How Did Syria and the Rest Do in the Olympics?


The Nazis understood the meaning of the Olympics. And the USA and the UK understand it too. The Empire needs to stamp it’s authority on everything – including sport. “US primacy” demands it. And the UK’s imperial habits just refuse to die.

Empire requires an image of invincibility – a mythology of superior qualities in every field is a prerequisite. The foundational myth being the physical body itself. And the point of it all? Gold – as much as possible. You could call it the ultimate gold standard.

In the Rio medal table the USA and the UK came first. And their victims came last. Between them – the Americans and the British won 188 medals. While together – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan won zero. There were 921 American and British competitors in Rio compared to the 39 competitors who came from Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. This asymmetry was ignored in the mainstream world – the imperial world.

Knowledge of war crimes may have been suppressed at the Rio Olympics. But their results were there for all to see. Indeed Rio was silently endorsing the crimes of the USA and the UK because the Games are first and foremost an expression of Empire.

Like Hollywood – the Olympics as it is normalises the imperial hierarchy. In Rio it legitimised recent wars by handing out medals to the victors while completely ignoring the victims. This is the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

Being an expression of Empire – the Olympics not only reflects the global military order but also the global economic order. It is no coincidence therefore that the champions of Rio are also the champions of neoliberalism. In a highly liquid (financialised) global economy – New York and London predominate. They both specialise in sucking up the global surplus. As a result the losers in this financial conspiracy were also the losers in Rio.

In fact the neoliberal structural adjustment policies of recent decades have done more damage to the world than the recent imperial wars. The classic victims of these policies – Africa, South America and South East Asia – barely competed in Rio. Africa (minus Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia) only won 14 medals. South America (minus Brazil) won 15 medals. And South East Asia only won 18 medals. In other words vast regions of the planet which are teeming with human life were hardly seen in Rio.

Why? A letter in the Guardian pointed at the obvious:

“Africa [for example] is so disadvantaged by the chronic lack of training facilities….”.

And a 2014 OECD report on “Illicit Financial Flows” (money laundering, tax evasion and international bribery) also gives an answer.

“Every year huge sums of money are transferred out of developing countries illegally. These illicit financial flows strip resources from developing countries that could be used to finance much needed public services, from security and justice to basic social services such as health and education, weakening their financial systems and economic potential….illicit financial flows likely exceed aid flows and investment in volume.”

However: because the neoliberal economic order is based on the free movement of capital around the world – it is not only the illegal transfer of capital that is damaging to the socially weak in Africa and elsewhere but so also is the legal transfer of capital.

There is nonetheless a welcome challenge to this status quo that favours the Empire. A look at the top ten medal winners in Rio reveals two unwelcome competitors. Among the NATO countries (USA, UK, Germany, France and Italy) and the NATO allies (Japan, South Korea and Australia) there is China and Russia (third and fourth respectively in the medal count).

Having militarily and economically destroyed the competition from everywhere else – the Empire is left with the stubborn will of China and Russia. And so the Rio Olympics – as well as reflecting the Empire also reflected the multipolar world that is being born.

Despite it’s wishes for another “American Century” the Empire must accommodate the reality of the independent and sovereign other. Even the presence of Cuba (11 medals) and North Korea (7 medals) high up in the Rio medal table suggests the stubborn limits of Empire.

Let’s hope the US and the UK can deal with these limits and with the presence of Russia and China better than the fascist regimes of the past. Let’s hope humanity can free itself from the Olympic gold standard. For the sake of the victims and for future peace the Olympics must be de-nazified.

Aidan O’Brien lives in Dublin, Ireland.