The history and actions of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) show how a non-political organisation can become involved in today’s burning global issues through an alternative medium, such as competitive sports. It is worth examining the IOC’s actions in order to see how they transpire in reality and the impact sovereign nations have on them. This year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics mark the first South American host country, making it appropriate to examine the IOC’s transcontinental role, as its reflection of the international situation encompasses more than just sport.
· Established: 23rd June 1894
· Headquarters: Lausanne, Switzerland
· Membership: 105 active and 32 honorary nations
· Languages: English and French
· Self-professed role in the international sphere (based on the Olympic Charter):
o To promote the Olympics and their regular occurrence
o To promote sport as a means of securing international peace in co-operation with other relevant international organisations
o To encourage discourse surrounding the environment and issues of sustainability
o To terminate doping in sports
o To encourage the integration of sport, culture and education
o To combat discrimination, of any kind, in the Olympic movement
o To support a positive Olympic legacy in host countries after the games have occurred.
Hosting the Olympics grants nations opportunities to display their culture and customs globally. In turn, the games provide the chance to strengthen and rejuvenate national confidence through unity. Traditional ceremonies, such as the Olympic Torch relay, can help a country convey its history and achieve greater national solidarity. For example, the 2012 London Olympics illustrated that, despite Britain’s economic recession and criticism prior to the games, national pride was still possible through athletic achievements.
International Co-operation and increased representation
Meanwhile, opening ceremonies allow the host country to creatively demonstrate its history and culture. Thus, the Olympics are a source of cultural education and representation, allowing the spread of cultural awareness and national traditions to global audiences. Furthermore, the sporting side of the games can also nullify dangerous political ideologies. Nazi Germany’s 1936 Summer Olympics, for example, disproved Nazi ideology promoting Aryan superiority with African-American Jesse Owens winning four gold medals and Jewish-Hungarian Ibolya Csak winning gold in women’s long-jump. The scope of inclusivity within the Olympics, which currently includes 204 participating countries in the Summer games and 110 participants during the Winter version helps creates a sense of global community, tied together through sport. Lastly, the occurrence of Paralympic games since 1960, highlights a commitment to opportunities for all, and helps to debunk stigmas surrounding physical disabilities globally.
Platform for ideologies and inequalities
Similar to other global entities, the Olympics operations also represent larger global issues. For example, developed countries consistently rank high in medal count highlighting the resource power of developed countries and the latent economic inequalities between nations. In addition, the games are often used as a platform for promulgating ideologies. For example, the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and subsequent retaliatory Soviet boycott of the LA 1984 Olympics demonstrates the Cold War tensions of the time impacting on what should have been a peaceful and co-operative sporting event. Equally, the bidding process for host countries has been fraught with controversy: in 2002, for example, it emerged that the United States’ Olympic Organising Committee had bribed members of the IOC executive committee in order to secure the rights to hold the games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Following from this, politically influential nations regularly host the games, despite their poor human rights records. The 2008 decision to host the games in the People’s Republic of China caused backlash from human rights groups. In direct contravention of the Olympic Charter’s profession to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” the games were hosted in a country surrounded by human rights controversies. The Russian Federation also attracted attention with the 2014 Sochi Olympics, after its ban on homosexual propaganda. This resulted in a number of LGBT athletes boycotting the games. Eventually, the IOC did include a ban on discrimination in any form from host cities, which took effect on the 25th of September 2014. The IOC has also been criticised for refusing to commemorate the eleven Israeli victims of a Palestinian terrorist attack during the 1972 Munich Olympics, whilst its choice of certain host cities has led to critique of its support for the Olympics taking place on land stolen from natives through past colonialism, most recently in Vancouver in 2010.
Whilst the IOC has many laudable aims, some of which are realized, it is arguable that the political and economic concerns remain present, often highlighted in the Olympic games themselves. The IOC would benefit from addressing the moral and political situations surrounding potential host countries before allotting a successful bid, in order to conform better to its own Olympic Charter. Meanwhile, the IOC should acknowledge past acceptance and clarification issues before their behavior becomes an automatic norm.