To what extent are today’s sporting extravaganzas a medium for political propaganda? Greece and Portugal were certainly able to boost their images abroad in addition to building domestic self-esteem by hosting this year’s major competitions but neither had a political statement to make. The Olympic Games have for a long time now provided the global stage for those willing to corrupt sport by tainting it with political rhetoric or action. Hitler hijacked the 1936 Berlin Games to extol the virtues of the National Socialist Arian state. Few will forget the raised, gloved fists in Mexico 1968 in support of the Black Power Movement. The PLO splinter group ‘Black September’ chose Munich in 1972 to violently demonstrate its opposition to the state of Israel. The US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was motivated by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Politics and sport are apparently irreversibly entwined.
China finished second to the US in Athens, three gold medals short of overhauling the most successful nation of all time, but five ahead of arch-enemy Russia. You can be certain that the talent factories in the People’s Republic will be working overtime in the next four years to ensure that China will be able to demonstrate its superiority to the world by the time Beijing 2008 comes round.
When the Games were awarded to the most populous nation on earth, the international community was still reeling at the bloody suppression of student protests by government troops. Nevertheless, the only remaining totalitarian communist country on our political map will go ahead and stage its party political broadcast. A taste of things to come will become available next week when Shanghai hosts the country’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix race. One nation that will not be present at either event to compete on field or track is the ‘other’ China, Taiwan. It is not blessed with the international ‘ring of approval’ – politically.