Five Ring Circus: Olympics and Resistance

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The Olympics have been mythologized
as a venue where athletes from all over
the world can be unified in a contest of
the world‘s greatest athletes despite
political and social differences. However,
the reality is that the Olympics have
been and continue to be a highly commercialized
venture rife with political considerations commandeering
the decisions.
One name is synonymous with the Olympics of the
20th century: Avery Brundage. It was under his leadership
that the Olympics became deeply intertwined
with politics, despite his protestations
that sports and politics should
never mix. Brundage was a graduate
from the University of Illinois in 1909.
After serving as president of the Amateur
Athletic Union, he became president
of the United States Olympic
Committee during the 1930s.
The 1936 Games were to be hosted
in Berlin, Germany. The organization
Brundage used to head — the Amateur
Athletic Union — was vigorously
demanding a boycott of the Olympics
as Nazi racial discrimination was
against Olympic rules and participation
of countries in the Games would
legitimize the Nazi regime. In late
1935, the American member of the
International Olympic Committee
(IOC), Ernest Lee Jahncke stated: “Neither
Americans nor the representatives
of other countries can take part in the
Games in Nazi Germany without at
least acquiescing in the contempt of the
Nazis for fair play and their sordid
exploitation of the Games.“
Brundage did not heed these warnings.
He opposed a boycott since he
had been given a brief stage-managed
inspection of Berlin and stated that
Jewish athletes were being treated fairly. As the controversy
increased, Avery alleged that there was a “Jewish-Communist”
conspiracy behind keeping the US out of the
Games. Brundage helped to give the Nazis significant
political legitimacy by sending the United States
Olympians to Berlin.
In July 1936, the IOC expelled Jahncke from his post
and Avery Brundage was elected to take over. Jahncke
became the only person to ever be expelled from the IOC.
Despite the Berlin Olympics being used by the Nazis in
their propaganda reels, Brundage claimed in 1971: “The
Berlin Games were the finest in modern history.“
After the Olympics, Brundage became involved in the
America First movement that urged a neutral stance
towards Nazi Germany. He had given multiple speeches
extolling the values of the Nazi regime and was eventually
kicked out of the America First Committee because of his
pro-German leanings. His history of accepting discrimination
and overt racism would be a cause of another
Olympic protest 32 years after Berlin.
The 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City were rife with
tensions. As Dave Zirin writes: “In the fall of 1967 amateur
black athletes formed OPHR Olympic Project for Human
Rights to organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico
City.” The OPHR had three main goals—to get
Muhammad Ali his title back after it had been stripped for
Ali‘s refusal to go to Vietnam, disinvite South Africa and
Rhodesia for their apartheid regimes and to remove Avery
Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee
due to his bigoted and racist attitude.
As Zirin continues: “Already in 1968 the world had
seen the weaknesses of US imperialism at the Tet offensive
in Viet-Nam; the Prague Spring where Czech students
challenged the Stalinist tanks, the assassination of Martin
Luther King and the mass revolts that followed, the growth
of the Black Panther Party in the United
States, and the largest general strike in
world history in France. Then, On
October 2, ten days before the Games
opened, the Mexican security forces
massacred hundreds of students in
Mexico City who were occupying the
National University.” Despite the massacre,
Brundage continued the Games.
The culmination of the upheaval,
allowing apartheid regimes to participate
in Olympics and Avery Brundage‘s
history of bigotry ended up being the
immortalized image of US track athletes
John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the
medal stand with their fists raised in
defiance. Smith, Carlos and the silver
medalist Peter Norman were all part of
the OPHR and utilized their moment as
a means of bringing attention to the
social problems in America and to continue
pressure on the IOC. Within
hours, Smith and Carlos were stripped
of their medals and sent home by
Brundage—a man who helped introduce
Juan Antonio Samaranch, a high
ranking member of Franco‘s Spanish
fascist regime to the IOC in 1966 as a
man whom Brundage “trusted and
loved” (and who would take over as
President of the IOC after Brundage‘s
tenure)—because Smith and Carlos blurred the lines of
sports and politics.
Brundage rounded out his career as President of the
IOC during the traumatic 1972 Olympics in Munich. In
the aftermath of the massacre of Israeli athletes by the terrorist
organization Black September, Brundage not only
continued the Olympic Games but also made a public
statement where he equated the murder of the Israeli team
to the elimination of a country who upheld apartheid
ideals in South Africa. He said: “The Games of the XXth
Olympiad have been subject to two savage attacks. We lost
the Rhodesian battle against naked political blackmail.“
Brundage‘s connection is not only local—He also had a
construction company in Chicago. His ignoble history as
an Olympic leader is a reason that many citizens in Chicago,
a potential host city for the 2016 Summer Games, have
rose up in resistance.
The main organizing coalition against the 2016 bid has
been No Games Chicago. It is a grassroots organization
with representatives from all parts of the city. It represents
low-income residents that fear that they might be evicted/
gentrified from their homes, parks advocates who fear
the loss of public space and concerned citizens worrying
about the priorities for spending their tax dollars.
Currently, the Chicago Public School system has a $475
million budget shortfall. The City of Chicago is in debt to
the tune of at least $200 million. Recently, 1,600 more city
workers lost their jobs in an attempt to balance the budget.
The Chicago Transit Authority has stated that to
remain solvent, they will have to raise fares and limit service
to areas throughout the city. The Authority also lacks
the funds to repair and replace the public buses and train
tracks when necessary. Outside of Chicago, the state of Illinois
has a massive budget deficit as well.
While Chicago wallows in extreme debt, Mayor Daley
has increased fees and taxes on items that impact tourists
as well as residents like movies, plays and hotels. These
costs end up hitting workers living in the city and make
their lives very difficult. At the same time, the Mayor is
also quickly privatizing Chicago‘s public assets like parking
meters and Midway Airport. To make up the budget
deficit, these public goods are attempting to be sold off to
the highest corporate bidder.
Despite the significant economic problems, Chicago
still wants the Olympics. The Chicago 2016 bid team proclaims
that it will not cost the taxpayers a dime. However,
taxpayer money is being lined up currently to help pay for
the creation of the Olympic Village and for stadium construction
efforts. The IOC demands a full state guarantee
for any host site to pay for the Olympics and Chicago is
not likely to get one, nor should it, given the severe economic
problems currently facing Chicago and Illinois.
While the bid team gives out low cost estimates, these
estimates, approximately $5 billion, should not be
believed. London, the host of the 2012 Games is now
expected to spend $16.6 billion, nearly twice their original
estimate. This problem is only compounded with Chicago‘
s history of building delays and cost overruns on the
building of public projects. Millennium Park cost $475
million to build, which was $325 million more than its
original projection. The most recent extensions of the
riverwalk along the Chicago River have cost $22 million,
double the original stated cost. According to No Games
Chicago organizer Bob Quellos, the city has taken the city
over 20 years and $250 million to build a yet to be finished
train station which is now just a “taxpayer created
giant concrete bunker” called Block 37.
While the IOC was evaluating Chicago as a potential
bid city in early April, No Games Chicago was able to give
a presentation to the panel members. Bob Quellos, one of
the presenters for No Games Chicago, stated that they discussed
the city‘s significant financial problems, the construction
time/cost overruns and the corruption present in
Chicago/Illinois politics. Quellos closed the presentation
telling the IOC that if the Games come to Chicago, it could
awaken a sleeping giant of resistance. This resistance
would have seven years to organize for the Games after the
October 2, 2009 announcement of the host city.
Quellos and No Games Chicago are not anti-Olympics.
Instead of spending the funds on constructing temporary
stadiums that will likely not be used after the Games, the
supporters of No Games Chicago argue that it should be
people over profits. If the billions are to be spent, let‘s
focus that money on providing better health care, secure
housing, better schools and state of the art transportation.
Let‘s turn the potential site of a five ring circus into a first
rate city for all of its inhabitants by saying “No Games,

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