Thursday, September 26, 2013

Time for Another Jesse Owens Moment?

I just finished reading an article of BBC News that begin with the opening summarizing sentence:
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said a Russian law banning "homosexual propaganda among minors" does not breach the Olympic charter.
It did not really surprise me. I have never felt that the Olympic games deserved much attention, since it struck me as yet another form of self-aggrandizement for yet another form of elitism. Given what I wrote yesterday about the America's Cup, I am not surprised that my mind should be in this state. However, we have to remember that, in the longer view of the history of the Olympic games, human rights has never been a factor in selecting a venue.

However, rather than gnash our teeth over this state of affairs, we should remember that sometimes the athletes were willing to take up the burden that the organizers had made such a point to ignore. I was more than a little impressed to find that, on the Wikipedia page for the 1968 Summer Olympics, the very first item listed under "Highlights" was the following:
In the medal award ceremony for the men's 200 meter race, African-American athletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) took a stand for civil rights by raising their black-gloved fists and wearing black socks in lieu of shoes. The Australian Peter Norman, who had run second, wore an American "civil rights" badge as support to them on the podium. As punishment, the IOC banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Games for life, and Norman was left off Australia's Olympic team in 1972.
In 2008 there are an attempt at a parallel effort on the part of Team Darfur. Sadly, it attracted far less attention that seemed to be limited to Riz Kahn on Al Jazeera English and a blog post by Dave Zirin (who wrote a book about Carlos) on the Web site for The Nation. On the other hand, there have also been more passive instances of making an issue by not making an issue, the best example of that being the triumph of Jesse Owens in the face of a stadium full of proponents of the Nazi Master Race ideology, all of whom had expected to hijack the event for no purpose other than to promote their discriminatory propaganda.

In that context it might be appropriate for those affected by the Russian ban and those who wish to challenge that ban openly to train like hell for the Sochi Games and embrace the premise that there is no bully pulpit quite like the one on which an Olympic medal is presented.

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