The Olympics seek to gain a foothold amid shifting sands


It was only a matter of days after the Olympic flame was extinguished in Beijing that the sounds of war descended on Ukraine. We’ve watched for weeks as Vladimir Putin amassed troops on the Ukrainian border, debate the ethics of letting Russian skating phenom Kamila Valiyeva compete despite testing positive for drugs last December, and wonder when, if, the IOC would never give these team medals to figure skating competition.

The Olympics have been walking on quicksand for some time now, and not just because COVID-19 forced an unprecedented postponement of Tokyo 2020 or turned Beijing 2022 into a veritable sports prison with its inflexible ‘closed loop’ policies. to keep the virus out and competition Instead, from doping scandals, perhaps particularly that of Russia’s sports machine, to the growing attention to sexual misconduct rampant in women’s sport, with gymnastics at the center, the idea that “the games must go on” – most famously articulated by ardent racist and anti-Semite Avery Brundage, the Chicago businessman who led the International Olympic Committee through the massacre of the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Games – seems less able to muscle competition through global storms in the name of sport.

With Beijing serving as host for the second time in just a few years, the first city to hold both the winter and summer version of the Olympics, political interest was high for these Winter Games. But China’s human rights record was only one item on the political menu. Despite the Russian team’s ongoing ban for systemic doping violations, Putin sat proudly in the stands during the opening ceremony, rising to cheer on Russian athletes competing for the Russian Olympic Committee, or ROC – a concession ostensibly made to punish the country. but not the athletes for not competing cleanly.

While current IOC President Thomas Bach has called on world leaders to “observe your commitment” to the Olympic truce, his request has fallen on deaf ears with Putin, who has used the Olympics as a warming up in the past, invading Georgia in 2008 just as the Beijing Olympics began, and seizing Crimea just after the closing ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi.

Athletes, as Bach always pushes, deserve better, really. We should remember the breathtaking Chinese gold medal in pair skating, the intensity of Nick Baumgartner, 40, pleading with Lindsay Jacobellis, 36, to come down the hill first in mixed snowboard cross, and the exhaustion and exhilaration of Jessie Diggins as she collapsed at the finish line of the women’s 30km cross country race, the silver medal hers.

But the athletes compete in this very political context, their national colors on their backs, their flags wrapped around their shoulders (well, except for the Russians, who aren’t allowed, kinda sort of, as long as we ignore those flags on their sleeves at the opening ceremony). The ancient Greeks saw the Olympics as a way to interrupt the narrative of war – the concept of ekecheiria, or truce, at the center, imploring athletes and spectators to lay down their arms in the name of athletic competition.

Of course, a few weeks of competition did little to bring peace to the warring Greek states, just as a friendly hug between Russian and Ukrainian skiers in Beijing did little to prevent the tanks Russians rolling along the Ukrainian border, or bombs falling from the sky. The Olympics, of course, remain one of our greatest global gatherings. But what they mean, at this time, we cannot be sure.

Amy Bass is Professor of Sports Studies and Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Communication at Manhattanville College. Bass is the author of ONE GOAL: A COACH, A TEAM AND THE GAME THAT BROUGHT A DIVIDED CITY TOGETHER, among other titles. In 2012, she won an Emmy for her work with NBC Olympic Sports on the London Olympics.

Opinions expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of that resort or its direction.


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