Revolution #194, March 7, 2010
Letter from a Reader on the 2010 Olympics
The 2010 Winter Olympics is a time when the best athletes in the world awe billions of viewers with their stunning strength, grace, power and unbelievable achievements. From snowboarding to skiing and speed skating, the athleticism is beautiful and the competition is exciting. The famous five-colored rings of the Olympic logo represent the five parts of the world, viewed by many as a symbol of international unity.
On the surface, it looks as though the world as it is, is the best framework for people to flourish as athletes. The Olympics appear to be an expression of the amazing things the "world community" can accomplish when we come together. The truth is that throughout the Olympics, in both subtle and overt ways, the imperialist countries use the games to push forward their own nationalist interests and manipulate both sports and athletes to serve the needs of capital.
This year the winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver, Canada from February 12 through 28. In a press conference about the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper said that hosting the Olympics "symbolizes the Canada, our Canada, that has shown during this global recession and will show during these Games that it can compete and win against the very best." Think about what Harper is telling the world: Canada is going to come out on top both in the economic sphere and in the Olympics, and implies a relationship between the two. To be on top during a global recession means you will compete with other countries to serve your economic interests, even when it means using armed force. In 1982, both Canada and the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics in retaliation for the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Now Canada is occupying Afghanistan under the leadership of the U.S., an occupation based on the strategic needs of U.S. empire. ("The U.S. In Afghanistan: A War For Empire," Revolution, October 19, 2008, ) In the same press conference, with the eyes of the world on the Olympics, Harper sought to build public opinion for the war by saying, "Our armed forces serve, never for conquest and advantage, but simply to spread our gifts of freedom, democracy and justice to make the world a little safer and a little better; as they are doing in Afghanistan." Bullshit. U.S and Canadian forces have killed civilians, bombed wedding parties and launched air strikes on schools filled with children.
On February 12, 21-year-old Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed when he lost control in the final turn of his practice run of the luge course. He was thrown from his sled over the sidewall of the track, striking the end run's steel pole at a speed of 89 miles per hour. There is much debate and controversy over whether Kumaritashvili’s death was caused by an unsafe track due to its speed. When this track was tested in 2009, the speed was so high that it provoked Josef Fendt, President of The International Luge Federation (FIL) to comment, "It makes me worry."
Nodar Kumaritashvili also expressed reservations about the track when he told his father, "Dad, I really fear that curve." His father told the press in a heartbreaking account, "I'm a former athlete myself, and I told him: 'You just take a slower start.’ But he responded: 'Dad, what kind of thing you are teaching me? I have come to the Olympics to try to win.'" Numerous athletes also reported that they felt the track was unsafe before the run and raised their concerns to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Hannah Campbell-Pegg, who nearly lost control during a practice run said, "To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives." In spite of all this, the FIL and IOC concluded that Kumaritashvili's death "was not caused by an unsafe track."
Under capitalism, athletes don’t just seek to win, they face extreme pressure to win at all cost. Bigger, faster and better is the ethos of capitalism and it infuses the culture of the Olympics and sports in general. Under capitalism, athletes are not seen as whole people, but as the means to an end. Kumaritashvili's death is a stark example of this, and is one of many stories of crushed dreams and broken backs as a result of this system.
The IOC insists that one of its core values is promoting women in sports. However, women who compete in the Olympics often also suffer exploitation as women. Eating disorders and sexual abuse run rampant among young women in the Olympics. (Secret World of a Gymnast: Starvation, Sex and Fear: The Shocking New Memoirs of a Top U.S. Athlete by Paul Harris, April 27, 2008.)
In 2004, eight female athletes appeared nude in Playboy's "Women of the Olympics" pictorial. ESPN writer Laura Boswell joked about whether this indicated that being an Olympic athlete was not merit enough for women. Obviously it is not. All athletes are trained to market themselves, but for women, you haven’t really made it until you can show that you are athletic and sexy for men.
Right now sports are under the control and domination of capitalism, but it doesn't have to be this way. In the Revolution Talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It’s All About, Bob Avakian talks about all the young kids in the inner cities, with nothing to do because the playgrounds are covered in glass and the basketball hoops are missing their nets. With revolutionary state power, sports would be consciously developed as a sphere where people from all sections of society could mix it up, have fun and strengthen their health—and also learn how to do things they would have never been able to do in the old society. How many people, young and old, are locked out of various sports due to their position in society? Imagine if in every area where people lived, there were facilities for snowboarding or skateboarding, tennis courts and swimming pools that were free and accessible to all. International sports competitions like the Olympics would be a great form of entertainment. The focus would be on appreciating the grace and art of the athletes and encouraging athletes to perform for the people. Athletes from places around the world would not be pitted against each other as representatives of rivaling nations, but could appreciate one another for the strengths and talent they are sharing with the world.
And all of this would be about, yes, having fun, but also about breaking down the divisions between people and fighting against the spontaneous pulls of the dog-eat-dog mentality. This is not just a good idea. This is part of Bob Avakian's re-envisioned communism that is both viable and inspiring. Unleash your imagination, because something much better is possible.
See article "Olympics Resistance in Vancouver" in Revolution #193 (February 21, 2010) about protests at the Olympics.
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