To many, the Olympic Games are a break from the turmoil of living in a world with so much conflict. To others, it is a prime time to bring matters up. Both of these value the large media exposure and large gathering of countries as a time to express political beliefs. Political forces on the Olympics are nothing new, and the political distortion of the games could be described as Huizinga’s worst nightmare because they politicize what was formerly an arena for just athletics. Using the examples of Tibetan independence and Palestinian statehood, we will look into the political blanket put over the Olympic games and how the games’ innocence is being lost.
The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were used as a premier time for the Chinese government to showcase its positive qualities during perhaps the largest and most extravagant opening ceremonies in Olympic games history. However, this uninterrupted show by the Chinese government did more than just announce to the world that China can do more than deny rights to Tibetans and manufacture Nike shoes at a low price. It was able to take the focus of the world away from the preceding media storm over Tibetan separatists. During the torch relay, police in multiple locations had to control large groups of protesters wanting to “free Tibet” from the oppression of the Chinese government. These protests have been described as the largest Tibetan protests in twenty years. This response to the worldwide exposure is a contradiction of Huizinga’s description of play because it brings politics and discourse to what was originally supposed to be an event to appreciate the beautiful innocence of sports.
If the Olympics have become the opposite of what they were intended, than the Israeli-Palestinian massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich are perhaps the pinnacle of the argument. During “Black September“, seventeen, mostly Israelis, were killed in an attack by Palestinian terrorists. This drew a dark curtain over the games, and will always overshadow the actual events of the Munich Olympics. Huizinga describes his “magic circle” as the place away from everything else where the games can be played. However, an event as violent as this cannot be ignored and certainly affected the games. The Olympics have stopped being a coming together of states where politics are left behind. Instead, it just gives the world a lens with which to see conflicts between states with sports being played at the same time.
Consequently, every two years the world is given a special opportunity. Although there is violence, discourse, and protesting, the Olympic Games bring issues to a worldwide audience unlike before. Many in the United States would not know of the Tibetan protests if not for the widespread media coverage that follows the games and the politics associated with them. Maybe Huizinga’s “Magic Circle” isn’t the best place to have the world’s largest sporting event, because the days of amateur competition on a large scale is over. All sports already have world championships or at least a premier league that showcases the best athletes competing against one another. The Olympics no longer do that, nor are they called to. The Olympics have become political, and as long as they happen every two years, save unnecessary violence, they will act as a time for issues to be presented to the world without the power structure of arenas such as the UN. The games are no longer in isolation, but Mr. Huizinga, it’s 2014, why should they be?