Olympic com­mit­tee still will­ing to play ball with dic­ta­tors


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER Jaun­diced

EX­CEL­LENCE. Friend­ship. Re­spect.

Who would guess that these are the watch­words sup­pos­edly en­cap­su­lat­ing the mod­ern Olympic move­ment? Ac­tu­ally, says the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC), it’s not merely a slo­gan, but the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s “life phi­los­o­phy”.

Funny thing that, the gap be­tween imag­i­na­tion and re­al­ity. While those three qual­i­ties might be found in ath­letes par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Games, when one thinks of the IOC it­self, what pops to mind is: greed, bribery, cor­rup­tion. Oh, and there’s a fourth defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic: cow­ardice. It is this cow­ardice that pre­vents the IOC from pulling the plug on Rus­sia host­ing the Win­ter Olympics, which open in the Black Sea city of Sochi in Fe­bru­ary.

Rus­sia, par­tic­u­larly with its re­cent anti-gay laws, stands in fla­grant breach of the Olympic Char­ter, which states: “Any form of dis­crim­i­na­tion… on grounds of race, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics, gen­der or oth­er­wise, is in­com­pat­i­ble with be­long­ing to the Olympic move­ment.”

Rus­sia’s hu­man rights abuses are well enough doc­u­mented. The Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights two years ago fined it for vi­o­lat­ing the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion by ban­ning more than 600 gay events and marches. The Rus­sians paid the fine but con­tinue the ban­nings with new laws that ba­si­cally equate ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity with pae­dophilia.

Nor are Rus­sian con­tra­ven­tions con­fined to gen­der rights. Re­li­gions other than Rus­sian Ortho­dox, es­pe­cially Mus­lims, are be­ing ha­rassed and new anti-ter­ror­ism leg­is­la­tion al­lows the state to seize as repa­ra­tion the as­sets of the fam­ily and friends of con­victed ter­ror­ists.

The IOC has long been afraid to ne­go­ti­ate the po­lit­i­cal as­pect to sport. In­stead, the IOC pre­tends that sport is some kind of vestal vir­gin who can be clois­tered from a sul­ly­ing po­lit­i­cal world. This is not about pro­tect­ing the IOC’s prin­ci­ples, more about pro­tect­ing its ob­scenely large rev­enue flows.

Which is why the IOC has a his­tory of craven head-bob­bing to dic­ta­tors and thugs. IOC prin­ci­ples were mem­o­rably tested in 1933, when Adolf Hitler took power in Ger­many against a Nazi- chore­ographed back­drop of ter­ror, then en­acted a slew of racial pu­rity leg­is­la­tion, tar­get­ing “in­fe­rior” groups such as Jews, Ro­mani, ho­mo­sex­u­als, and the hand­i­capped.

In re­sponse there were moves, es­pe­cially in the US, to shift or boy­cott the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics. Hitler, how­ever, dis­armed the IOC with as­sur­ances that Ger­many would ex­empt from its ruth­less anti-gay law pro­hibit­ing “lewd” and “un­nat­u­ral” be­hav­iour, all the for­eign ath­letes, guests and me­dia at­tend­ing the Ber­lin Games.

The IOC ac­qui­esced in a heart­beat and du­ti­fully ex­pelled the US’s del­e­gate, Ernst Jah­ncke, for his pub­lic stance against Ber­lin 1936.

It re­placed him with Avery Brundage, later to be­come IOC pres­i­dent, who be­lieved pol­i­tics had no place in sport. In words that were res­ur­rected 30 years later by the IOC dur­ing the anti- apartheid years, Brundage pro­claimed that “the Games be­long to the ath­letes and not to the politi­cians”.

That has been the IOC’s creed ever since. Nasty piece of work that he was, Brundage earned fur­ther no­to­ri­ety dur­ing the 1972 Mu­nich Olympics, when he ap­peared to equate as trans­gres­sions of equal mag­ni­tude the ex­pul­sion of the Rhode­sian team from the Olympic move­ment with the mas­sacre of 11 Is­raeli ath­letes by Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists.

Sim­i­larly, the sus­pen­sion of South Africa’s Olympic mem­ber­ship be­tween 1964 and 1992 was be­cause of the grow­ing in­flu­ence in the Olympics move­ment of newly in­de­pen­dent African coun­tries.

Un­for­tu­nately for white South Africa, the dour Afrikan­ers in power at the time lacked the can­ni­ness of Hitler to avail them­selves of any of sev­eral es­cape routes that the IOC left open for them.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, how­ever, has clearly stud­ied Hitler’s 1933 script and knows how to pla­cate the IOC. For­eign gays and les­bians will not suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion at Sochi, he prom­ises. The lo­cals, how­ever, will have to take what’s dished out.

That’s the IOC for you. Five rings. No balls.

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