Chapter IV: Politics and Diplomacy

Excerpt from Chapter

“this chapter discusses the complex political histories of the Olympic movement, which demonstrate how its work is often inextricable from wider political ambitions.

In so doing, we consider the different political actors within the Olympic community, who may seek to utilize the Olympics to promote Olympic or non-Olympic political campaigns (athletes, IOC, NOCs, governments). Furthermore, we consider what this means for how we make sense of the IOC, the Olympic Games and the movement. We also explore some of the consequences of the IOC’s political relationships and activities over the years, particularly its link with the UN and examples when the Games have been a vehicle for what may be called quiet diplomacy or public diplomacy. Throughout these discussions, we reveal some of the ways in which the Olympic Games have provoked political campaigns and protests, the consequences of which have been a drive to achieve greater control over the public within the Olympic city, via anti-terrorism measures or crowd management. Finally, we return to these two initial questions about Bin Laden and the IOC President Jacques Rogge, whereupon we should be clearer about the explanation for his answer and the merit of the IOC’s position of maintaining neutrality on such matters.

To understand more about Jacques Rogge’s response to the journalist, it is necessary to offer some context by discussing how the Olympics has been politicised in the past and how this affects its present orientation towards political matters which is, we suggest, deliberately cautious. The Olympic movement’s orientation towards political issues is difficult to discern. Historically, the IOC has persistently advocated the idea that the Olympic movement should not engage with political issues or national governmental matters and, instead, confine itself to the business of sport. This view is born out of the IOC’s primary desire to ensure that as many countries from around the world as possible feel ideologically able to align themselves with the Olympic values and send their athletes to the Games. Indeed, the scale of this challenge should not be understated. After all, while the UN presently has 192 member states, there are 205 within the Olympic family. As such, ensuring that each of these countries is able to put politics aside in order to compete in sport is a remarkable diplomatic achievement. Indeed, this relatively uncomplicated aspiration has not always been successful, with countries choosing not to participate at various Games for reasons of political disagreement, as we will go on to discuss. So great is this concern that the Olympic Charter requires Olympic Family members to undertake ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda…in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas’ (IOC 2010a: 98) during the Games. The scope of these rules includes the wearing of clothing with symbols or messages of a political nature and any violation may lead to exclusion from the Games, as determined by the IOC Executive Board. “