The Olympics are anything but politics-free.
More than 50 years of history--from the 1936 Berlin Games to the fisted black-power salutes of American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos at Mexico City in 1968 to the coming Summer Olympiad in Seoul, South Korea--attest to that.
ABC News attempts to advance the premise another giant step with a documentary at 9 tonight (on Channels 7 and 3, following "Monday Night Football") alleging a 1975 plan by the Soviets and Third World nations to undermine or replace the traditional Olympics system with one serving their own interests. You may infer from the tone of this report that the new Olympics order would be a vehicle for spreading Marxism.
The alleged plan was to be executed through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
If there was such a scheme, however, this "Closeup" program produced by Jeff Diamond and reported by Stone Phillips cites no compelling evidence beyond a document purporting to describe a secret meeting in Lima, Peru. At this meeting, Phillips reports, "Third World sports ministers . . . led by Cuba and Algeria . . . mapped out a strategy to launch what they called . . . the 'great battle for a new international sports order.' "
Otherwise, the evidence of conspiracy is mostly vague, circumstantial and inconclusive, including 25 African nations withdrawing from the 1976 Montreal Games because New Zealand wasn't expelled for letting its rugby team compete in South Africa. Was this walkout the first domino in a grand strategy to sabotage the Olympics? ABC wonders aloud.
Not that the Soviets haven't a history of merging sports and politics. As this program notes, in fact, the Olympics are an arena where ideologies battle alongside athletes and commercial interests.
Mexico, 1968: Smith and Carlos are booted from the Mexico Games after their demonstration. Meanwhile, under pressure from black nations, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has canceled South Africa's invitation because of apartheid, and two years later South Africa is banned from all Olympics competition.
Munich, 1972: Palestinian terrorists murder 11 Israelis. And again under pressure, the IOC cancels white supremacist Rhodesia's invitation to compete.
Montreal, 1976: The Africans walk out over New Zealand's South African connection.
Moscow, 1980: The United States boycotts to protest Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Los Angeles, 1984: The Soviets and their allies boycott in what many feel is a payback for 1980.
The Soviets have undoubtedly tried to exploit the alienation of many Third World nations from an Olympics system that abused them under the heavy-handed rule of IOC president Avery Brundage. You can appreciate that alienation when you hear him in a clip from 1972, equating a black African threat to boycott the Munich games if Rhodesia were admitted with the bloody work of the Palestinian terrorists.
Third World nations fared somewhat better under Brundage's successor Lord Michael Killanin and much better under current IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who ABC says has made a special effort to "blunt the growing challenge from the Soviets and the 'New World Sports Order'."
In speaking of this "New World Sports Order," however, ABC addresses the Third World as a monolith that looks, thinks and talks alike. In fact, these developing African, Asian and Latin American nations number more than 100, many of them sharing a common colonial heritage, but having separate social and political agendas that do not necessarily include Marxism or dominance by the Soviet Union.
With the exception of their voting Samaranch into office, moreover, there is no evidence of them acting or voting together on Olympic issues. Many Third World nations were opposed to Seoul as the site for the 1988 Summer Games, for example.
ABC explores the growing American commercialism of the Olympics, but ignores the Winter Games and makes only a few passing references to the coming Summer Games in violence-rocked South Korea. The Seoul Olympics will be telecast by NBC, which may have to issue battle gear to its staff. Lots of luck. This is a nation in constant political turmoil and threatened by North Korea, which is demanding to host at least eight of the Olympic events.
Seoul will be the third consecutive summer Olympics site on the global firing line, following Moscow and Los Angeles. What was the logic of choosing a potentially disastrous site smack in the volatile center of major-power politics?
The race for minds and medals continues.