Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee from 1942 to 1972 declared : “We are dead against any country using the Games for political purposes, whether right or wrong. The Olympics are competitions between individuals and not nations.” Unfortunately, the statement of the president did not prevent the Olympics from 1956 to 1984 to be a platform for Cold War hostilities. The Cold War is defined as a state of hostilities between the Soviet bloc countries and the Western powers after the Second World War . The Games were clearly representative of the tensions of the Cold War and were even sources of it. Governments of several states used the Games for political purposes and made no secret of it. They also influenced the countries of their sphere of power to follow them in their demonstration of opinions. We will see that the Games were used in different ways, either to show the other’s weakness or to reinforce one’s ideology but also to replace the war that could not take place openly.
The Olympic Games were first used in order to show the enemy’s weakness. It is clear in the case of the American non participation in the Games of 1980. The Games were preceded by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American president used this reason in order not to participate to the Games; which were to take place in Moscow. Carter “professes that his boycott was motivated partly by a concern for human rights.” He also used his presidential powers in order to prevent American economic participation in the Games, which included “NBC’s televising of the Games, the United States Postal service’s sale of commemorative stamps and postcards, as well as export of any “good or technology” related to the Moscow Games”.
The Cold War can be most aptly characterized as an ideological conflict between two superpowers which enveloped and polarized the world for fifty years. It was a conflict between communism and capitalism, the Soviet Union versus the United States. Both nations foreign policies were shaped in order to retain and increase the influence of their respective ideologies whilst restricting the spread of ...
Not only did the Americans boycott the games and clearly expressed their disagreement towards the Soviet Union’s political choices, but they also contacted over a hundred heads of stated to support their will to move the Games from Moscow . The Games were of course held in the planned city, raising vivid reactions from the International Olympic Committee : Lord Killinan “considered the American administration completely ignorant about the politics and structure of the modern Olympics”.
But the American did not participate and led another fifty countries to act the same way . In that sense, the Soviet Union were deprived of the international acknowledgement it was looking for.
The Soviet’s reaction was pretty provocative towards the United States. Indeed, Novikov, said that the selection of Moscow to hold the Games “became a signal for attack to which rallied not only open anti-Soviets but also opponents of Olympism, all who openly or secretly struggle against peace and international cooperation.” The United Stated wanted to show one of the weaknesses of the Soviet Union but the latter did not get dashed, on the contrary, it used it in order to prove one of the American weaknesses. The two countries were then eager to have an occasion to devaluate the “enemy” by emphasizing one of its bad points.
The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Games of 1984 were then the response to the American non participation. The Soviet used the fact that the city was too dangerous as a reason not to attend the Games, and that according to them, the Americans’ organization did not match the Olympic Charter. But some critics saw this move as a means to attack the United States, especially because it was a period of presidential elections and that the Soviet Union aimed at hamper Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Furthermore, the Soviet boycott was followed by only twelve other communist countries, which can be seen as a failure. But this did not demoralized the Soviet Union, on the contrary, they were pretty proud of themselves.
The first Olympic games were held in Olympia, Greece. The Olympic games we have come to watch today are only part of what the first Olympic games used to be. In the ancient games people also competed in poetry, mathematics, architecture and sculpture. Competitors were only men. Nowadays Olympic games are international sports competition. In the Olympics, athletes play in many types of games. Some ...
But just because the Soviets did not attend the Games did not mean that they did not comment them. Indeed, they showed a provocative behavior, criticizing the organization, the fairness of the judges, and claiming that if they had participated, they would have won a lot of medals. Even the newspapers showed irony towards the Games : “Sovetskii sport questioned whether, in view of the rampant criminal use of guns in Los Angeles, the starters’ pistol shots would be even audible”.
The Olympic Games are have also been a means to reinforce one’s ideology. We can see that with several events that took place during the period. First of all, the Games of 1956 were the second ones the Soviet Union attended. Previously, there had been a great fear because of these newcomers : “their basis fear was of possible Soviet expansion into a manipulation of the Olympic movement for its own purposes “. In 1952, for their first participation, one can remember that they were isolated, they were in a separate housing and posted a large picture of Stalin on the outside of their building. They even considered the fact of staying in URSS and crossing the border everyday to participate to the athletic events. The government feared that the Soviet athletes could be in contact with the western athletes. Some commentators such as Jack Crump, justified this behavior by saying it was because of the language difficulty, but such a statement seems a bit naïve given the political circumstances.
The victories of the athletes of the Soviet Union often brought Soviet commentaries claiming the success of the Soviet ideology and communism . S.L. Akselrod, a Soviet sport historian wrote : “The triumph of our athletes … is proof of the superiority of the Soviet socialistic culture over the rottenness of the culture of capitalist countries”. This kind of statement was harshly criticized by the president of the International Olympic Committee. Indeed, Lord Killanin answered “I do not think it shows you have a better way of life if you win a lot of medals.” But it was quite the same for the United States.
Apart from the tensions we just saw concerning directly the two great powers of the period, we also may have witnessed ideological conflicts through the Olympics by the satellites of these two states. Indeed, the Games of 1956 were the source of several divergences. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the Games in order to protest against the French, English and Israeli occupation of the Suez Canal. As for Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain, they did the same to denounce the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Once again, the International Olympic Committee expressed its disagreement towards political expression through the Olympics :
During the Cold War, the United States resolved to take a shot at the Soviet Union by siding with Afghanistan and taking great measures to stop Soviet influence and communist ideology. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to expand its influence in the Middle East with the absence of American influence. At this point in the Cold War the United States and Soviet Union were ...
We hope that those who have withdrawn from the Melbourne Games will reconsider. In an imperfect world, if participation in sport is to be stopped every time the politicians violate the laws of humanity, there will never be any international contests.
To what the President of the Netherlands Olympic Committee responded : “How can sports prevail over what happened in Hungary ? How would we like it of our people had been atrociously murdered, and someone said that sport should prevail ?”.
Finally, the Olympics were used as a stage to substitute the war that could not take place openly. The newspapers focused on the respective scores of the United States and the Soviet Union, referring to the completion as “the battle of the Giants” . This clearly shows that the issues of the Cold War were brought to the Olympics; “battle” referring to the war and the “Giants” to the two powers of the period. But there was not only an external point of view on the matter. Indeed, even among the athletes, the competition has taken another sense. The Olympic decathlon champion, Bob Mathias, said :
There were many more pressure on American athletes because of the Russians than in 1948. They were in a sense the real enemy. It wasn’t like beating some friendly country like Australia. This feeling was strong down through the entire team, even [among] members in sports where the Russians didn’t excel.
During their first games, the Soviet Union had hung a scoreboard in the yard of their housing compound. It allowed them to show their superiority over the United States. Ironically enough, when the American athletes performed better, the score board suddenly turned blank, the head of the Soviet National Olympic Committee, Nikolai Romanov claimed that he did not know the results. But eventually, the two countries ended up really close and an American victory could not be claimed, thing that the Soviets particularly enjoyed.
The Beginning of the Modern Olympic Games From the earliest that historians can trace back which was nearly since the beginning of time, people have been putting on and celebrating some type of a festival. The festivals held in the foot hills of Cyllene and Erymanthus at Olympia were considered to be religious and athletic. Some historians believe that in the beginning of time, two gods, Zeus and ...
The atmosphere of war was also present during the basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union. The American were defeated, and did not exactly show a lot of good sportsmanship, they refused to attend the award ceremony and to receive their silver medals.
The Olympic Games, as we saw, were the means to show political positions, national ideologies and also animosity towards a political enemy because of political choices. Contrary to what the different presidents of the Olympic Committee have kept claiming, the Olympic Games have clearly been representative of the tensions of the Cold War, showing the repercussions of political decisions. In a competition where athletes represent not only themselves but also their country, the political issues cannot just be forgotten or put apart. As Pascal Boniface wrote, the Olympic Games during the Cold War were a weaponless war . It allowed states to compete against each other, without harming each other, but for the same reasons as the ones they used to fight at war. But the Olympics have also known peaceful games. They are the mirror of the different conflicts but they do not contain the violence of the war. They can be a tricky way of expressing opinions, being criticized or even boycotted. As Lord Killinan said : ““Everything in our life is governed by political decisions… What we in sport and the Olympic movement need is the interest and support of politicians, not their interference.” What we need is the realization that Olympics and politics are linked, and this cannot be changed. What can be changed, though, is the nature of the link.
Boniface, Pascal, « Géopolitique des Jeux Olympiques », Le monde diplomatique, Aoüt 2004, http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2004/08/BONIFACE/11492
Epsy, Richard, The Politics of the Olympic Games (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1979)
Guttman, Alex, The Games must Go On (New York : Columbia University Press, 1984)
Hakim, Karim, « Jeux Olympiques : Boycott et Exclusions », Le Monde diplomatique, Août 2008 http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2008/08/HAKIM/16224
The Olympic games are thegreatest sports event in the world. For many years, the Greeks used games for many reasons. The official ancient games were started in Greece. The first modern games in Athens, Greece, were held from April 6 through April 15 in the year of 1896. Since then, major world events plagued some of the Olympic games. There are a lot of examples of games being held in early ...
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