Saturday, July 23, 2016

Scandals and boycotts that have been a blot on Olympism

If the Olympic Games helped heal the wounds of two World Wars, violation of its spirit slashed open fresh ones, wracking it to the roots at times.

While incidents of esprit de corps that the movement embodied far outweighed those that assaulted it, forever etched in public memory will be episodes that the world could well have done without.

The mind’s eye immediately latches on to images inextricably intertwined with events of the day. In spite of remarkable achievement and record-breaking endeavours, the 1968 Mexico Olympics brings back recollections of the ‘Black Salute.’ In the next edition, photographs of masked gunmen peering from a balcony recreate the horrors of what became known as the ‘Munich Massacre’.

The 1988 Games at Seoul will conjure up the portrait of a Ben Johnson, bravado getting the better of him as he approached the tape. The forefinger raised in triumph and a condescending look over his shoulder at the competition in his wake would tell the story of glory in its most fickle form. So would the Canadian sprinter’s big eyes reveal fear, as in a frightened rabbit, in a terrifying aftermath of sports’ most spectacular scandal ever perhaps.

The first edition to face the brunt was the 1916 Berlin Games. Laying bare its imperialistic designs, the Fatherland chose to cancel the sixth in the series of the modern version. Budapest had scored over Lyon and Amsterdam to host the 1920 Games. Politics came into play when the Hungarian capital was set aside, since the Austro-Hungarian empire had collaborated with Germany in WWI.

Antwerp was picked by a French-dominated International Olympic Committee (IOC), more comfortable with its Belgian neighbour. As member states of the Central Powers alliance, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey were seen as not welcome to the port city. Isolation of Germany was extended to the 1924 Paris Games, made famous by ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell’s refusal to run on a Sunday as being contrary to his Christian beliefs.

The 1932 Los Angeles Games was rocked by ‘Flying Finn’ Paavo Nurmi’s exclusion, the IOC’s obsession with professionalism enforced strictly by Swedish officials, who accused the nine-time Olympic gold medallist of receiving too much money for his travel expenses.

Propaganda and ‘racism’
As if to make amends for the past, the 1936 Games were allotted to Berlin. Adolf Hitler however hijacked the event for propaganda purposes, prompting Spain’s Popular Front government to boycott it. A People’s Olympiad was proposed instead, which didn’t materalise following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Controversy dogged the Games further when Helene Mayer was the lone Jewish athlete in the German team, while Gretel Bergmann, Lilli Henoch and Wolfgang Furstner, also of the same ethnicity, were dropped, deemed as being racially undesirable. Hitler not shaking hands with Jesse Owens was seen as a racist snub to an African-American, but another view holds that the German Chancellor shook hands only with winners of his own country.

With the WWII raging, the 1940 Games originally scheduled for Tokyo and the 1944 edition were called off. Germany and Japan, the two major Axis powers vanquished in the war were not invited to the 1948 London Games, while the Soviet Union decided not to attend.

The boycott bug grew in dimension by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Following the Suez Canal crisis, which found France and Britain assisting Israel in attacking Egypt, the last-named nation, Lebanon and Iraq avoided the Australian showpiece. Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands kept away following the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Politics and apartheid
South Africa was prohibited for the 1964 Tokyo Games for its policy of apartheid. Tanzania led a 22-African nation boycott of the 1976 Montreal Olympics in protest against New Zealand’s rugby union team’s visit to the country ostracised in the earlier edition. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the USA, a sporting super power too, boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games. The Soviets did likewise to the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Subsequent editions saw cheating through drugs assume alarming proportions, sports administrators appearing unequal to the task of stamping out the scourge.

Source:The Hindu

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