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

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail