April 13, 2008

Tony Pierce, on why we should go to the Olympics:
although i believe in making it tough for a torch to get from one end of frisco to another, i dont believe in not going to olympic events out of protest.

i believe in having jesse owens go to nazi germany to win gold right there in front of hitler and his beliefs about the master race.

i believe in going to mexico city and raising the black power salute while they play the star spangled banner

i believe in beating the russians with kids because yes al michaels i believe in miracles

and miracles dont happen unless you play the game.
A number of points should be made about any decision to boycott. First, there is absolutely no reason for the President to attend the opening ceremonies. President Ford didn't attend the opening ceremonies in Montreal, nor did LBJ go to Mexico City. And those Olympics were held next door, so to speak, not halfway around the globe. Neither tradition nor necessity requires George Bush to make a trip that did he didn't make four years earlier.

Second, the rationale for boycotting the Games was the same now as it was when they were originally awarded to China, in 2001. I don't think it can be plausibly argued that things are worse now in China than they were back then. The IOC had reason to know what it was getting into when it made the selection, and it seems unfair to punish the athletes at this late date.

Third, the notion that Olympic boycotts accomplish nothing is one that is belied by history. The boycott of the '76 Games by African nations upset by New Zealand's defiance of an international anti-Apartheid blockade thrust that issue into the public spotlight, ensuring that future friendly contacts with South Africa would be fraught with risk. The boycott of the Moscow games by the U.S. was arguably the most constructive act in opposing Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan (obviously, it finishes ahead of "arming the Taliban"), and minimized the propaganda value that full attendance at those games would have had for that regime. It was also a very popular move at home, a way of signalling our anger over the Soviet invasion without shedding blood.

Conversely, the non-boycott of the '36 Games in Berlin should now be seen in the context of other decisions made by Western political leaders not to challenge the rising Nazi tide. The notion that Jesse Owens "discredited" Aryan supremacy reminds me of that great Peter Cook line about the importance of the Weimar cabarets in stopping the rise of Hitler and preventing World War II. Owens did indeed win four gold medals in the center of Nazi Germany, Joe Louis did destroy Max Schmelling in less than two minutes, and yet Hitler still managed to nearly destroy civilization. Since Leni Riefenstahl found the time to make a propaganda film about the games anyway (even including the stories of Owens and other black athletes in the version shown internationally), it's safe to say that Hitler, who didn't like sports to begin with, wasn't challenged in any way by the occasional victories of "non-Aryan" athletes at his games. It's hard to see how not boycotting the '36 Olympics made the world a safer or more humane place.

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