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THE GAMES ARE ON: Olympics have a long history of protests

By Kathleen McWilliams
On February 6, 2014

  • Activist Ann Northrop is joined by demonstrators from Queer Nation, and others who oppose the Russian government’s continued attacks on human rights, including the rights of LGBT Russians, as she pours fake blood on an Olympic flag, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games with a protest, outside the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, in New York, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. AP

Protesting the Olympics and finding fault in the location where they will be held has become just as intense and long standing as the games themselves.
According to 2008's Secretary General of the International Society of Olympic Historians, Tom Bijkerk's interview with BBC correspondent Paul Reynolds, "The games are very easy targets for boycotts."
Although most people will remember the contentious 2008 Olympics when activists boycotted and protested the games based on China's treatment of Tibet and other racial minorities, protesting the Olympics is a tradition that began in the 20th century. In 1908, Irish athletes boycotted the games held in London that year, due to the fact that the British Parliament refused to grant Ireland Home Rule. To show solidarity with the Irish's want of independence, the United States Olympic team refused to bow to King Edward VII in the opening ceremony.
In 1936, the American Olympic team planned to boycott the games in Germany opposing the Nazi regime, but was forced to attend by the President of the American Olympic Committee, according to Bijkerk.
During the 1964 Olympics, South Africa was banned from participating in an attempt to pressure officials to ban apartheid. This measure, insignificant in appearance, made a political statement South Africa could not ignore; that a nation enforcing institutionalized racism cannot participate in the modern world.
The most famous instance of Olympic protest occurred at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when 62 countries refused to participate in the games because of the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan. At this point the Olympics began to dwindle into politics and the next three games were considered unremarkable by most in comparison to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
In recent years, however, boycotts have extended beyond political differences to calling out host countries on everything from human rights abuses to social issues. The 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, China were memorable for the fact that activists from globe united to protest the Chinese government's treatment of Tibetan nationals and other minorities. Advocates of the Tibetan people called for people to boycott the Olympics until China freed Tibet, however the protests did not begin until a few weeks before the events.
In this year's Olympics, however, controversy was stirred across the globe as Russia prepared to host in Sochi, simultaneously cracking down on activists supporting gay rights in Russia. In the fall Vladimir Putin emphasized that laws prohibiting public displays of affection between homosexual couples would enforced in order to protect children from "Homosexual Propaganda." Backlash against the Olympics also increased when big profile sponsors, Coca Cola, were asked to withdraw their sponsorship based on the human rights abuses and they refused.
Protesting the Olympics has become something of an Olympic sport itself with activists finding issue with every country that has hosted recently. However, in recent years political differences have been a smaller issue, with groups focusing on the human rights track records of host countries.
 


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