I’m sure that many Cats have noticed that the winter olympics are on. I don’t recall a previous winter games receiving as much attention as the current games – this is due to illiberal Russian policies and not the games themselves.
Chris Berg has written, at least two articles, on the relationship between olympics and illiberal governments – so the current kerfuffle is not unusual but rather the norm.
Another Olympics, another repressive state using the Olympics to boost its international reputation and gain legitimacy at home.
This time it’s Russia and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
When will it sink in that repression is not a regrettable anomaly in some host nations, but a central feature of the Olympic package? That the Olympic movement feeds, legitimises, and even encourages political authoritarianism?
Olympic Games symbolism is steeped in fundamentalism, militarism and fascism.
It is really only when totalitarian states host the Games (Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980, and Beijing 2008) that the cultish elements of the Olympics are fully assimilated into the opening ceremony.
For instance, what we call the ”parade” of athletes around the ceremony would really be better described as a march. Coubertin was explicit about the militaristic elitism of the Games. He wanted to showcase ”an army of sportsmen”. Olympic athletes are the peak physical specimens of all the world’s nations. They are young, fit and virile. In Coubertin’s view, physical perfection was a sign of moral purity. He wanted athletes to devote themselves to sacrifice and an ”ideal of a superior life”.
No surprise when the Nazis hosted the Games in 1936, Coubertin embraced them. Berlin was the culmination of his life’s work. It was the ultimate display of ceremony and strength. Olympic ceremonies still combine a sort of fascist symbolism with Cirque du Soleil-style choreography.
We shouldn’t be surprised, Hayek warned of this in his The road to serfdom (pdf):
It was not the fascists but the socialists who began to collect children at the tenderest age into political organizations to direct their thinking. It was not the fascists but the socialists who first thought of organizing sports and games, football and hiking, in party clubs where the members would not be infected by other views.
So what is the bottom line?
Athletic performances will wash away the political stench. Putin and his government will be the beneficiaries. They will be photographed with sports stars and visiting celebrities. They will feed off the praise of organisers and fans and athletes, for whom there is no world outside the Olympic villages and stadiums.
All the pre-Games bad press will be chalked up to anti-Russian sentiment.
That’s the Olympic calculus – repressive regimes have to tolerate a few months of quiet and steady negativity, which is more than adequately compensated by a fortnight of blisteringly positive press.