Editor’s note, Feb 3, 2014, 12:18 p.m.: A letter to the editor published in the Daily Lobo mistakenly ran in this place rather the column by Jason Darensburg. This is the correct column.
I confess: I love the Olympics. I’ve enjoyed the global spectacle for as long as I can remember, even though the first Games I recall were the tragedy-marred 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One morning I turned on the TV and instead of the games, there were German policemen running around on rooftops!
1972 was the year Palestinian terrorists from the Black September group broke into the Olympic village and took 11 Israeli athletes hostage. In an incredible act of cowardice, all of the hostages were eventually killed on the tarmac at Fürstenfeldbruck Airport as they waited in helicopters. Most of the terrorists were killed by German sharpshooters following the botched ambush attempt, although three of them survived and were imprisoned.
In another twist to this horrible tragedy, the West German government was later forced to free the three men when another terrorist cell hijacked a Lufthansa Airlines flight, demanding their release. The Germans were compelled to free the perpetrators, who received a hero’s welcome upon their arrival in safe-haven Libya. The vengeful Israeli spy agency Mossad eventually tracked two of the men down and assassinated them. Four bystanders were blown up in the explosion that killed Ali Hassan Salameh in Beirut, and in a case of mistaken identity, an innocent Moroccan man was killed during the manhunt. Jamal Al-Gashey is believed to be the sole surviving terrorist, currently in hiding with his wife and two children.
The Olympic Games are a target for extremists, from the tragedy in Munich to right-wing fanatic Eric Rudolph’s deadly bombing at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. As a consequence, these celebrations of international goodwill now proceed under heavy military guard. Sochi 2014 will be no different.
Global participation in the Olympics has increased steadily over the years: nearly every nation on Earth is currently represented. This growth has created many challenges for host countries, notably the outrageous expense of holding the games. The Russian government is rumored to have spent more than $50 billion, a new record, on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, amid the usual complaints of bribery, corruption and incompetence. Security will be a major concern when the games kick off on February 9; Islamist militants have repeatedly vowed to disrupt the festivities. It remains to be seen if President Putin’s heightened security measures will be effective in keeping the venue safe.
The Olympics are a tremendous proving ground for world-class athletes. It gives them the opportunity to compete against each other on an international stage. Nearly 220 million Americans tuned in for NBC’s awful Summer Olympics coverage in 2012, making the London Olympics the most-watched event in U.S. television history. This sort of world-wide exposure is only possible because of the sheer size and scale of the games, the number of countries taking part and the wide variety of sports represented.
The modern Olympics were founded by French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, and the first official games were held that year in Athens. The first Winter Games took place in 1924 in Chamonix, France. Baron de Coubertin believed in promoting international peace and cooperation by reviving the ancient Greek tradition of establishing periodic truces for the sake of athletic competition. “The important thing at the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; for the essential thing in life is not to conquer but to struggle well,” de Coubertin wrote.
Those sentiments have not exactly panned out in the real world. Aside from terrorist acts, the supposedly apolitical Olympics have been marred in the ensuing years by several boycotts: many African nations pulled out of the ‘76 Montreal Games protesting apartheid in South Africa; the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the L.A. Olympics in 1984 were boycotted by communist countries in retaliation for 1980.
More controversy erupted last year over Russia’s so-called “anti-gay” legislation. While the law’s proponents argue it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences, critics insist the move is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community. Russia has come under heavy international criticism for its treatment of LGBT people.
The U.S. Olympic Committee acted swiftly to quell any talk of an official U.S. boycott in 2014: “Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict. It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes — all whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games — of the opportunity of a lifetime.”
President Obama said that he opposed boycotting the games in favor of incorporating several openly gay athletes into the U.S. delegation. I find it ironic that all the gay-bashers in this country now find themselves ideologically allied with Vladimir Putin, one of the most despotic rulers of the 21st century.