London 1948. As a consequence of the end of World War II, the IOC decided not to invite either Germany or Japan.
Helsinki 1952. Germany participated split in the Federal Republic and the Republic of Saarland. The newly created Democratic Republic, a sector of the country linked to the Soviet Union, was not invited. Yes, both so-called People’s China and Nationalist China were. Dissatisfied with the measure, Taiwanese athletes left the Olympic Village two days before the start of the competitions.
Melbourne 1956. The conflict over the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian government includes a joint military intervention by Britain, France and Israel. The IOC refuses to sanction these countries. Egypt withdraws from the tournament in alliance with Iraq and Lebanon. Spain, Holland and Switzerland abandon the competition in repudiation of the Soviet presence, which had just violently stifled the popular revolution in Hungary. So did People’s China, inverting the equation of four years ago: they didn’t want Taiwanese people in Australia either.
In this way, we could continue as a cold inventory the lush and promiscuous relationship between sport and politics, which, for more than a century, has manifested itself in the Olympic Games more than in any other area, including the UN.
More than a year ago, there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which even today continues without definition, either war or sport. Today there is already talk of evaluating what consequences the conflict will bring in the Gaza Strip, where the very logic of the incident reveals a level of sensitivity that transcends the names of the sectors directly involved.
Spinning more or less finely, one could even notice a growing trend in conflicts that, with their diverse characteristics, arise all too often in different parts of the planet.
From a drastic stance and without considering nuances, if the IOC were to adopt in all cases a measure similar to that assumed with Russian athletes, it would be very difficult to ensure how many athletes from which countries would be forced to compete under the Olympic flag, without hymns and other symbols related to their country of origin. In addition, with the specific restriction of that country’s participation in sports as a whole: without rings on the horizon, sports such as volleyball, basketball, handball, water polo and so many others could soon become minor disciplines for young Russians.
By the way, sports is not the deepest problem. As in any war, we are talking about people who die and people who kill. Nor does one conflict make the same difference. Much less is the intention to reach a conclusion in this regard from these lines. It’s more. To insinuate the slightest opinion sitting comfortably in front of a computer keyboard drinking coffee looking out the window at a sky through which birds fly and not missiles and drones would be decidedly disrespectful.
What these lines point to is, once again, to ask ourselves if it is not time for sport in general and Olympism in particular to stop being an adjustment variable trying to bring order and justice in a scenario infected by people who, from a geopolitical perspective, want neither order nor justice.
Nobody disputes the power of seduction that this type of activity generates in the public around the world. Not coincidentally, do the noblest to the most pathetic politicians constantly seek to be close to athletes: a selfie with an idol tends to improve the popularity of the most unpopular; at least that’s what many image advisors think. I don’t remember a president missing the opening ceremony of a game on their own land, despite the fact that the protocol requires them to give the briefest speech of their career (only if they let them say “I declare the Olympic Games inaugurated...”)
However, athletes have enough with the issue of doping and so-called social drugs. Can anyone explain why while an athlete can end his career by smoking marijuana or vacuuming cocaine, no one controls that those who govern us or dictate laws do not do so under the influence of similar substances?
From this same space, we have already argued that this marriage between sport and politics - out of convenience, toxic, asymmetric but marriage at last - is an inevitable issue, giving athletic disciplines much more to lose than to win. And that, as in the case of Ukrainians and Russians, there is no just solution, because of prohibiting the presence of one and exposing the other to possible disgust.
Perhaps there is a shortcut by taking a little distance from the inevitable vehemence that causes conflicts such as those that we see dangerously proliferating in these times.
Maybe it’s time to take a more introspective look and not pretend that it’s sports that tidy up a house whose owners insist on destroying.
A little more than six months before Paris 2024, it’s still annoying that in some Olympic offices there is a lot of discussion about politics and little about races, pitches, three-pointers, games, sets and goals.