FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Critical History of the Olympics

by PAUL GOTTINGER

The 2014 Winter Olympics are set to open on February 7 in Sochi, Russia. In the lead up to this Olympics there has been no shortage of criticism in the U.S. media for Russia’s human rights abuses in Chechnya and Dagestan, the country’s crackdown on civil society, and most visibly Russia’s recent laws criminalizing gays and lesbians.

While the U.S. media is right to criticize these very serious human rights abuses, it has continually failed to scrutinize the Olympics when the games take place in a Western country, or in a country of a U.S. ally.

Human Rights Watch shows once again that it toes the line for Washington by documenting the human rights abuses associated with only two Olympic games: these are the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The U.S. media’s fierce criticism of official state rivals isn’t surprising, but the major media’s metamorphosis into PR reps when U.S. allies host the games is instructive.

The Olympics serve the interests of the global wealthy in a number of important ways. To better understand the Olympics one should understand the organization behind the Olympics and take a critical look at some of the recent impacts the games have had on host cities.

The organization in charge of the Olympics is called the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The organization, with all the humility of a North Korean leader, refers to itself as the “supreme authority of the Olympic movement”.

The members of this unelected, multi-billion dollar, transnational organization include royalty, corporate executives, politicians, and retired military personal. If these savory characters aren’t enough for you, they even have the war criminal Henry Kissinger as a member of honor. The organization’s members had until recently served life terms, and no women were included in the organization until 1981.

The IOC bears some resemblance to other transnational organizations like the G8, IMF, and OECD. In fact, the IMF’s Finance and Development takes a page from the Thomas Friedman book of phony economics by promoting the idea of the “Olympic trade effect”. Here the IMF explicitly pairs the Olympics and neoliberal free trade.

The stated goal of the IOC, like all unelected, transnational organizations, is to build “a peaceful and better world”. Casting aside this predictable rhetoric and examining the effects that the Olympics have had on host cities shows exactly what the IOC means by this statement.

The cost of hosting the Olympic games routinely runs over budget with no real way to determine the true cost. The total cost of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is estimated to be 7 billion dollars, and analysis done last August shows Vancouver taxpayers are taking a 300 million dollar loss on just the Olympic village project alone.  The estimates of the London Olympics’ cost are between £13 and £24 billion. This incredible price tag demonstrates how serious David Cameron really was about the “age of austerity” and his commitment to cut excess government spending.

Both Canada and the UK have been in the midst of austerity budgets with significant cuts being made to social services at the same time these governments were throwing around untold amounts of taxpayer’s money.

All this taxpayer money went to developers, resort and hotel owners, real estate industry, transnational corporations, T.V. networks, and private security firms. The Olympics play an integral role in actualizing economic policies where wealth is transferred from the poor and middle class to the rich.

Just like the IMF’s structural adjustment policies, which were prescribed to ailing economies in the developing world, the Olympics leaves host cities, usually in the 1st world, with huge debts, potential cuts in social services, and privatization.

Since the Olympics nearly always run over budget the IOC developed a rule, which states that the financial responsibility for the games must be assumed by the host city and the organizing committee. This assures taxpayers will foot the bill.

The Olympics sponsors (a who’s who of criminal corporations) are given monopoly rights to vend (so much for Olympic competition), and in the true to the spirit of neoliberalism London’s Olympic bid even included tax haven status for Olympic sponsor corporations.

The Olympics have taken a page from the corporate playbook by forcing countries and host cities to wage battle with one another. They offer miniscule taxes, meager wages, and lax environmental regulations, all to see who will have the honor of being exploited by the Olympic industry.

The politicians and organizing committees that plan the Olympics write on how the games are for “the public”. But it’s clear from the policies implemented that the games are actually for the wealthy.

A recent report on the 2012 London Olympics lists the average price for a ticket to medal events was about $375. What’s worse is that the study shows that significant amounts of tickets, for some events over 50%, were never available to the public, but were reserved for VIPs, sponsors, officials, and the media.

According to the Office of National Statistics in the UK the average visitor to the Olympics dropped over $2,000 or twice as much as the average tourist to Britain.

Some of the most devastating impacts that the Olympics have on host cities are the militarization and privatization of urban space.

Because of the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, and Canada’s fear of FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) terror the 1976 Olympics in Montreal were heavily militarized. Thousands of Canadian forces provided security for the games.

The militarization of the Olympics perhaps reached its height during the 2010 London Olympics. During the 2010 games Britain underwent the largest military build up in London since World War II. The UK had more troops in London than in Afghanistan during the Olympics.

There was an 11 mile electrified fence, 55 teams of attacks dogs, a Royal Navy ship anchored in the Thames, drones flying overhead, surface to air missiles on the roofs of apartments, and air force jets on stand by. Should World War III break out during the games Britain would be prepared.

Along with the militarization of the Olympics came increased police powers. These powers were predictably used to arrest hundreds of protestors and to trump up terrorism charges. In fact, in the year before the London Olympics UK terrorism arrests increased by 60%.

As militarized Olympics became more common, so too did “street sweeps” where homeless and sex workers are seen as vermin, which must be cleansed from the street.

In the run up to 1996 Olympics in Atlanta 9,000 arrest citations were given to mostly African-American homeless men. Stories of homeless forced out of Olympic cities are common.

According to the Center on Human Rights and Evictions the Olympic games alone have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, mostly the homeless, the poor, and minorities such as Roma and African-Americans.

Olympic redevelopment projects commonly target low-income areas, which result in increased rents and destruction of low-income communities. Though promises of low income housing as part of the Olympic redevelopment are common, few ever become a reality.

Though the major media prefer to criticize the human rights record of the Olympic hosts only when they take place in Russia or China, there are significant problems with all Olympic games.

The policies of the IOC, like those of other transnational organizations (G8, IMF, ect.), can be resisted through the creation of a strong grassroots movement. A number of the recent Olympic host cities were home to many devoted activists working on anti-Olympic actions. But hopefully if more people are aware of the similarities between the IOC and the G8/IMF visions of a “better world”, they may be called to work for an actual better world, one which benefits all the inhabitants of a city, not just the wealthy.

Paul Gottinger is a writer from Madison, WI. He edits whiterosereader.org and can be reached at paul.gottinger@gmail.com

Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email: paul.gottinger@gmail.com

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail