‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas’
‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas’ So says chapter 5 of the Olympic charter. But the modern Olympic movement has had to contend with wars, boycotts, protests, walkouts and even terrorist attack.Ahead of today’s expected cabinet decision on a London bid for the 2012 Games, Anne Mellbye looks back at the most political Olympic Games of the past 100 years.
1936, Berlin The 1938 Olympic Games were intentionally awarded to Germany so the republic could show that it had regained its status among European countries. With the Nazis in power, however, Adolf Hitler used the event as a platform to prove his theory of racial superiority. His attempt failed as African-American Jesse Owens became the hero of the Games winning four gold medals.During the long jump competition, Owens’ German rival, Luz Long, publicly befriended him in front of the Nazis. Luz Long was killed during WWII, but Owens kept in touch with his family for long after the war.
1948, London Following world war two, the Olympics took on a greater political significance as participation came to symbolise political recognition and legitimacy. Germany and Japan were not invited to London because of their war-time roles, while the Soviet Union was invited but did not show up. To limit Britain’s responsibility to feed the athletes, it was agreed that the participants would bring their own food. No new facilities were built, but Wembley stadium had survived the war and proved adequate. The male athletes were housed in an army camp in Uxbridge and the women housed at Southlands College in domitories.The 1948 London Games were the first to be shown on television, although very few people in Great Britain yet owned sets. Though there had been much debate as to whether or not to hold the 1948 Olympic Games, they turned out to be great popular success. Approximately 4,000 athletes participated, representing 59 countries. Read an archive Guardian report
1952, Helsinki The Helsinki Games marked the beginning of Cold war tensions. West Germany participated for the first time, and the USSR returned to the Olympics after a 40-year absence. The USSR initially planned to house its athletes in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and fly them into Finland each day. In the end, separate housing facilities for Eastern bloc athletes were set aside.
1956, Melbourne Three separate protests affected the Melbourne Games. China withdrew after the International Olympic Commission recognised Taiwan, and would not return to the Olympics before 1980. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon sat out to protest at Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, while Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands boycotted over the Soviet invasion of Hungary.The conflict between USSR and Hungary was brought on-stage when they faced each other for the water-polo semi-final. The game was terminated by the referee after a fierce exchange of kicks and punches. Hungary who was leading at the time, was credited with a victory.
1960, Rome The Rome Games marked the end of South African participation in the Olympic Games. Its racist apartheid regime meant the country was excluded until the 1992 Barcelona Games. At the 1960 Olympics, marathon-runner Abebe Bikila, running barefoot, became the first black African Olympic champion. Free of other major political disruptions, the Rome Games became a showcase for Italy, attracting a record 5348 athletes from 83 countries.
1964, Tokyo The first Asian country to host the Olympics, Tokyo spent $3bn rebuilding the city to show off its post-war success. The Yoshinori Sakai was chosen as the final torchbearer, who was born on the day that Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb.
1968, Mexico City 1968 was a year of universal unrest: Europe was rocked by student protests, the Vietnam war raged on, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile at the Olympics, East Germany competed separately for the first time. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished first and third in the 200 metres, gave the Black Power salute during the national anthem as a protest against racism in the US.
1972, Munich The largest Games yet staged, the 1972 Olympics were supposed to represent peace. But the Munich Games are most often remembered for the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes. With five days of the Games to go, 8 Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, killing two Israelis and taking nine others hostage. The Palestinians demanded the release of 200 prisoners from Israel. In an ensuing battle, all nine Israeli hostages were killed, as were five of the terrorists and one policeman. IOC president Avery Arundage took the decision to continue the Games after a 34-hour suspension.
1976, Montreal Around 30 African nations staged a last-minute boycott after the IOC allowed New Zealand to compete. New Zealand’s rugby team had recently played in the racially segregated South Africa, who had been banned from the Olympics since 1964. Taiwan withdrew when Communist China pressured the host country (and trading partner) to deny the Taiwanese the right to compete.
1980, Moscow Over 60 nations including West Germany and Japan boycotted the Moscow Games to protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The American-led boycott reduced the number of participating nations from 120 to 81, the lowest number since 1956. Countries such as Britain and France supported the boycott, but allowed their Olympic committees to participate if they wished. Probably due to a lack of competition, the Moscow Games became the most successful for the British athletes, who finished ninth overall.
1984, Los Angeles Following the western boycott of the 1980 Games, the USSR led a boycott of the US-staged event by 14 socialist nations. The absentees claimed the Los Angeles Olympic Committee was violating the spirit of the Olympics by using the Games to generate commercial profits.
1988, Seoul For the first time since the Munich Games, there was no organised boycott of the Summer Olympics. Though North Korea stayed away from the Olympics, joined by Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Cuba. The Seoul Games went on with little interruption, and their success represented a major milestone on the journey from dictatorship to democracy for South-Korea.
1992, Barcelona The 1992 Barcelona Games marked the first Olympic Summer Games since the end of the Cold war. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia fielded seperate teams, while the rest of the former Soviet Union competed as the “Unified Team”. Germany competed under one flag for the first time since 1964, while post-apartheid South Africa was invited ending a 32-year ban.
1996, Atlanta The Atlanta Games were the first to be held without any governmental support. This led to a commercialisation of the Games that disappointed many. In addition, a pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centnnial Olympic Park killing two people and injuring a further 110. Although the incident was referred to as a terrorist bomb, the motive or group responsible was never determined. Approximately 10,000 athletes participated in Atlanta, representing 197 countries (including Hong Kong and the Palestinian Authority).
2000, Sydney The Sydney Games were the largest yet, with 10,651 athletes competing in 300 events. Despite its size, the event was well organised and renewed faith in the Olympic movement after the 1996 Atlanta bombing. The Australians chose Aboriginal athlete and national hero Cathy Freeman to light the Olympic torch.
2004, Athens Next time round, the Olympic Games will return to its origins when Athens hosts the XXVIII Olympiad. Greece was the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games more than 2,000 years ago, and Athens staged the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
2008, Beijing The 2008 Games, due to be staged in Beijing, have provoked outrage from human rights groups who say allowing China to host the Games legitimises its repressive regime. Protestors also claim China will use the Games as a propaganda tool. Supporters argue the Olympics will accelerate the progress of social liberalisation. Taiwan government officials strongly support the Beijing Games, believing that the event will reduce the risk of China using force against its neighbour. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan it provoked a boycott of the Moscow Games the following year.