Excellence. Friendship. Respect. So whose motto is that? Boy Scouts? Alcoholics Anonymous?
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 and with new laws that basically equate homosexuality with paedophilia, they have fostered a climate tolerant of anti-gay violence and abuse.
Nor are Russian contraventions of the Olympian charter 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’s pandering to all this is disappointing but not unprecedented. It 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, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the handicapped.
In response there were moves, especially in the United States, 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, whose 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’s 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 not because the IOC suddenly developed scruples. The IOC acted because of the growing influence in the Olympics movement of newly independent African countries. Unfortunately for white SA, 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.