The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Let Them Speak

Aug 29th, 2020
12:25 pm PST

The Olympic Charter calls on the IOC “to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes”. This is the basis for “banning” athletes protests during the Olympics. I feel however, that using this statement as the reason to ban the peaceful protests of athletes is itself an abuse of words. I’ll tell you why..

The Olympic Games were created to serve as a gathering of nations in peaceful combat. Pierre de Coubertin envisioned peace through sport, when he resurrected the ancient Games and brought them forward into the then, New World. An event where nations and individuals could gather and fellowship together thru sport to create peace and hopefully a better world. This is why every nation gets representation, regardless of how good or poorly, their athletes are able to compete. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy, but everyone gets to attend and attempt.

As the Games have grown in size and scope, they have become the world’s largest sporting event – and its largest visual spectacle. As such, the IOC and various nations have attempted to use it to advance THEIR political agendas!

Awarding the Games to Mexico City during a time of civil unrest was a political move. Just as removing Tommie Smith and John Carlos was an attempt at a political statement. Avery Brundage constantly overtly used his position in a political fashion. Awarding the Games to China (Beijing) was political for both the IOC and China, who attempted to show itself in a favorable light to the rest of the world.

The Berlin Olympics of Adolph Hitler was nothing but an ongoing political statement of attempted Nazi supremacy – funny that Brundage had NO problem with the Nazi salute, but expelled Smith and Carlos over a fist! Regardless, the Nazi supremacy theme backfired when Jesse Owens did the then unthinkable, and won four gold medals! And the attempt to elevate South America through awarding of the Games to Rio de Janeiro, which clearly wasn’t ready, was yet another political move by the IOC.

So to attempt to silence the voices of the athletes, for whom the event was actually created is nothing if not hypocritical on the part of the IOC based upon its own history. It’s ok for athletes to “perform” for their countries and for the entertainment of the world. But they can’t express themselves in a peaceful manner regarding anything other than athletic performance? Is this temporary slavery? Or at best some form of temporary indentured servitude?

The Games are about peaceful competition and exchange of ideas. And, well, some of those ideas just may be about things going on within their countries! There was a time when there was an Eastern Bloc of countries, with athletes that had stories to tell. It was through athletics and the exchange of information, that those stories began to be told and shared with a greater audience. With time as those stories were told, change became inevitable. Athletics helped that change come about!

Change. Growth. The Games have been about both throughout the decades. The number of nations has grown from a handful to a couple hundred – 206 to be precise. From men only to men AND women. What was once a Summer Games, is now Summer AND Winter. And the idea of AMATEUR only, has morphed to include PROFESSIONALS! The Olympic Games has been forced to change and morph and keep up with the times. As well it should. It has become a mirror of society itself!

In that vein, it’s time for the Olympic Games to take yet another BIG step and truly grow up. We live in the 21st Century. A world of instant information and SOCIAL MEDIA. A world where social consciousness is important. And it’s time for the Games to acknowledge and join THIS 21st Century world! I’m not asking for the IOC to abandon its charter. No one should ABUSE the platform of the Olympic Games in a political manner. HOWEVER. We, they, should recognize that the Games’ participants are first and always INDIVIDUALS. Yes, they’re there representing various nations, but real people with thoughts and feelings that they express daily through various forms. And as long as they do not denigrate the Games, they should be allowed to continue being genuine to themselves during their participation at the Olympics – not mindless, emotionless robots sent to compete for everyone else’s pleasure! Peaceful, silent, respectful protests should be allowed – perhaps even encouraged. From Green Peace, green energy, to social injustice. A gesture, a shirt, a patch, or a sticker. Because to create an environment that allows it, will prevent situations of true abuse or misuse of the platform! If the goal is to truly be “in control”.

You see,  at the end of the day, in this environment, you can no longer silence people! THAT is impossible. Ask the people of the United States that wish the press conference was the only way to hear from our chief elected officials! We have discovered, however, that when people are denied a voice, bad things usually follow. Especially when the stage is as large as that of the Olympic Games. That’s why Beijing hosted the Games. It’s also why terrorists killed people in Munich. Perhaps death could have been averted with other alternatives in place. No one knows, and we can’t change the past. We can however, shape the future. And in so doing, you can either become part of the solution, or be part of the problem. The question is, how do you want history to remember you? That is the question I pose to the IOC and the Olympic movement. As it stands, both appear to be about one thing – money. When by its own inception, it is supposed be be about the betterment of human kind – about bridging gaps and bringing people together. They are supposed to be Pro athlete, not Anti athlete! It’s time for the IOC and the Olympic Games to live up to the vision of Pierre de Coubertin and do what’s right for the athletes. Because it is what’s right. And because it is so easy to do!

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