gfiles magazine

September 8, 2011

The Olympic movement: myth and reality

The Indian Olympic Association is mistaken in trying to use the International Olympic Committee to forestall the sports Bill
FOR decades, self-serving sports officials and administrators, especially in developing countries like India, have been perpetuating the myth of the infallibility of the Olympic charter. They have used the Olympic charter as a shield to protect themselves from charges of wrong-doing, saying that the charter clearly mandates that the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of a country is autonomous and the government cannot interfere with it.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has done precisely this whenever the government has sought transparency and accountability from it. Now, after the scandal-marred Commonwealth Games, the IOA’s functioning is under the scanner and it is scurrying for cover and urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to come to its rescue. The sports bosses in the country, used to unbridled power, are now a worried lot because they feel that that power is slipping out of their hands. The government proposes bringing in legislation to make the sports bodies more accountable and transparent. The Bill seeks transparency from the IOA and national sports federations, it fixes age and tenure limits for officials and wants more involvement of athletes in sports administration.
Unsurprisingly, the media department of the IOC has written umpteen letters to the Indian government, threatening dire consequences if the Bill is passed. The IOC maintains that the Bill violates the Olympic charter as it will give the government the right to interfere in the functioning of the IOA and the national sports federations. But the principle of inviolability of the Olympic charter has been more abused and violated than adhered to, giving rise to a number of myths.
Myth number 1: The charter clearly states that all member NOCs should have women sportspersons in their contingent for the Olympics and other Games conducted under the IOC umbrella. But Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have never sent any women’s teams to the Olympics and there is no likelihood of their doing so in the near future.  

The arrest of the Indian Olympic Association bosses proves
that no National Olympic Committee can work outside
he Constitution of the country. 
Myth number 2: The government has no role in the functioning of the NOCs and any violation of this rule will lead to sanctions by the IOC. This is a bizarre and contradictory assertion because the IOC has made it mandatory that any NOC bidding for the Games (Olympics, Asian, Commonwealth and so on) must have its government’s approval. Also, the IOC has never asked China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea, to name a few, how they run their NOCs and how they treat their sportspersons who fail to perform well in these Games. Myth number 3: Once the Games are allotted to any country, the NOC of that country is responsible for running them. This is a ridiculous myth. Look at the case of the Commonwealth Games. The government did everything while the organizing committee was involved in unprecedented corruption and chaos. The arrest of the IOA bosses proves that no NOC can work outside the Constitution of the country.
Myth number 4: The IOC says the government cannot fix the age and tenure terms for the NOC officials. The IOC itself has formulated age and tenure stipulations. It has abolished life membership, it has fixed a maximum of three terms for its office-bearers, and it has stipulated an age limit also.
In any case, the Parliament of any country is supreme. The IOC cannot challenge the sovereignty of the Parliament and its right to enact law. Myth number 5: By allotting the Olympic Games to a particular country, the IOC gives the hosts a chance to reach out to the world and opens up immense economic opportunities. India has never got such negative publicity in recent times as before and after the Commonwealth Games because of the corruption of sports officials who swear by the Olympic charter. The bitter legacy of the Montreal Olympics of 1976 lingers. Taxpayers still bemoan the cost. The Athens Games of 2004 were described by Sports Illustrated magazine as no more than a shoddy bazaar.
MYTH number 6: The Olympic movement and the Games are based on ethics and spread the message of peace, honesty and integrity. The less said about this, the better. The latest example of unethical behavior has come from the British Olympic Association and the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) who have appointed Dow Chemicals one of the main sponsors. This company has a dubious history. In 1999, it bought Union Carbide – whose plant in Bhopal suffered a gas leak in 1984 that is one of the worst industrial accidents in the world.
“Dow as sponsor for the Olympics is like a dance on the graves of the Bhopal gas victims,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. On the one hand, Dow is running away from its liabilities in Bhopal; on the other, it is engaged in a public relations exercise at the Olympics. The reaction of Dow rubbed salt into the Bhopal wound: “The Olympic Games are about peace, progress, sustainability and the world coming together to celebrate our common humanity. We share that vision and are committed to achieving it.”
For all those who shout from the rooftops about the moral and apolitical nature of the Olympic movement, here are some startling facts to show that politics and ideologies have plagued the movement since its inception: Nazi Germany wished to portray the Nationalist Socialist Party as peace-loving and great when it hosted the 1936 Games. The Games were also intended to show the superiority of the Aryan race, though the Nazis failed to achieve that because of Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Also, India clinched the hockey gold under Dhyan Chand. The Soviet Union did not participate until the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. During the 1920s and 1930s, communist and socialist organizations in several countries, including the United States, attempted to counter what they called the “bourgeois” Olympics with the Workers’ Olympics.
THE boycott of 1980 and the 1984 Olympic Games by the US and the Soviet Union, and their respective allies, exposed the hollowness of the Olympic charter. In 1985, as a way of persuading East Germany to compete in Seoul, IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch awarded the Olympic Order, the IOC’s highest honour, to the dictator, Erich Honecker. By doing this, he implicitly sanctioned the state-sponsored system of doping in East Germany that was widely suspected at the time and that was later revealed to have involved up to 10,000 athletes. A number of female athletes later gave birth to children who were blind or had club feet. Even the 2008 Beijing Olympics were marred by protests before the start and during the Games. 
It was widely rumoured that Coca-Cola, a key IOC sponsor, was highly influential in the 1996 Olympics in its home city of Atlanta. In 1998, it was uncovered that several IOC members had taken bribes from members of the Salt Lake City bid committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics. After losing the bid for the 2012 Olympics, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe specifically accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the London Bid Committee (headed by Lord Sebastian Coe) of breaking the bid rules. The Turin bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics was also shrouded in controversy. g 

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