Once again the world is being subjected to the periodic nationalist orgy known as the Olympics. Here, we are told, participating nations around the globe are all equal, and send their best athletes for a friendly competition, where nothing but sportsmanship counts, and any and all other differences are not even considered. After trying their very best in each of many different sports, the top three are honored with a gold, silver or bronze medal, something he or she can look proudly on for generations to come.
This writer hates to burst such a pretty balloon (actually, he doesn’t hate doing so at all), but once one has passed the age where Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy have all been relegated to the status of pleasant childhood memories, the same should be done with the farce of the Olympics.
Let’s look for a minute at a few examples.
Thirty-one-year old U.S. citizen Michael Phelps has now won more gold medals in Olympic games than any other athlete in history. Americans are so proud of his ability to swim faster than anyone else, and his savings account will no doubt increase greatly, as ever more companies seek his endorsement. This is certainly a success story; a young man who grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Maryland, and who began swimming after being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, as an outlet for his energies. We will forget for the moment his multiple arrests for impaired driving; what on earth does that matter, when he can swim so fast?
Now let us look at another Olympic swimmer, Yursa Mardini, age 18. Ms. Mardina is a Syrian refugee, who, perhaps, didn’t have the same advantages as Mr. Phelps. She refers to being in the Olympics as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity; please note that the current games are Mr. Phelp’s fifth foray into an Olympic pool. And training was sometimes difficult for Ms. Mardini, not because she didn’t have sufficient energy or motivation, but because of other factors. Said she: “…sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war. Or sometimes you had training but there was a bomb in the swimming pool.” Mr. Phelps, once caught with a bong in his mouth, never had a bomb in his pool.
But perhaps Ms. Mardini did have an advantage. When fleeing Turkey for Greece, along with nineteen other people in a boat designed to hold six, the motor failed. She and two others, the only people on the boat who could swim, entered the cold water and pushed the boat for three hours until reaching safety. Think of the lessons in endurance, stamina and determination! Poor Mr. Phelps was probably out getting high when Ms. Mardini was involved in this rigorous practice session.
Early on, it was reported that athletes from Lebanon riding a bus from one venue to another, refused to allow Israeli athletes to board. Is this not a lack of sportsmanship? Should not the Lebanese athletes have allowed representatives from a brutal, murderous, apartheid regime in violation of countless international laws to have ridden with them in the sacred name of sportsmanship? After all, aren’t there times when civilized people just put the thought of slaughtered children, blown apart when playing on a beach, or of families bombed when taking refuge in United Nations shelters, behind them? Shouldn’t there be occasions, such as sporting events, when such trivial things as carpet-bombing residences, hospitals and houses of worship should just be ignored?
Swimming and bus rides; where else should one ignore violations of human rights? Well, how about martial arts? Egyptian Olympian Islam Shihabi was defeated by an Israeli, and after the Judo match, refused to shake his hand. Again, shock and outrage by nationalists who, every few years, become enamored with the athletic world, and couldn’t countenance this breach of etiquette.
Why, one wonders, could not Mr. Shihabi ignore the barbarity of Israel in the name of sportsmanship?
Well, let’s move on a bit, and look at the glittering city of Rio de Janeiro, hosting the Olympics. Yes, the police said they couldn’t offer adequate protection, and yes, some athletes participating in sporting events in the water were told not to submerge their heads, but we’ll overlook those things and only watch the exciting competitions.
Oh, and should we bother to even think about the 60,000 Brazilians who were driven from their homes so the Olympic stadium, parking and other structures required for this penultimate sports activity could take place? Some received some compensation for their loss, but none of them had any choice in the matter. So what if they lived in a house built by a grandparent, where three generations had been raised? It only took a bulldozer a short time to make their cherished home nothing but rubble.
The Olympics, for some bizarre reason, attract the attention of people for whom watching an athletic event, let alone ever participating in one, does not occur outside of this periodic spectacle. But these are people who never let an opportunity pass for a flag to be waved, and to rejoice in anything that, in their narrow little minds, sets their nation above all the rest. There is no thought of the deadly, murderous horrors their country may inflict on innocent people (see: USA, Israel), no thought to the exploitation and abuse of the poor (see: USA, Brazil), no thought of blatant racism (see: USA, Israel). No, if a swimmer from one’s own country swims faster than the swimmers representing other countries, one’s country is the greatest! For such people, seeing an athlete representing their country stand atop the highest pedestal, accepting a gold medal, brings a tear to the eye as the chest swells with pride!
Ah, sportsmanship! Another distraction from reality! Just what the U.S. needs.
Originally published in Counterpunch.