With the Olympics approaching their conclusion, I’ve had a range of thoughts and emotions over the past few days.
Anyone that follows this site or our podcast (The Free China Pod) will know that we are not big fans of the governing body of the Olympics, the International Olympic Commission (IOC). It is an incredibly corrupt and disgusting organization that profits off of exploiting athletes and and governments (Ari has written a piece on this before), leading to the destruction of local businesses, the environment, and homeless communities, just to name a few. Seriously, if you don’t believe me just do a basic search of why the Olympics sucks and you could read for hours.
This is why people should boycott the Olympics, protest it, demand that the IOC be disbanded and reformed by people who actually want to run a non-profit instead of corrupt elite trying to add zeros to their bank accounts. Insist on reforms to make the Olympics more sustainable and friendly to local communities. We could do as we have said numerous times on the pod and do an international or regional Olympics so that the benefits and costs are more spread out. We could refuse to build new facilities as the IOC always demands of host cities, even when they are completely unnecessary and often quickly fall into disrepair, scarring the natural environment with broken concrete and rusted metal. Help ensure that people without homes are treated humanely, and if you’re feeling a little crazy, hell, maybe offer them training and a well-paying job and some housing to help with the games.
There are so many fixes that must be enacted before I would ever even consider supporting the Olympics. That being said, they are fun to watch, and can technically be watched without paying for cable or streaming services (though we’d never endorse that either as it would be “very immoral”). The spectacle is exciting watching the best athletes in the world show the limits of what a human body is capable of is incredible to watch, it can also be fun to get inebriated and pretend like you could do it better. Honestly as much as I generally detest it, the tribalism is also a ton of fun. Screaming for your team to beat a rival, cheering for the local hero, can be pure joy or gnashing of teeth, but it’s always exciting. In addition, the tribalism here is low stakes, no one is getting nuked for landing a triple axel, no invasions over burning a stone. Yeah some people are gonna go too far online and make death threats or some other nonsense when their team gets bodied, but that’s the internet.
While the outrage around many of these issues is generally as thought provoking as hitting yourself in the face with a hammer, sometimes there are important conversations to be had. This year there is a lot of conversation around the participation of trans athletes, again often quite bigoted and uninformed but some real conversations are happening and as trite as it is to say that the only way to “change hearts and minds.” Another conversation that is deeply needed is one about mental health that is happening because Simone Biles chose to withdraw from the competition. As stated earlier, there are a lot of mouth-breathing troglodytes that are gonna say unintelligent nonsense on the internet, but some are having honest conversations about the importance of mental health and that it is important. It is likewise important that people can empathies with people who are doing great things, it shows us our own potential when given the right base of support and hard work.
This ability to feel the joy and pain that is being expressed in these situations and the power to create change is nothing new, nor is the reactionary vitriol spewed by people with brains smoother than a luge track. Historically there have been countless examples of this, from the son of a sharecropper absolutely torching a bunch of racist fascists on their home turf when Jesse Owens embarrassed an ugly anti-Semitic version of Charlie Chaplin, to when Tommie Smith and John Carlos held gloved fists on the podium to show they wanted equal human rights (and maybe a little Black Power depending on who you ask), in one of the most iconic images of all time in ’68. The latter incident once again shows us the dark side of the Olympics, which did not protest Nazi salutes in 1936, but tried to have Carlos and Smith removed from Mexico. Another heartbreaking story is that of the 2nd place finisher in that event an Australian who gave the pair the idea to wear one glove each and wore and antiracism pin in solidarity with his fellow medalists only to be vilified when he returned home to never compete in the Games again and die in relative obscurity.)
This history of protest is exactly the reason why athletes should wantonly violate the IOC’s insistence on continuing to ban protests. Some already have and I hope that many more continue to do so. The IOC love to keep everyone happy so that it can keep that cash printers on full brrr. This can be seen in an issue that hits close to home, the issue of not allowing countries to use their real names
In this (or last?) years Olympics, Taiwan is forced to participate as Chinese Taipei. This is not a new phenomenon for the beautiful multi-island nation from which I’m writing this. Though it has not always been the case and wasn’t so before 1968, thanks at least in part to Tricky Dick Nixon’s infatuation with China (also that Jabba the Hutt impersonator Kissinger). Before it was referred to as the Republic of China (a name with probably equal baggage), Formosa, China, and TAIWAN (which it seems that most Taiwanese would like to be called as record numbers identify as such, however decided to vote down in the last referendum, it’s a very complicated subject). Though it’s funny because everyone seems to be paying attention to the fact that the Russian team can’t use its real name is quite curious, it’s because they literally had a prolific state-sponsored doping ring. Also the fact that they went with ROC is sometimes funny when they play China (if you get it, you get it), but also confusing at times for those of us in Taiwan.
Self determination is one thing that the Olympics need more of. If the Olympics wants to claim, as it does in its charter:
“The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries… [The IOC acts] to take action to strengthen the unity of the Olympic Movement, to protect its independence, to maintain and promote its political neutrality and to preserve the autonomy of sport… [and] to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.”
Though this is nothing new to Taiwan, see the WHO, UN, or Epic Games, it is dismissive of reality and thoroughly frustrating. It also shows that the IOC is not as independent as it would like you to believe and is in face quite dependent on the revenue that it gets from authoritarian states like China through streaming rights.
Speaking of China, that is where the next Olympic games will be held! Yay! An authoritarian hyper-capitalist nation that currently committing a cultural genocide in Xinjiang (read East Turkistan turning it in to an open air prison, also doing similar things in Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and Hong Kong to name a few), subjecting their citizens to dystopian style monitoring and social credit system, practicing neocolonialism through its Belt and Road Initiative, and threatening to take over independent counties by any means necessary. These are not the values that the IOC pretends to espouse, but then again, look at how Taiwan is treated by the international community in general. We deserve better from host countries and, we the people of the world, must require that that the IOC provide it to us!
If the Olympics wishes to truly be an institution that wants to “preserve the autonomy of sport” and “act against any form of discrimination,” then it must acknowledge facts and allow people to represent themselves as they see fit. If they want to truly be representative and inclusive then they must make efforts to do so. My firm hope is that when they refuse to do this, athletes will use their Olympic platform to boldly protest, and people will vocally boycott the Games, protest, and demand change from the corrupt IOC.