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War and Peace and the Olympic Games



The independence square in Kiev was devastated in protests.

KIEV – After months of protest and deadly violence in Ukraine, the situation has improved considerably during the weekend as President Yanukovich announced that there will be early elections and fled the country. Ukraine was on the brink of a civil war, with people being shot on the streets.

To show solidarity to those who fought and died back home, Ukrainian athletes wanted to wear black wristbands during the Olympics, a wish that was refused by the International Olympic Committee by saying that the Olympics are not a political stage. Moreover, this week has been particularly controversial in Sochi with the detention and beating of Pussy Riot and the detention of a former Italian member of parliament for wearing a pro-gay attire (left).

The International Olympic Committee's spokesman Mark Adams commented the Pussy Riot beatings as "very unsettling but largely an issue for the Russian government", and he further noted that "it's a shame if the Olympics is used as a political platform". IOC president Thomas Bach has also repeatedly said that "political statements should not be made on the backs of athletes". Well, it was the IOC who made access to the games impossible to human rights activists by introducing a visitor's pass for the first time at Olympic Games, which was granted (or rather not) by the Russian administration. With this act alone the IOC has made the Games highly political. The IOC's comments seem surprising also given the history of the Olympic games. Every host country has tried to use the Oympic Games for its political benefit beside its legitimate goal of advertising its culture and country, each Olympic Games have been subject to politics and social messages. Here are a few examples.

  • In 1936, the Berlin Olympics were boycotted by western countries due to Hitler's rise to power. Adolf Hitler regarded the games as his blackglovedfist.jpgOlympics and tried to use the games for propaganda purposes, showcasing his post-First World War country. Jesse Owens though made it impossible to advertise the superiority of the white Aryan race as he had intended.
  • The Soviet Union boycotted the Olympic games for political reasons until 1952.
  • In Rome in 1960 Muhammad Ali won the gold medal, but in protest against discrimination in the USA he threw it in the river when he was denied service in a diner in his hometown due to being black, and his medal was replaced in 1996 in Atlanta.
  • The Black Power protest in Mexico in 1968, when black athletes raised their black-gloved fists during the medal ceremony.
  • In 1972 eleven Israeli Olympic team members were killed by terrorists during the Munich Olympics.
  • In 1980, the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and a counter-boycott was staged by Eastern Bloc contries at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
  • In 1988 a handful of countries and North Korea boycotted the Summer Olympics that took place in South Korea.
  • 200cathyfreeman_0.jpgA unifying act was seen in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, when runner Cathy Freeman carried both the Aboriginal and Australian flags with her during her victory lap. This was despite the fact that the IOC bans unofficial flags from being used in the Olympics, and it was seen as unifying a nation in which aboriginals had experienced centuries of injustice.
  • The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were overshadowed by human rights violations in China as well as in Tibet. Over 100 world champions and Olympic winners campaigned for human rights and successful Olympic games games, a campaign that Cinema for Peace initiated. The Games also saw a moment of reconciliation when Russian and Georgian medalists kissed and hugged each other on stage.
  • Muhammad Ali took part in the Olympic games opening ceremony in London 2012, where he saluted a peace and justice progression with the Olympic flag alongside other humanitarian icons. With Sports for Peace, who hosted him in London, Ali presented his 6 core values to a global audience.
  • The participation or non-participation of heads of states in the Olympic games is always political, equally so in 2014 when Presidents Gauck, Hollande and Obama gave clear political signals by not participating because of anti-gay laws and human rights abuses in Russia. President Obama also sent a clear message by sending openly gay athletes in the US delegation to the Olympics.

pussyriotsochi.jpgIn that respect 2014 proved no different. The Sochi Olympics were overshadowed by international issues such as the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia has been playing a role, as well as Syria, where an Olympic Truce was not achieved although Russia is one of the major arms dealers of the Assad regime. Russian internal issues such as human rights violations and environmental destruction were also highly visible through protests in Sochi carried out by Pussy Riot and environmentalists, many of whom have had to flee Russia and one of them having been convicted to a labor camp last week.

Given this background, the regular corruption scandals in the IOC (proven by journalists latest again in 2012 in London) and the lack of improvement raises the question if possibly a different body like the UN should select the host nation of Olympic Games in the future, while giving the commercial income to charitable sports projects and letting the IOC decide solely about sports issues? This would also stop corruption and the phenomena that the world's largest and most popular sports events are being awarded to places with no reason, tradition or experienced spectators – as for example the Soccer World Cup in Qatar, which was bought with money and where FIFA found out to its surprise that it is too hot to play football there in the summer.

We invite you to watch the following trailers on the Olympic games, Ukraine & Pussy Riot:
  • CHARIOTS OF FIRE by Hugh Hudson recounts how two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.
  • COOL RUNNINGS by Jon Turteltaub is a film based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team trying to make it to the winter Olympics.
  • AS ONE by Hyeon-seong Moon is the cinematic retelling of the first ever post-war Unified Korea sports team, hastily formed to participate in the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in 1991.
  • ORANGE REVOLUTION by Steve York chronicles Ukraine's 2004 presidential campaign, from one candidate's poisoning to the intimidation of voters, acid-bombing of ballot boxes, and the political pressure put on election officials to count votes a certain way.
  • MUSIC VIDEO by Pussy Riot, which was shot in Sochi and which depicts security forces attacking and assaulting them.