The Ultimate Test Of Their Worth

The nature of the modern Olympics has created an atmosphere making it impossible to separate politics from sport. There are three very prominent examples of this: Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980 and Lake Placid 1980.

Truly, the first time that politics became an integral part of the Olympics was the 1936 Summer games in Berlin. No one could argue that having the Olympics in Nazi Germany wasn’t going to cause some issues. And it did. The German team was an attempt by Hitler to show the world his methods worked. The vast amount of propaganda that came out the Nazi Games was tremendous. The treatment of athletes from other countries who didn’t fit into Hitler’s mild was appalling. By 1936, Hitler’s Lebensraum policy was already in effect. Europe was rushing toward another World War, and the Berlin Olympics did nothing to dissuade politicians that Hitler was a danger. Luckily for Hitler, most world leaders underestimated him, and it’d be another three years before they realised he couldn’t be stopped. However, the telltale signs of what would become Nazi aggression already existed. For the first time, politics and the Olympics were shown to be inseparable.

The 1980 Moscow games were not what the USSR wanted. After the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the United States and 64 other countries agreed to boycott the summer games. There were many athletes from the boycotting nations who would compete under the Olympic flag, but the point was made. The west was unhappy with Moscow, and they would be making a statement with the Olympics.
 
After the announcement to boycott the summer Olympics in Moscow, there was also a chance that Brezhnev would reciprocate and boycott the Lake Placid games. Brezhnev chose not to, ostensibly assuming that the USSR would take home their normal medal haul, including beating the US in hockey. Unfortunately for Brezhnev, that didn’t happen. The politics of the Cold War era were firmly entrenched in a hockey game 4400 miles from Moscow. 
 
In the 2004 movie Miracle, based on the Lake Placid hockey game, Patti Brooks explains to her husband, US hockey coach Herb, that to many people it was more than just a hockey game. And it was. The ice match between USSR and USA was, ostensibly, a cold war battle on US soil. Patti Brooks was right. This “Miracle on Ice” was more than just a hockey game. To many Americans it was hope and possibility in an uncertain world. Although the USSR may have had ICBS pointed at various spots in the United States, for one moment the fear of communism and the USSR was diminished when a group of college hockey players came together and showed the world that communism could be beaten.
 
The inability to separate politics and the Olympics has been a touchy subject during the Sochi games. During the opening ceremonies, the display of Russian history showed a very subdued and romanticised version of what Russia once was, and how it’d become what it is today. Add in international tension between the US and Russia (which included staling a shipment of yoghurt), and separating politics and sport becomes impossible. Combine US/Russian relations with athletes from Iran, Israel and Pakistan and you have a melting pot of international calamity.

The thing about athletes though, is that politics isn’t their thing. They come to the Olympics for medals, to prove themselves the best in their sport. It’s politicians and world leaders who make the Olympics political. When world leaders refuse to attend a sporting event because of location, their protest is well noted. Unfortunately, the Olympics will never again be simply a time of camaraderie and sportsmanship. It will, forevermore, be a political statement that’s discussed for years to come.
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