Well Vladimir Putin seems to think so. First of all though, this post is a bit different to the others that I’ve written on this blog so far. Instead of talking about the state of the parties and the UK, this is about international relations and whether or not politics has an influence on the pinnacle of sport: The Olympic Games.
So as you will have noticed (unless you’ve literally been living under a rock for the last month), the Olympic Games is currently taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Olympics is supposed to be one of the few things that is beyond politics; it’s meant to just be about the athletes who push themselves to the limit, compete with the best in the world, inspire future generations…
However in the last few weeks there have been various accusations thrown around that the Olympics has become corrupted by politics. This isn’t something new. In 1936 various countries, such as the Soviet Union and Spain, boycotted the Berlin games (known as the Nazi Olympics) and Jews were virtually banned from taking part. More recently, during the Cold War, the USA refused to attend the 1980 Moscow Games with the following Olympiad in Los Angeles boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies 4 years later.
But what about now? We’re living in relatively peaceful times, shouldn’t the Olympics be free from all politics. Well apparently not. Just a couple of weeks ago an independent inquiry found that the Russian government was involved in a state-sponsored doping scandal. In brief, government officials were found to be interfering with athletes’ urine samples to make them appear clean when they actually tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Instead of admitting that the country was in the wrong and faced with the threat of hundreds of Russian athletes being barred from competing in the games, Putin responded by blaming the West for trying to “turn sport into an instrument of geopolitical pressure”. He also said that the world is witnessing a “dangerous recurrence of politics interfering in sport”.
In that respect Mr Putin is completely right: A government sponsoring a mass doping programme in order to perform better in the Olympics is very much “politics interfering in sport”. It also put the International Olympic Committee in a very difficult position: Ban all Russian athletes from competing at the risk of unfairly punishing clean athletes, or ban all Russians who have ever tested positive for drugs and risk not looking harsh enough. They opted for the latter.
During the games itself there was another politically-motivated incident. After the Egyptian athlete Islam El Shehaby lost his first-round judo match to Israeli Os Sasson, he neither bowed to his Israeli opponent nor shook his hand after the match (you can watch a video here). El Shehaby was sent home early from Rio. Arguably the greatest thing about the Olympics is that it brings together all nations, even those that don’t normally get on. Without the Olympics there would probably never be an Israeli and an Egyptian or a North Korean and a South Korean in the same room.
There are undoubtedly problems with the games but no nation has boycotted Rio and there are no longer the political factions that used to be seen at various Olympics. Yes, politics will always have an influence but nothing can bring the world together like an Olympics can.