The Paris tragedy occurring in November of 2015 signified the meaningful concern of securing local and global sporting events. In light of the recent events in Paris, security of sport guests highlighted a topic that crossed the international spectrum. These horrific attacks are recent attempts of the use of fear to send a political message via sport. The incident at the Paris soccer stadium was not the first time a sporting event was used to fulfill an agenda. The Olympics hold a long history of boycotts, violence, and signs of progress. Therefore, the history of the Olympics provides a guide to prognosticating about the potential for both societal threats and advancements.
There is no stage bigger than an Olympic stage. While the first modern day Olympics occurred in Athens, Greece in 1896, an incident took only 10 Olympic Games to be used for political gains (Kerwin, Quarterman, & Li, 2014). Forty years later, Hitler was on the international stage spreading Nazi propaganda at 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin (Berkes, 2008). Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, understood the benefits of the captured international audience. Although the Nazi regime was relatively young, it was very important to build popular support among the young people (Berkes, 2008). The 1936 Summer Olympics was Hitler’s opportunity for “celebrating the Aryan ideal and shaping the Nazi image — for Germans and for the world” (Berkes, 2008). A curator at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, Susan Bachrach stated that “Hitler inherited the 1936 games and Berlin was awarded the summer games before Hitler took power” (Berkes, 2008). History now indicates the high level of power Hitler gained from the 1936 games in Berlin.
In the turbulent 1960’s, a different type of message was sent in the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. Two Black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, used the awards ceremony to protest racial injustice (Kerwin, Quarterman, & Li, 2014). During the national anthem, these athletes made a gesture associated to the Black power salute. Both athletes were stripped of their medal and defamed. This reprimand fueled their cause. Protests ensued involving the questioning of America’s “home of the free” mentality (Kerwin, Quarterman, & Li, 2014).
Four years later, a more violent message was sent. In 1972, Palestinian soldiers massacred 11 Israeli athletes (Rubner, 2006). A secret Palestinian commando group called the Black September forced their way into two apartments housing Israeli male athletes. Initially two Israelis were killed and nine were taken for hostage (Rubner, 2006). The Black September used the hostage situation to demand the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel (Rubner, 2006). Their message was conducted through the games. Captors used the power of international media through international sport to convey their message.
During the 1980 Olympics, in Moscow, the Americans sent a message on the world stage. It was the height of the Cold War. President Carter sent a political message with the US boycotting the Winter Games in Moscow. Carter’s decision was triggered by the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (Hunt, 2011). In addition, Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser reported “Afghanistan is the seventh state since 1975 in which communist parties have come to power with Soviet guns and tanks” (Sarantakes, 2014).
In retaliation, the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles (Hunt, 2011). The Soviet agenda was not only concerned with rival superpower, the Americans, but with “maintaining the perception of Soviet superiority among the satellite states of Eastern Europe” (Hunt, 2011). The Soviets feared that the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) would surpass the ever-powerful Soviet Union on medal count (Hunt, 2011). Eventually, the Soviets withdrew their boycott and did attend the games.
As times change and Olympics pass, global messages continue. In 2012, the games in London sent an uplifting message to women around the world. The games in London set a record of 42% of the athletes being women (Kerwin, Quarterman, & Li, 2014). The Olympics also sent signs of religious evolution. Three female Olympians were from Muslim-majority nations (Kerwin, Quarterman, & Li, 2014). These athletes sent a message to all females, throughout the world, that Olympic dreams are possible no matter what sex or nationality you are.
The future Rio Olympics in 2016 will provide another global stage for communication of threats and progress. Heightened security measures given the incident in Paris will reinforce how the history of controversies in the general global society impact the sporting society. Every future Olympic event contains both the potential for disaster and the potential for momentous progress.
Berkes, H. (2008, June 7). Nazi Olympics Tangled Politics and Sport. NPR.org. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91246674
Hunt, T. M. (2011). An Olympic-Size Mistake: The Carter Administration and the 1980 Moscow Games. The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 31(1), 135-136. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/docview/873114196/fulltextPDF?accountid=8289
Kerwin, S., Quarterman, J., & Li, M. (2014). Contemporary Sport Management (5th ed.). (P. M. Pedersen, & L. Thibault, Eds.) Champaign , Ill, USA: Human Kinetics.
Rubner, M. (2006). Massacre in Munich: The Manhunt for the Killers behind the 1972 Olympics Massacre/One Day in September: The Full Story of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the Israeli Revenge Operation “Wrath of God,”/Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre . Middle East Policy, 13(2), 176-184. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/docview/203698340?pq-origsite=summon&accountid=8289
Sarantakes, N. E. (2014, February 9). Jimmy Carter’s Disastrous Olympic Boycott. Politico Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/02/carter-olympic-boycott-1980-103308