We are on the eve of the end of another Olympics, but we could see that the raising of flags, marathon of ideologies and gymnastics of nationalism were part of the sporting mega-event. There, we could see that the gold medal policy remains unbeaten, showing that sport remains a powerful tool of state propaganda.
“I find it ironic that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) continues to present itself as an apolitical organization because the advent of the modern Olympic Games was political,” says Gerald Gems, professor emeritus at North Central College. “The first edition of the competition, in 1896, was organized by Western countries, promoting specific modalities, also Western. Anyone who wanted to participate had to adapt to these rules and this group, as it works until today. The IOC is still controlled, basically, by Western white men,” he adds.
Gems recalls that all editions of the Olympics were political stages for different reasons, whether for the pursuit of gender equality, the inclusion of blacks, indigenous people, among other disputes. The apex of sport as a political tool came in the 1936 edition, held in Hitler’s Germany. “There the world saw two political ideologies clashing, with Americans, and especially black American athletes, defeating Hitler’s so-called ‘super race’,” explains Gems.
A similar rivalry took place during the Cold War, as Robert Edelman, professor of sports history at the University of California, San Diego, explains: “On one side we had capitalism, on the other we had communism. opponent with weapons, we do it through sport, which brings out this level of competition.”
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The exchange of barbs is a recurrent modality in the Olympics. Gerald Gems highlights that the United States boycotts the 1980 Olympic Games, held in Moscow, due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; four years later, it was the Soviet Union that boycotted the Olympic Games, held in Los Angeles, USA.
“It’s all part of a big political game. In this edition this was evident with Taiwan, which could only participate under the Chinese name Taipei, so as not to upset China”, points out Gems.
While Taiwan claims to be a sovereign and independent country, and is recognized by some nations as such, China claims the island is part of its territory. Taiwan’s sovereignty is a sensitive issue in international relations.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the top ranking of the Olympic Games is a reflection of what we see in the geopolitical scenario. In the last editions of the event, the United States and China competed for the first place in the medals table, and in the 2016 edition, in Rio de Janeiro, the Asians got the pole position for winning the most gold medals. In the official count, the gold medal has a greater weight than the others.
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This year, China also appears ahead of the Americans, who decided to change the criteria of their medal table to reflect their victory. O The New York Times it started to adopt the absolute number of medals as a classification criterion, which gives the US athletes an advantage and places the US delegation at the top of the list.
“It’s clear that it’s not a sports manifesto, it’s about cultural, financial and social hegemony. The United States and China know that the Olympics are one of the ways they have to demonstrate their firepower. China has been challenging the United States for years. , and it is a fact that they must pass it on to us, economically, in the next 10 years”, analyzes Gems.
Individual decisions are also political, says professor
According to Edelman, however, not all political disputes are so clear cut. While other Olympic Games were marked by disputes between communist and capitalist countries and protests against racism, the current edition in Tokyo made room for Simone Biles’ “more subjective” agenda. The American gymnast, owner of 32 Olympic and world medals, was the favorite for the podium in Tokyo, but withdrew from many of her performances to protect her mental health.
“Not all the political manifestation seen at the Olympics is favorable to the athletes’ country of origin, as was the case with Biles, showing the psychological pressure to which they are submitted”, says the professor at the University of California.
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Defending the protests of athletes, understanding that the Olympics are and should be political, Edelman says that the “exploitation” of champions by politicians is part of the game.
“Each leader has a way of being and an exchange with sportsmen, as we saw that some winners refused, for example, to visit Donald Trump’s White House. Likewise, there were racist athletes who did not attend Obama’s office. All this is a great performance and they come loaded with symbologies”, analyzes Edelman.
Edition: Thales Schmidt