Sunday, March 23, 2008

Should athletes be muzzled?

I am still sick and so awake at four am. On CNN I watched part of Chasing the Dream, a report about preparing for the Beijing Olympics. I only saw the last few minutes but the report questioned whether the athletes might use the opportunity to make political statements or the like concerning human rights in China.

Although not the caliber of athlete to attend the Olympics, I (and everyone, really) is of the caliber to imagine, to think about being part of the Olympics. I, and most my age, clearly remember the boycott of the 1980 Olympics. An acquaintance, Kevyn Stafford, qualified for Moscow in the 200 Butterfly (a swimming event) but was unable to go when Canada boycotted those games. Remarkably, she did attend the '92 Olympics in Barcelona for Kayaking.

As a young athlete, I felt outrage that politics would interfere with the hopes and dreams of these athletes who very often have only one shot at competing in the Olympics. I seem to recall that the average age for female swimmers at the Olympics was around 20 while the age for men was a little higher and the range was a little wider. Stafford was an exception; for most, there is no second chance.

Of course, even if countries attend, the athletes could still inject political commentary of their own. I do not remember but have read how some black American athletes gave the Black Power salute on the medals podium. Chasing the Dream gave some other examples that I can not recall.

Many nations are considering requiring their athletes to not speak out at the Olympics. I think that's a little upsetting but even more were the remarks of the world's most famous Olympic swimmer, Mark Spitz. He said, and I only saw a few minutes of the show so I don't know how he feels about the subject, that most athletes would keep their mouths shut for commercial contract reasons. According to Spitz, most American athletes of Olympic caliber have contracts with various businesses and the contracts usually include clauses covering public speaking.

I presume the same is true for Canadian athletes and those of other countries as well.

I have great sympathy for these young people, signing their first contract (or having their parents sign on their behalf?) and having their ability to make idealistic statements limited thereby.

As a high school student, I was upset by the politics in the Olympics. Now that I am older, and feel that I actually know less than I thought I did back then, I can see the reasoning and leverage the Olympics offers.


Masuro said...

I am actually anti-Olympics. Large sporting events bring out nationalism and that, along with organised religion, is the bane of civilisation and humanity. Why don't they organise a global event where artists, architects, and engineers get together to build inspiring world wonders that say something positive about the human race? Private donations only, no corporate logos etched into the concrete.

kwandongbrian said...

I understand your point but vigorously disagree with you. Vigorously, I tell you, vigorously!

I am not a fan of pro sport, and I was saddened hearing Spitz describe today's Olympians being more and more commercial, but I like the democratic idea of the Olympics.

I don't think I became a swimmer with the plan or specific hope of going to the Olympics (actually, I joined because a beautiful girl joined and I hoped to increase my chances of dating her), but I knew who the Olympians were.

Here in Korea, I don't care much about world cup soccer or various baseball teams, but I am watching Bak Tae-hwan and hoping he does well. In my day, I admired Canadian swimmers first and foremost (Canadians like Baumann, Davis and Tewksbery were in fact the best) but also Michael Grosse of West Germany and Adrian Morehouse of Britain.

it would be nice to see more 'X-prizes' given in different endeavours. I am amused with your "...where artists, architects, and engineers get together to build inspiring world wonders" remark because most world wonders are the result of organized religion.