Saturday, August 9, 2008
Olympic Controversies and Historical Parallels
The Beijing Olympics are producing a good deal of controversy, chiefly over Chinese policy toward Tibet and Sudan, and perhaps secondarily over China's general domestic human-rights record.
Not surprisingly, commentators are making comparisons with earlier cases or simply using the occasion to reflect on them. Not surprisingly, either, the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany are among the most common points of reference.
Already last spring, on the occasion of the torch run, the BBC and various commentators reminded us that it was the Nazis who invented that tradition (I am here borrowing a phrase from the influential book by Hobsbawm and Ranger). The US Holocaust Museum, although making no explicit comparison, has an exhibition on the 1936 Olympics.
Abebooks reminds us, however, that Olympic "crisis" (as it calls it), is hardly new. It lists a selection of titles on a broad range of Olympic controversies and catastrophes, including the dispute over Jim Thorpe's medals, the Nazi Olympics of 1936, the protests by African-American athletes at Mexico City in 1968, the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972, the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, and scandals involving doping and training practices.