Submitted by Pachamama
Many years ago we often wondered why people like Steve Stoute, Erskine Simmons and another man employed at Barclays Bank were so interested in the International Olympic Committee (IOC). We have subsequently learnt why. Last night Barbados appeared to have taken its first gold medal as the golden jacketed team’s outfit emerged as arguable the best on display, says the NBC’s commentator, at the Games of the XXX1 Olympiad – the 2016 Summer Olympics.
From the times of the Romans, games have always been political. Sometime central to the overall political-economy. And as 45 world leader descend on Rio with national flags billowing and anthems playing, the 2016 Summer Games will be no different.
But this presentation can hardly detract from the unparalleled power of the officials of the IOC, the devastation it continues to cause, the authoritarian nature of this unregulated organization, answerable to no one but itself – as stateless actor wielding immense political and economic might.
The IOC has now imposed a number of refugee athletes marching under its own flag as an indication of its power. In the past there could be no athlete unattached from a national flag. The IOC’s flag now fills a perceived vacuum. Of course the whole notion of marching around these games came into being for the 1936 games in Berlin. Eighty years later 10,700 athletes still follow Hitler’s orders.
The Berlin games also gave us others departures from what happened previously representing a milestone. We had the introduction by Goebbels of the torch relay; the use of sport to make militaristic, nationalistic and political statements; as determinative of shifts in global power relationships.
For the Brazil games the IOC insisted that there should proceed despite an outbreak of the Zika virus, plummeting economic circumstances, the displacement of 70,000 poor people of Rio, a ‘coup’ which brought down the legally elected government of Dilma Rouseff and her replacement by the American-backed Michel Temer.
This has become the norm. The IOC has recently given the warmest embrace to a number of governments which are said to have less than democratic impulses.
The recent Winter Olympics were in Sochi, Russia. The 2008 Summer games were in Beijing. They will return to China sometime soon for Winter Games. These are examples of the impulse of not only the IOC but other world governing bodies for sport. Impulses purely guided by money, power accumulation and the absent democratic traditions.
These relationships benefit both parties. On the one hand, the IOC could make any number of demands from host countries. Countries able to enforce IOC wishes without popular objections. And on the other hand, countries could purchase international credibility, national prestige through means that were to be a replacement for war.
In was only at the Summer Olympics of 1976, in Montreal, that the modern runaway spending started. Games which were estimated to cost a few million dollars escalated to over 1.2 billion. Having discovered that nations were willing to go to any lengths to host the games an invisible market was constructed and fierce competition ensued.
Since 1976 the IOC continues to mandate the terms on which countries would be awarded games. Those terms always seem to include the presence of modern stadia; new infrastructures; new facilities for athletes; and so on. Costs could quickly go into several billion dollars. Countries like Greece, whose population does not play baseball, for example, was to construct new baseball stadia for the Athens Games of 2004.
For the Winter Games in Sochi a whole city was constructed by the Russian government. Sochi is sub-tropical, so elaborate construction was needed to make enough ice to meet IOC demands. Russia is said to have spent 60 billion dollars. Vast numbers of migrant construction workers were brought in from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other neighbouring states. Some of whom died on the job because of bad construction practices and the absence of medical care. Beneath the glitz and glamour, the IOC does not want to know about these things.
For the Summer Games 2016 however, Russian athletes find themselves under the near unilateral sanction of Thomas Bach, the IOC president without a specific legally grounded determination, as if imposed by a global Caesar.
Yes, some people have long suspected that, especially under the old USSR, there was state involvement in providing performance enhancing substances (PES) to athlete’s. But to place a whole country’s athletes under a general suspicion seems extreme and is motivated by other geo-political issues.
Just a few years ago the IOC officials were taking Russian money, by way of bribes, but now they are willing to take money from the USA to embarrass Russia at a time of heightened hostilities. So the IOC officials’ revenues streams extend beyond infrastructural contracts for new stadia. Stadia the planning for which, must be approved by them.
The problem is that substantial parts of these infrastructures, after the games, remain unused. Maybe the Kensington Oval in Barbados is another example where expenditures seem not to merit usage derived.
In the case of the Rio Summer Games, the Brazilian government is estimated to have spent up to 10 billion US dollars. This at a time when economic performance is not at the 8% growth rate which exited when the games were ‘awarded’. It’s more like 3%, at best, currently.
The games come as widespread social unrest mounts, with demonstrations happening daily in several cities including Rio; where the ‘interim’ president has an approval rating of less than 2%; a president willing, at a time of economic disaster, to employ ultra-austerity to further suppress the Brazilian people.
It is not as if the masses of poor, largely Afro-Brazilians have not already made sacrifices in the declining availability of health care, the declining availability of education, the acceptance of a militarized police force in the favelas, the notion that one in five murders in Brazil comes at the hands of the police. And we could go on and on.
But none of this concerns the IOC. These stateless, unelected officials continue to hawk these games for their own enrichment, expressions of power. There are no differences between the revelations about FIFA and the ingrained bribery central to the day-to-day operations of the IOC.
Official bribery at the IOC comes at all levels. The process of getting the award of games, the award of broadcast rights, by of IOC officials in contracting arrangements and by local or city officials using the games to distribute largesse and as a platform for higher office as is the case for Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Peas.
But there are many other levels of stealing from the public associated with these games. The Mayor of Rios found it inconceivable that his family member could not bid for a project associated with the games and for which he had ultimate responsibility. A project built so badly that it faces structural failures.
The housing units for the athletes was to be turned into low income dwellings for the poor whose previous accommodations were destroyed to make way. These will be instead sold as exclusive condos for the very rich.
Brazil showcased these game as environmentally friendly and promised to replant many trees to replace millions of hectares of forest that have been destroyed over decades but at the same time the re-acceptance of golf as an Olympic sport means that new courses were to be constructed for the Brazilian elites after the games.
Sociologically, we are talking about a country which has vast disparities in wealth distribution, official racism of the Iberian typology, a vicious classism, near slave-like conditions in-parts and more. Given all this, the IOC should not be proud to present these games as a moment of uplift. Is there anything about the Olympics that we should be proud about?
Yes! There are many beautiful and ugly aspects of the Olympics.
At Rio, the American gymnast Gabby Douglas will be competing against her country woman, Simone Boyles, to make history.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and American Michael Phelps will be doing likewise. We are sure several other memorable moments might yet emerge. As social activists, we are particularly interested in moments like that demonstrated by John Carlos at the Mexico Games of 1968. Carlos has asked for a show of solidarity with the poor and an accurate accounting for the past.
Back in the 1920’s women staged alternative games to prove that they were not to be discriminated against. We also had Workers of World Games in the period thereafter.
And there are other moments of enrichment as well. We expect the women of the American WNBA to continue to make statements in support of Black Lives Matter movement after defeating the efforts of that association to fine them for such displays.
Carmelo Anthony is also likely to make some statements about that movement. Serena Williams is already on record as being critical of Donald Trump, indirectly.
Over several decades the IOC has ruled that political speech is to be a no-no. Athletes are banned from being critical of sponsors. Banned from criticizing the IOC. We would not expect absolute compliance.
These are to be parts of the contributions of athletes to the ‘feel good’ marketing of the ‘successes’ derived when disaster capitalism intersects with neo-liberalism and produces austerity.
Given all these circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these games are an instrument to release the high-pressured valve of social discontent brewing around the world, they always have been. Up to now they have had remarkable success. But time is longer than twine.