Politics and the Olympics

How do politics affect our view of the Olympics and vice versa?

Many past Olympics had displays against racial inequality. One of the more notable times was at the 1968 Olympics, where two African-American runners raised their fists in a symbolic moment. Afterward, the athletes were punished for their actions. 

“They were treated so horrifically. It, unfortunately, took sacrifices of earlier athletes to change our conventional wisdom,” said Dr. Paul Hoelscher, the teacher of the Sports and Western Society class at Clayton High School. 

Once every two years, the whole world sits down to watch an incredible show of global cooperation, also known as the Olympics. In the past year, we have gone through the motions of the Olympics not once, but twice. Along with this incredible display of athleticism, the Olympics also have a history of politics and activism.

Another Olympics that was important to global politics was the 1980 Olympics. If you have watched the 1981 film “Miracle on Ice” you would know. During the Cold War, the United States hockey team was able to beat the Soviet Union during the gold medal game. 

“I was only six, but thinking through the Olympics of the Cold War, and the [1980’s], as I was growing up, there always was that element of we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys,” said Hoelscher. Although the political significance might not have been realized by many youngsters, the Soviet Union surely didn’t forget about their rivalry with the United States. In fact, they boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. 

Throughout the timespan of the Olympics, the politics surrounding them have changed. One example would be their location of them. 

“The location is meant to indicate something politically. Then over time, we look at different countries being selected, mostly Europeans, then the first non-western countries,” said Hoelscher. Through time, you can see the biases of the organizers in who they think would make good hosts, but eventually, a more diverse range of countries has been chosen. 

Women have also not had as prominent of a role in sports. According to the International Olympic Committee, female athletes were first allowed to compete at the 1900 Olympic games. They accounted for 2.2% of athletes, and only competed in five events. 

“I’ll give you one big change in my lifetime, the participation of women and girls in sports, that’s a major shift,” said Hoelscher. 

The US Women’s National Soccer team has been at the forefront of this change after filing a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. 

High-school-aged athletes can also take a stand for issues they believe are important.

Delia Zacks is a sophomore at Clayton, but also runs cross country and swims. 

“People say politics shouldn’t be in sports, I don’t think there’s any way to separate them, and when people say politics shouldn’t be in sports, what I feel like they’re saying is ‘I disagree with your politics.’

— Dr. Paul Hoelscher

“We all have influence over each other and in our communities and it is important to use that influence for positive change so everyone can participate and feel included,” said Zacks. “I think listening to the students’ voices is also so important because we have our concerns that may be different than that of the district, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any less valid and any less pressing.”

Politics will be ever-present in sports, and we cannot ignore them. They help raise awareness for many different social justice issues, which can have an effect on the lives of millions of people.