During his 20-year term as the head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage often insisted that “sports and politics don’t mix.”
He found out, to his horror and that of the entire world, that they do mix and can mix very badly, as Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, just as his term was ending.
They have been mixing and mixing and mixing ever since. Boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984, an incredibly delicate situation to avoid another in 1988 in Korea and then a period of relative calm.
But we are back to the bad old days in multiple ways:
● After a car bombing in India by a Pakistan-based militant group that killed more than 40 people, India promised retaliation and, as part of its reaction, refused to issue entry visas for two Pakistani shooters for the Int’l Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) World Cup starting in New Delhi.
The ISSF and the organizing committee tried to resolve the issue and couldn’t do it in time, so the International Olympic Committee withdrew recognition for the 25 m Rapid-Fire Pistol event for Olympic qualification. It was the only event that the two Paktistani shooters were entered.
The IOC issued a statement, noting in part, “As a result, the IOC Executive Board also decided to suspend all discussions with the Indian NOC and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India, until clear written guarantees are obtained from the Indian government to ensure the entry of all participants in such events in full compliance with the rules of the Olympic Charter – and to recommend that the IFs neither award to nor hold sports events in India until the +above-mentioned guarantees are obtained.”
● The two Koreas continue to work together in the sports area, with plans being made for joint teams in a few sports for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and a joint Korean bid for Seoul and Pyongyang for 2032.
The IOC was all smiles on this one, praising the continued cooperation between the two countries, and adding “Even though the candidature process for 2032 has not yet started, the IOC welcomes this initiative and is prepared to assist the two Koreas to further develop this project. In this regard, the IOC stands ready to place its expertise at their disposal, and would welcome a visit to the IOC by a joint working group to explore the possibilities.”
But the highly-respected GamesBids.com site noted the obvious: “North Korea would have to address several formidable obstacles that would prevent the embattled nation from even being considered to host Olympic events. Issues with human rights and trade sanctions top the exhaustive list, and on Thursday the World Anti-Doping Agency declared North Korea’s lab non-compliant – a violation that could come with additional sanctions preventing its athletes from participating in the Olympics.”
● The political agendas of multiple continue to cause issues for athletes, especially from Israel and Kosovo.
Spain of all places refused to allow Kosovo karatekas to compete in the World Championships in Madrid last November. IOC Deputy Director Pere Miro said “If the Spanish Government are not [able] to guarantee the access not only to Kosovo but to every athlete to compete, we should warn all international federations that, until this is solved, they should not hold international competitions there.”
Israel has had this problem for decades, but are getting some help from International Federations like the International Judo Federation. It pulled tournaments from Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates because of its discriminatory policies against Israel, and then went ahead and awarded Israel a Grand Prix tournament of its own. The UAE backed down and allowed Israeli athletes to compete like all others at the reinstated Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November.
● The Ukraine has hardly forgotten the annexation of the Crimea region by Russia in 2014. It will not field a team for the Winter World University Games in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, taking place from 2-12 March.
Interestingly, the head of the federation for university sport (FISU), led by a Russian professor, said there would be no penalty imposed on the Ukrainian federation.
There is a lot of speculation already about the selection of the 2032 Olympic host city, with Los Angeles already set for 2028. The vote on 2032 won’t come until 2025, so it’s mostly a waste of time. But the bidders are already lining up and in addition to familiar sites like Australia, Germany, maybe Argentina and even Russia, there are also political problem children like North Korea, now India, also Indonesia, and China.
Politics and sports are forever going to be together and the real question is how the IOC – as the leader of the international sports world, a role it knows it owns – is dealing with it. They set the standard and many others, especially the International Federations, follow.
And it appears the IOC’s position is hardening. Miro’s comments concerning Spain mentioned possibly “warning” federations not to hold events in offending countries. Thursday’s IOC statement about India was definitive: no discussions about future IOC events and “recommend that the IFs neither award to nor hold sports events in India” until it guarantees entry for everyone.
There are plenty of folks who don’t like the IOC, or any governing body, for their own reasons, whether real or imagined. But IOC chief Thomas Bach likes to talk about the organization as “values based” and the political arena is a perfect venue to demonstrate this.
The IOC isn’t a country, does not issue visas and has no army, navy or air force. But the popularity of the Olympic Games and the worldwide impact of sports allow the IOC to have considerable influence in making countries behave … if they want to take part.
And almost everyone wants to take part. So this is the IOC’s chance to set the rules and enforce them, not only against countries, but also the international federations. Maybe it can show that while politics and sports are all part of the same mix, maybe sports can be a time to put politics aside.