The history of the Olympics and politics

April 7, 2008 7:34:51 PM PDT
Governor Schwarzenegger and President. Bush are not alone in their belief that politics and the Olympics don't mix, but history tells another story.

The year was 1936 at the Berlin Olympics. Hitler wanted to use the occasion to promote his views of Aryan supremacy. African American Jesse Owens knocked that notion by winning four gold medals. This is one of the most famous examples of politics intruding on the Olympics.

"People would like it not to mix, but it does, ever since the games came back to modern times," says Professor Patrick Hatcher Ph.D.

Hatcher is with the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco. He believes history goes against the romantic view of the Olympics.

The Soviet Union was allowed back in the games after invading Finland during World War II. In 1968, track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos injected politics into the Mexico City Olympics by giving a black power salute to protest racism.

This weekend, Carlos demonstrated in San Francisco against the Beijing games.

"I think the Olympics is a political tool. Every time I see the different flags of a nation, that's political in itself," says Carlos.

Political dissent has even turned deadly. At the Munich Olympics in1972, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes.

In 1980, the U.S. government flexed it's political muscle, leading a boycott of the Moscow games after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, the Soviets returned the favor by boycotting the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

Now comes the turmoil over China's human right's record, which clashes with the idealism of the games.

"In some people's minds it's about the best; the best in the human spirit, and crushing people is not the best. It's the worst," says Hatcher.

The spokesperson for San Francisco's Chinese Consulate is one who believes the Olympics should be viewed simply as a sports competition.

"We still believe Olympics is Olympics. It's separate from the politics," says Chinese Consulate spokesperson Defa Tong. .

Tierra Rogers will be one of the torch bearers. The 16-year-old basketball star from Sacred Heart suffered tragedy, when her father was fatally shot outside one of her games. She's proud to carry the torch and thinks the protests are inappropriate.

"People are entitled to their own opinion about the torch. I don't think I'm going to really worry about it," says Rogers.

And she's determined no one will take her torch to make a political statement.

Olympic Torch Relay Route through San Francisco:

  • McCovey Cove northbound to Third Street
  • Third Street to the Embarcadero
  • The Embarcadero to Jefferson Street
  • Jefferson Street to Hyde Street
  • Hyde Street to Beach Street
  • Beach Street to Polk Street
  • Polk Street to Bay Street
  • Bay Street back to the Embarcadero
  • The Embarcadero to Justin Herman Plaza for a concluding ceremony


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