Olympic Sacrilege


Olympic torch.jpgThe ancient Olympic Games were as much a religious affair (honoring Zeus and King Pelops of Olympia) as an athletic one, and the modern Olympics should also be recognized as constituting a civil religion of its own. That’s how to understand IOC President Jacques Rogge’s using the word “crisis” to describe a situation in which there have been some protests attendant to the ceremonial worldwide torch relay and decisions by a few heads of state to stay away from the opening ceremonies of the forthcoming Beijing Games.
I’m no devotee of the Olympic Cult, at least as conducted by its chief acolytes in the IOC. As an editorial writer at the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the early 1990s, I was responsible for writing about the upcoming Atlanta Games, and little about the preparations was lovely. The Games themselves were a good deal of fun, but the IOC didn’t like them much. They were too commercial, and there were too many ordinary people clogging the venues and the TV sight lines. What the IOC likes is a decorous celebration, where the meaty corporate sponsorships are tucked away behind extravagant public expense. And God forbid any unsightly politics. Did anyone doubt that Beijing could supply all of the above? “It’s easy to say now that this was not a wise and a sound decision,” said Rogge. Whoops.
In Rogge’s view, the Olympics makes a certain quantum of “moral engagement” incumbent on the host country. “I would definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement,” he said. The Chinese government’s view is that its games should not be marred by ” irrelevant political factors.” Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–and John McCain, sort of–have called on President Bush to stay away. Fat chance.