Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London

Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London

Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London

Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London

Synopsis

The Olympics have developed into the world's premier sporting event. They are simultaneously a competitive exhibition and a grand display of cooperation that bring together global cultures on ski slopes, shooting ranges, swimming pools, and track ovals. Given their scale in the modern era, the Games are a useful window for better comprehending larger cultural, social, and historical processes, argues Jules Boykoff, an academic social scientist and a former Olympic athlete.

In Activism and the Olympics, Boykoff provides a critical overview of the Olympic industry and its political opponents in the modern era. After presenting a brief history of Olympic activism, he turns his attention to on-the-ground activism through the lens of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Here we see how anti-Olympic activists deploy a range of approaches to challenge the Olympic machine, from direct action and the seizure of public space to humor-based and online tactics. Drawing on primary evidence from myriad personal interviews with activists, journalists, civil libertarians, and Olympics organizers, Boykoff angles in on the Games from numerous vantages and viewpoints.

Although modern Olympic authorities have strived--even through the Cold War era--to appear apolitical, Boykoff notes, the Games have always been the site of hotly contested political actions and competing interests. During the last thirty years, as the Olympics became an economic juggernaut, they also generated numerous reactions from groups that have sought to challenge the event's triumphalism and pageantry. The 21st century has seen an increased level of activism across the world, from the Occupy Movement in the United States to the Arab Spring in the Middle East. What does this spike in dissent mean for Olympic activists as they prepare for future Games?

Excerpt

In his detective- fiction thriller An Olympic Death, Manuel Vásquez Montalbán captured what it was like to be in Barcelona as the city prepared to host the 1992 Summer Olympics. The acclaimed Spanish novelist and leftist columnist for El País presented one character in the book, a former Spanish revolutionary turned suit- sporting banker, to highlight the power of the Games to turn political beliefs into ideological jelly designed to sweeten capital accumulation. Underscoring the importance of international investment flows, the fictitious flip- flopper pivoted professionally to rivet his attention on profiteering from the Barcelona Games, audaciously declaiming, “Do you know how many foreigners we have in the city at this moment, all trying to get a piece of the Olympic action? An Olympics needs everything from a thimble to an elephant. Well, I have a complete collection of thimble salesmen, and another collection of elephant salesmen too.” Another character in the novel, a formerly fledgling artist who sniffs Olympic- induced financial fortune, points toward the role of the culture industry in promoting the Games. He remarked, “Everything that moves in Barcelona these days is at the service of the Olympics. You have people coming to buy the place, people coming to see it all, and all the rest of us trying to sell it. There’s not one artist in this city who’s not looking out for what he can get out of the Olympics.” Such connivance led Montalbán . . .

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