Today’s LA Times includes a column by Philip Hersh, who calls on International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to respond to growing sentiment among world leaders and Olympic athletes alike that the Beijing games are creating a political problem that demand attention from the IOC. Hersh writes in response to Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband’s request for Rogge to put forward a statement from the IOC that addresses China’s more-apparent-than-ever human rights abuses:
Yes, this mixes politics and the Olympics, but that is nothing new. Remember the IOC’s admirable decision to ban South Africa because its Olympic committee hewed to the politics of South African governments who legislated racial discrimination?
The 2001 decision to give the Games to China was largely political and commercial, even if the technical quality of its bid was unquestionably excellent.
It was about giving the IOC’s global sponsors a chance to ingrain themselves in the Chinese market and about allowing the world’s most populous country to loom even larger on the global stage.
So, Jacques, you can keep defying common sense by saying the IOC is not a political organization.
How about an irrelevant one?
Hersh is right. Common sense tells us that the IOC is a political organization and the Olympics have been a political event, at least since the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany. It was there that the concept of touring the torch first took hold, as Hitler paraded the Olympic flame in an effort to glorify the Nazi regime. Now we see the Beijing government plan to run the Olympic torch up Mount Everest and through Tibet as a means of validating their military occupation. Organizations that side with dictatorships and totalitarian governments’ efforts to repress people and prevent freedom tend to end up in the same place as those foul governments – in the dustbin of history. Rogge’s silence in the face of requests from athletes, governments, and Tibetans only solidifies the perception of him and the IOC as blindly subservient to the needs and desires of the Chinese government. In that sense, his actions, as Hersh suggests, make the IOC irrelevant. If they will not embrace their political power, then they must be seen as having no power at all.