April 10, 2008
To: Editors, Globe and Mail
In riposte to John Markham's argument that "political games have no place in the Olympics," one recalls Berlin 1936, where Hitler and the Nazis introduced the modern pageantry that we know so well. That pageantry included a torch relay, the first, and the Western countries embraced those games, albeit some countries and participants with a critical eye. Since 1936, nearly every Olympic era has served as a political venue. Recall the Soviet "victory" over the U.S. in Helsinki 1952; the debate over Apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s; the Black Power salute by Carlos and Smith in Mexico City in 1968, as well as the murder of 200 dissidents before those games by the Mexican military; the bloody attack by Black September terrorists on the Israeli compound at Munich in 1972; and the tit for tat refusal by Western and Soviet bloc countries to participate in 1980 (Moscow) and 1984 (Los Angeles). And this is the short list. The Olympic Games are politics, from the negotiating and navigating as to who "gets" them, to the bidding for sponsorship and television rights; and even, in some instances, to who makes the team. The current campaign to "free Tibet" from the Chinese is merely the latest in a long skein of politics.