Ditch the politics, champion the athletes

By Kevin Spitz

Gene Mills was a wrestler competing for a spot in the Moscow Olympics for the United States back in 1980. In the book “Wrestlers at the Trials,” Mills said, “I wanted to pin my way through the Olympic Games and knew I needed to drop down to 114.5 to meet my goal. That was a tough pull for me but I made it. It was only after I won the wrestle-offs that I finally realized we wouldn’t be wrestling in the Games.”

In February of 1980, President Jimmy Carter made the decision that the United States would boycott the Olympic Games because of the Soviet Union attack on Afghanistan.

Mills went on to say, “I was so mad. I wasn’t pulling all that weight to have a good time. I was devastated, furious, angry, you name it.”

Like many other athletes in 1980, Mills had missed his chance to compete at the highest level when the United States and 61 other countries boycotted. Even more missed their chance at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when the Soviets boycotted due to “chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States.”

In these cases, athletes around the world were reduced to mere pawns for world leaders to use as they saw fit.

Sadly, in 2008, world leaders and other zealots for causes are starting down the same path.

Now, I am in no way supporting China’s treatment of those in Tibet. I am not defending them in any way, but with the absence of any safety concern for our athletes, it is terribly unfair to drag them into what is becoming a political mess.

Luckily, recent reports have centered less on a total boycott of the Olympic Games and more on whether President Bush will show up for the opening ceremony. To put it bluntly, I don’t care. The Olympics do not, and certainly should not, revolve around any world leader. It should revolve around the people who matter – the athletes.

According to the official Olympic charter, “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

Nowhere in that statement is there anything about politics, or that the Olympics should be a forum for any sort of political discourse. But time and time again, the Olympics have been used for world leaders and other zealots to further their cause.

In 1936, Adolf Hitler used the Olympics as part of his German propaganda machine. In 1968, two African-American medal winners raised their hands with the black power sign and were banned from those games. There are countless other countries that have been banned from competing for miscellaneous reasons as well. And it’s not that I want to trivialize the reasons why these countries got banned, it’s just that this sort of politicization has no place in the Olympic Games just because they take place on a world stage.

Instead, the Olympics need to be a celebration of sport and a worldwide fraternity. When the modern Olympiad began in 1896, the creator of those Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, hoped the games would lead to world peace. Obviously, this has not been the case. Since 1896, we have had two world wars and many regional ones.

In my idealistic mind, though, the Olympics have helped cultivate a better understanding of different cultures. Even if world leaders are too proud to submit to the charm of the Olympic Games on a larger scale, certainly each and every athlete is touched by having the ability to compete at the highest possible level.

And in the end, those athletes who are touched by the games are the ones that really matter.

Certainly there are many acceptable political reasons why the United States and other countries should boycott the Beijing Games. But for once in this over-politicized world, let’s worry about if the United States can end their team handball medal drought, rather than whether our lame-duck president makes a statement out of the opening ceremony.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]