The Road to the 2022 Winter Olympics – Lip Service to Good Intentions

October 21, 2014

Uncategorized

By Geea Atanase – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Since the creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, when 13 nations met at the Congress of Paris to revive the Ancient Greek traditions of unity and diplomacy in organized sport, the modern Olympic Games have purported to represent the harmonious coming together of nations from across the globe in friendly competition and mutual respect. The IOC has codified these values in the Olympic Charter, which states in part that the goal of the Games “is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man with a view to promoting the preservation of human dignity.” Additionally, the IOC “opposes any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes.”

However, the IOC’s apparent lust for luxury has come under fire recently when Oslo, Norway decided to withdraw its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games. This is due to the conservative party of Norway’s refusal to provide a financial guarantee for the Games, partly because of the high costs of hosting the Olympics, and partly because of a list of demands that the IOC put to Oslo as a host.

These demands include separate chauffeur-driven Olympic traffic lanes with ‘priority’ traffic lights, opening and closing ceremonies with gourmet food, a cocktail reception attended by King Harald V and funded by Norway’s royal family, and an entire hotel to be set aside for use by the IOC. Although IOC spokespeople have called these demands mere ‘suggestions,’ the outrage shown by the Norwegian government toward the IOC’s ostentatious requests sheds light on what can only be described as a commercial abuse of sport by the IOC, contrary to the values espoused in its Charter, as well as an abuse of the IOC’s position of power as the governing body of the Olympic Games.

Additionally, bidding for 2022 Winter Games will not be reopened by the IOC, which leaves Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan as the only host options; however, human rights abuses in both countries are well-documented. The US Department of State’s (DOS) Report for 2014 lists the most significant human rights problems in Kazakhstan as arbitrary and unlawful killings by government agents, government and security force corruption, torture of prisoners and detainees, violence and discrimination against women and LGBT persons, abuse of children and child labor, sex and labor trafficking, and restriction on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and association.

The US DOS Report for 2014 also describes significant human rights abuses in The People’s Republic of China, an authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party; these issues include harassment and intimidation by the government toward public interest advocates and critics of the regime, extrajudicial killings without due process, torture of detainees and coerced confessions, political control of courts and closed trials, restrictions on freedom of religion, and forced abortions and sterilizations in accordance with a birth limitation policy, to name a few.

If the IOC is truly concerned with ‘promoting the preservation of human dignity,’ as stated in its Charter, it might think twice about choosing to host the Olympics in countries where state sanctioned harassment, torture, and discrimination against its citizens are commonplace abuses, among others. However, given the IOC’s track record when it comes to ignoring blatant human rights violations in nations involved in Olympic bids, its refusal to reopen bidding for the 2022 Winter Games is unsurprising. Despite the obvious human rights violations against Jews perpetuated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, the IOC refused to reopen the bid for the 1936 Summer Games after awarding the honor of hosting the event to Berlin. In fact, even amid strong opposition from western nations and Jewish athletes who called for a US boycott of the Games, the IOC ejected boycott supporter Ernst Lee Jahncke from the Committee and replaced him with Avery Brundage, who spoke publicly about a ‘Jewish-Communist conspiracy’ to prevent the US from competing in Berlin.

The IOC also failed to respond in any meaningful way to the controversy surrounding its decision to hold the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, particularly with the law prohibiting the spread of ‘non-traditional sexual arrangements between adolescents,’ which was signed into legislation by Putin in 2013. Despite the IOC paying lip service to its values of anti-discrimination and assuring participants of the Games that it would be a safe environment for athletes, human rights organization RUSA LGBT put it best – “we want to know how they can ensure this in a country with state-sponsored homophobia backed by federal law?”

Perhaps the more pressing question is whether the IOC can dig itself out of the moral conundrum it finds itself in once again with respect to holding the Olympic Games in countries known for human rights violations, this time in direct relation to the unrealistic and exorbitant demands they themselves placed on the only functioning democracy that was in the running. After years of practices that run contrary to the values espoused in the Olympic Charter, it remains to be seen whether the IOC will take a stand regarding the very values it professes to embody.

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