Elder Bush: Keep Politics Out of Olympics
By - August 14, 2008

Former U.S. president George H.W. Bush said politics should be kept out of the Olympics and he is not sympathetic to those who try to spoil the Olympic Games. "Keep the politics out of the Olympics. I am not sympathetic to those who would try to embarrass China, try to spoil the Games or try to make political hay out of the Olympics," he told USA Today in an interview published Monday. – China CN

Dominant Social Theme: Let the Olympics be what they are supposed to be – a glorious tribute to the aspirations of young humankind.

Free-Market Analysis: The Olympics … Big business! Big money! And yes, big politics, too. No matter what former President Bush says, politics are inextricably linked to the games; in fact, it says a great deal that both Bushes, current president and former president, showed up in China and are apparently still there as of this writing.

In fact, the games ARE all about politics in the sense that those involved perform inevitably on government sponsored teams and each athlete is identified by the country he or she comes from. Just as inevitable is the requisite statement from winners of any medal as to the honor they feel representing their countries and how the reality of the honor came home to them (usually) as they ascended the winners' platforms or heard their national anthems begin to play.

All of this is not to mock the tremendous physical achievements of these gritty individuals. But the Olympics is evermore a kind of Passion Play that glorifies the nation state – and not all states are created equal. Some states are oppressive. Others are run by kleptocrats and despots. There is nothing especially honorable, perhaps, about representing them.

So much that is positive has accrued to the Games, but there are also negatives, for the games act as a magnet for political dissent and demonstrations. Just as disturbingly and inevitably, the games are turned this way and that to satisfy their "host countries" various agendas. Here's one observation on the subject:

Olympics have made things worse in China: Amnesty International's latest report on China has made the news headlines this morning. Its findings are not surprising though. It concludes that the award of the Olympic Games to China has led to an increase in human rights violations, with dissidents rounded up, protest websites closed down, undesirables banned from the centres of some cities and millions forcibly evicted from their homes. When Beijing was selected to host the games, the International Olympic Committee claimed that it would lead to the advancement of freedom and democracy in China. In fact, the opposite has happened and the Olympic brand has been damaged, probably irreparably. – Pub Philosopher

There are other uncomfortable political themes, writ large and small, that wend their ways through these Games, and all the others. One of the strangest is the increased emphasis on anti-doping strategies that increasingly threatens to undo portions of the competition entirely. Anti-drug efforts used to lurk on the games' sidelines, but they have increasingly moved center stage until the Olympics more and more resemble a weird kind of authoritarian spectacle in which certain athletes have begun to complain that excessive blood-taking, up to four or five times a day in some cases, actually threatens their performances.

And still the anti-doping forces charge ahead, increasingly angered, apparently, by their inability to wipe out every trace of drug-use among thousands of very competitive young people and their surrounding cliques, many of whom will urge the impressionable youngsters to do anything they can to win. It's gotten so bad that entire sports are being threatened with bans – bicycling and weight lifting, for instance, where drug abuse appears endemic.

Will doping ever be wiped out by vigilant anti-doping cops? The question only needs to be asked to be answered. There is too much at stake for all to compete without a chemical edge. And the reason the cycle will continue, beyond this, is because the edge is always with the users rather than the testers. Just come up with a new formula, a new way of enhancing performance and it will take a while, several years or more, before measures are taken to defend against it. In the meantime, a reputation can be made, sponsors' funds accumulated and an individual brand created.

Yet for similar reasons, anti-doping measures are never going to go away; the Olympics provide a metaphor for law enforcement that is too precious to lose. Just as games shows us that human activity needs to be regulated by rules, so the same competitions show us the need for stringent law enforcement. It is a tidy metaphor for the way the world should work, and increasingly the Olympic "brand" provides other governmental handholds as well. Here's an excerpt from an article that appeared in Britain about a month ago.

Government to unveil Olympic health push backed by ad and TV industries. The government will today outline details of a multimillion-pound healthy living campaign supported by a coalition of advertisers, media companies, health charities and community groups, which will use the strapline "Change4Life". The first stage of the ambitious "movement for change", which aims to raise awareness of issues such as obesity in the runup to the 2012 Olympics, could launch in September, can reveal. The first details of the government's strategy will be touched on in a speech to be given later today by the health minister, Alan Johnson, to centre-left thinktank the Fabian Society. In his speech Johnson will announce that the wider plan, touched on by the Advertising Association last month, will see the media industry support the government's plans. "This national movement for change will enable every citizen in the country at every stage of their lives to get the encouragement and support they need to be healthy," Johnson will say. – Guardian

After Thoughts

Life is not like the Olympics, though there are many who wish it to be so – especially Britain's socialist politicians and the leftist Fabian Society. In fact, life is a lot less tidy than the Olympics. In real life, the victories of others do not necessarily enhance your own status or progress. In the Olympics, the victories of drug enforcers are presented as reasonable and inevitable; in real life, those who enforce the laws are not always incorruptible and the laws themselves may be based on faulty logic and cultural prejudice. Most importantly, in real life, one works primarily for oneself and one's family, extended family, professional relationships and friends. Human action is taken for reasons of enlightened self-interest and the idea that one is an employee of the state takes a back seat to the reality of survival. You'll probably never hear that sentiment expressed at the Olympics, though.