Sports and Politics: Goodbye Sydney 2000-Hallo Athens 2004

Article excerpt

Do sports and politics mix? Some say they should not, but the answer is, "yes"--they do not only mix with politics but also with other factors such as economics and drugs. The last factor has been one of the major problems of sporting events, especially the Olympic Games. A few years ago, the whole world had admired the athletic prowess of the former communist states. A small country like the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and other communist countries were getting so many medals in the Olympics, in 1976 especially. Those countries seemed to invest too much time and financial resources in training their athletes who rendered their homelands tremendous pride and international political prestige to them, and to communist ideology for that matter. In these cases sports and politics were in tandem, and so was the research in increasing the athletic power of sporting individuals with anabolics, the so-called doping. Then the admiration for the communist states athletic prowess evaporated quickly. Their athletes' health was ruined, although the they were rewarded financially. The control of doping by athletes had become one of the biggest problems in sporting events. Even in "Sydney 2000," which had promised a "clean" Olympiad, many doping cases were reported despite the strict controls applied and several medals had to be recalled.

Reacting to these developments, many people have called for the return of the ancient Greek Olympic ideal. The Olympiads have become the greatest athletic spectacles, the most exciting and the most expensive performances which have "deviated" from the classical ideal. The classical Olympic winners' honor was the plain olive branch crown. The classical Olympic Games, however, have been excessively idealized and this predilection has been boosted by the museum built in Lausanne, Switzerland, the seat of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The museum documents the history of the Olympics and gives various data on the ancient Olympiads and famous winners in those events. The museum, however, is silent over doping, boycotts of the Games, and their exploitations by authoritarian regimes and sponsors. Theoretically, the museum's place should have been in Olympia, its Greek birthplace. But Greece is in the Balkans, the "cockpit of Europe," and neutral, peaceful Switzerland was considered a better place for the seat of the IOC and the museum. "Sydney 2000" was declared the "greatest Olympiad ever," and with "Athens 2004," Greece has promised to present a "successful and clean return" to the classical Olympic ideal.

Myth and Reality

The Olympic Games can be traced back to prehistory. In Olympia, in Peloponnesus, athletic events were held in honor of famous Titans and gradually led to a Pan-Hellenic event, the Olympiad. Greek legend has it that a certain Hercules from Crete with his brothers organized races whose winners were crowned with the cotinos or olive branch crown. Olympia played host to the Games and it became the permanent venue and sacred athletic center of ancient Greece. The sanctuary's immunity was widely recognized and its violation was severely punished. The Games were of the greatest significance to the Greeks and a uniting bond as they brought together Greeks--and also non-Greeks--from all over the regions of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Sports in ancient Greece were mixed with religion and the Olympics were held in honor of the father of gods and men, Zeus or Jupiter, and other local and national gods. The Games were also connected with culture as poets, dramatists, artists, philosophers and musicians competed for prizes in Olympia and other venues.

The first recorded Olympiad was held in 776 B.c. after which year the Greeks dated their history and numbered the Olympiads, held every four years, and in which only men competed--naked. The Olympionikis, or Olympic champion, was the greatest honor and individual could attain in ancient Greece, and songs were written and statues erected for them. …