Sunday, June 22, 2008

Communists and The Olympics

By Joseph Kellard

In the March 2002 issue of The Intellectual Activist, Robert Tracinski wrote an essay on that year's scandal at the winter Olympics. The scandal involved collusion between Russian and French judges to alter scores in figure skating. At those games, a flawless pair of Canadian skaters was robbed of first place so that a Russian couple could take the gold.

In his essay, Mr. Tracinski, while providing historical perspective on the former Soviet Union's state-run Olympics program, wrote the following: "For decades, Olympic gold medals were a key element of Communist propaganda. The Olympic games, like other cultural and intellectual 'exchange' programs, were meant to present the Soviet Union and its satellite dictatorships as countries worthy of dealing with the West as equals, both as moral equals and as cultural, technological, and material equals. Sports had a particular role in promoting the alleged material strength of Communism. The healthy bodies of East-Bloc athletes on the Olympic podium were meant to distract our attention from the starving masses of their countrymen."

Tracinski goes on in that essay to note how the Soviets invested many resources in their Olympic athletes, particularly their figure-skaters, and that for those athletes this investment was a rare way for them, under the Soviet dictatorship, "to obtain money, special treatment, and the privileged of traveling abroad."

(Incidentally, I must add that the Soviets also poured a lot into their hockey program. Soviet hockey players were breed to be outstanding athletes -- thanks to the state paying their way, they were able to eat, sleep and drink hockey, 24/7/365. The Soviets won the Olympic gold metal in four consecutive winter Olympic games prior to the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid -- when the Americans "miraculously" defeated them and later won gold -- and two took two more gold medals after this. Note, also, that Russia has not won gold in hockey since the Soviet state dissolved).

Anyway, I thought of Tracinki's TIA essay this week when I read about China's state-backed Olympic program in a recent Time magazine article ("China's Sports School: Crazy for Gold"). Although Communism is waning in influence in modern China, this article clearly demonstrates that collectivism and nationalism are nevertheless very much alive well. But Communist authoritarianism is still being used to recruit athletes in order to help the mother country reach its goal of wracking up the most gold medals at this summer's Olympic games in Beijing.

Here are some excerpts, the first being the opening paragraph:

"A year ago, a slender girl called Cloud had no idea she would dedicate her life to lifting disks of iron above her head. Then a stranger came to her remote village in eastern China's Shandong province, took detailed measurements of her shoulder width, thigh length and waist circumference -- and announced she would have the honor of serving her motherland as a weight lifter. The then 14-year-old daughter of vegetable farmers had little choice in the matter. She had been chosen to be a cog in China's vast sports machine, a multibillion-dollar apparatus designed with one primary goal in mind: churning out Olympic gold medalists."

"For most Chinese, victory in Beijing will not only prove their country's status as a potential superpower but also erase its historic humiliation by colonial powers. Stupefied by opium, cowed by Western firepower, China was dismissed at the outset of the 20th century as the 'sick man of Asia.' Indeed, the first article Chairman Mao ever published was on the importance of sporting success to the national psyche. 'Our nation is wanting in strength," he fretted back in 1917. 'If our bodies are not strong, how can we attain our goals and make ourselves respected?'"

Read the full article here:

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