda VS. Local Residents and Athletes Who Dare to Dissent

Posted on August 3, 2012


The Olympics are often characterized as a time where politics ends and the games being. Where borders seize to exist and the world comes together to watch athletes compete on fair and level playing fields free of daily injustices imposed upon them for corporate greed. NBC this year has offered 16+ hours a day of Olympic coverage kicking off with the opening ceremonies, described as a celebration of the host country’s heritage and hard work put into the preparation of such a momentous occasion.

Lost in the pageantry of the Olympics are the Shock Doctrine neoliberal policies required by the International Olympic Committee and the resistance by the local populace and athletes. Much like every other aspect of history, the Olympics have been commercialized, militarized, and washed of the radical resistance to those aspects by athletes and citizens of the area. In fact today Republican nominee Mitt Romney has been reduced to running his campaign on the success of the Salt Lake games due to his brilliant leadership.

To begin to understand how the Olympics have become an all you can eat buffet of the 1%, we must start with a quick historical review. From its revival in the 1890s by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee) has been a committee of plutocrats and elites such as princes, barons, counts, lords, and overall the super wealthy. In other words the I.O.C. makes sure to construct Olympic policies benefiting their own bottom line at all costs. Not until 1981 were women allowed to even be in the committee. Today the committee has members including: Princess Nora of Liechtenstein, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.

Acting as nothing more than a neoliberal Trojan horse, the I.O.C. has been riddled with scandals and malpractice. This was the case when Romeny was asked to lead the games into a more transparent setting. Romney would go on to receive 1.3 billion dollar from the federal government, in the process setting a record for Olympic cost. John Mccain outraged stated, “It was an incredible pork barrel project, it ripped off the tax payers, it was a disgrace.” He would later call for a federal investigation as a result of businesses receiving gifts for business expansion purposes that otherwise they would not have received.

Fast-forwarding to the London games, the police department and their government has used the excuse of security for the games to further militarize their police department and hand out billions of dollars to security apparatus companies that otherwise would have been deemed unnecessary. You see to host the Olympics the host city must comply with the Olympic Charter which states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. When Vancouver hosted the games in 2010, the city even went beyond these draconian measures by passing a bylaw that outlawed signs and banners that did not “celebrate” the Olympics. Placards that criticized the Olympics were forbidden, and the law even empowered Canadian authorities to remove such signs from private property.

So far in London the largest and most recent crackdown was the arresting of 182 people taking part in a monthly Critical Mass bike ride, the youngest a 13 year old boy. This would be a simple task due to the fact London has approximately 18,200 armed forces personnel on the ground. That is double the amount of troops in Afghanistan and for the first time since World War II, Britain’s Ministry of Defense has taken charge of London airspace. Other Orwellian measures introduced include: a 11 mile long electric fence (Higher than the Berlin Wall) patrolled by 7,500 Royal Marines, unmanned drones, 55 dog teams, 900 day/night surveillance cameras and 1,000 armed U.S. diplomatic and FBI agents on special assignment, 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras (1 camera for every 14 people, more cameras than in China) equipped with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate, facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking capabilities, new police control centers and checkpoints. Roads created only for the rich and its sponsoring companies. The largest Royal Navy ship in existence docked locally. There’s a dispersal zone set up around East London, that if there’s more than two people in them, police can come along if they think they’re engaging in antisocial behavior and kick them out of the area and make them not return. And so, we see those, and those are inordinately pressed against marginalized populations and racial minorities. And finally the always necessary surface to air missiles on top of apartment buildings without the consent of residents. In total costing 17 billion dollars, 88-98% paid by tax payers. This is not including the low income housing that was bulldozed to make room for the games.

Local businesses have fell prey to the Olympic tyranny as well. Sponsors including McDonalds, Visa, GE, BP, Coca-Cola, French firm Atos (focuses on work capability tests which work to remove disabled or sick from government funding) and Dow Chemical (created the Napalm to be used in Vietnam) have placed intellectual restrictions of Olympic design and language. The words “2012” and items in the shape of the legendary rings result in a fine of 40,000 dollars if not removed by the shop owner. Moody’s summed it up best when they concluded that the Olympics benefices would be the “corporates”. Many have protested the involved of Dow Chemical being a lifetime sponsor of the games, citing its atrocious human rights record involving Bhopal. A reminder of the incident is summarized by Democracy Now!

In December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tons of toxic gases leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The Indian government said soon afterward that around 3,500 people died, but campaigners estimate the total number of dead due to the leakage at 25,000, with many people still suffering. Years after the leak, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide. An organizer of the Bhopal Special Olympics called Dow’s involvement with the London Olympics an outrage.

Rachna Dhingra: “Children (of families) who have been poisoned by Union Carbide and Dow Chemical are taking part in an event called ‘Bhopal Special Olympics’ — it’s a day before the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games — to tell David Cameron and to Sebastian Coe that Dow Chemical needs to be kicked out of the Olympic Games, and also to the International Olympic Committee, who have signed a 10-year contract with Dow Chemical ’til 2020. We are doing are own games to tell them that their sponsorship will not be tolerated.”

Inside the games the commercialization really begins to come to light. During the opening ceremony the British included a skit celebrating their National Healthcare System, while simultaneously proposing to fire 50,000 doctors, nurses, midwives, and other staff of the NHS. In the mist of austerity cuts for the masses, money could still be found to subsidize large corporate sponsors and give billions of handouts to military firms. Socialize the cost, privatize the profits.

The games themselves present a grim reality of the corporate hand out structure of the games. In many of the events the seats are literally empty. This is because the tickets of the events were given for free to corporate sponsors and other corporations years in advance. While millions of real people begged to get in at reduced rates, fake people, the corporations, hogged the seats and consequently did not even attend, further illustrating that corporations are not people. Examples such as these illuminate why Michael R. Payne, a former marketing director for the committee, has called the Olympics “the world’s longest commercial.” Hell even the medals provided by mining giant Rio Tinto has been met with protests for allegedly treating their employees and the environment poorly.

Along with the untold injustices in the Olympics there is a resistance. It is almost 44 years to the day that John Carlos and Tommie Smith provided the most iconic image of sport’s history when they raised their fists after finishing first and third in the 200 meter dash in the 1968 Olympics. History is dulled and de-radicalized even in this case however but Sports Political commentator Dave Zirin concludes

Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the United States used black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally. Their demands of the Olympic Project for Human Rights included: restoring Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight boxing title, remove Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee (Brundage was an anti-Semite and a white supremacist, best remembered today for sealing the deal on Hitler’s hosting the 1936 Olympics in Berlin), hire more black coaches, and disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympics. Ali’s belt had been taken by boxing’s powers-that-be earlier in the year for his resistance to the Vietnam draft. By standing with Ali, OPHR was expressing its opposition to the war.”

John Carlos went on to say, “A lot of the [black] athletes thought that winning [Olympic] medals would supersede or protect them from racism. But even if you won a medal, it ain’t going to save your momma. It ain’t going to save your sister or children. It might give you 15 minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life?””

Their actions went beyond the gloves. The two men wore no shoes to protest black poverty, as well as beads and scarves to protest lynching while walking to the awards stage. They stood against the massacre by Mexican security forces 2 days before the Olympics where hundreds of students and workers were massacred. The OPHR stood in solidarity with the Prague Spring, during which Czech students challenged tanks from the Stalinist Soviet Union, the Black Panthers, and fought against the Vietnam War. The silver medalist, a runner from Australia named Peter Norman, attached an Olympic Project for Human Rights patch onto his chest to show his solidarity on the medal stand.

The reactions paint a picture of the times. Rumors were circulated the dissenters had been stripped of their medals and had been banned from Mexico. The Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute”. Time had a distorted version of the Olympic logo on its cover but instead of the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” it blared “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier.” The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Smith and Carlos were “renegades” who would come home to be “greeted as heroes by fellow extremists,” lamented the paper. Even the BBC chimed in:

Interviewer: At the same time, cynics might say that youʼve got it all. Youʼve got publicity, youʼve got medals, youʼve got martyrdom as well. What would you say to that?

John Carlos: I canʼt eat that, and the kids around my block that grow up with me, they canʼt eat it, and the kids that are going to grow up after them. They canʼt eat publicity. They canʼt eat gold medals, as Tommie Smith said. All we ask for is equal chance to be a human being. And, as far as I see now, we are five steps below the ladder, and every time we try to touch the ladder, they put their foot on our hands. They donʼt want us to climb up.

This offensive language to their oppressors has not been lost in time. Just this week a boxer Damien Hooper made major news inside and outside the ring. Before defeating heavy favored American boxer Marcus Browne, the 20 year Hooper’s attire included a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Aboriginal Flag. Hooper, who is of indigenous ancestry, knew that he was breaking the Olympics “no politics” rule, which states that you can represent only your country or approved corporate sponsors.

After the bout, Hooper had no regrets saying, “What do you reckon? I’m Aboriginal. I’m representing my culture, not only my country but all my people as well. That’s what I wanted to do and I’m happy I did it. I was just thinking about my family and that’s what really matters to me. Look what it just did—it just made my whole performance a lot better with that whole support behind me. I’m not saying that at all that I don’t care (about a possible sanction), I’m just saying that I’m very proud of what I did.”

A former world champion, the Australian/aboriginal boxer, Anthony Mundine told the Sydney Morning Herald that Hooper “did the right thing.”

Phil Cleary, an Australian politician and activist proclaimed, “Unlike the imperial flags draped around tearful young athletes, the indigenous flag has no history of occupation of foreign territories. Sadly, it’s the representation of stateless people, a people about whose history we dare not speak. Banning this flag is so pathetic it’s funny.”

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has stood in solidarity with Hooper, “for being proud of who he is and where he came from.” The I.O.C. has of course threatened Australia’s team and called on them to fix these actions or face consequences but it appears Hooper will not yield. Despite the strangle hold of the games by the 1%, hope remains. Whether it’s the Bhopal alternative Olympics, the street theater performed outside the fence, or athletes such as Hooper and organizations they belong to like the Olympic Project for Human rights who use their national stage to call out oppressors, we must encourage athletes to follow John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s shoes to point out injustice around the globe. Through actions such as the Miami Heat players wearing hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and NBA players marching with advocates against the anti-racist immigration policy in Arizona, we can all work for a better future and transform not just sports, but all culturally significant practices into an egalitarian practice free of commercialism, militarism, and injustices.

-Daniel Fisher

*Written on August 1, 2012

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