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The Olympics: never just about sport

By Hsin-Yi Lo - posted Monday, 13 August 2012

The Olympics is not just about sports, but it is about promoting unity, friendship and encourages all countries and people to cohabit in harmony. Rather than honouring the spirit of the Olympics, countries and even individual people have used the Games as a platform to exercise their political stance against other countries. Such conduct only causes further hate and dispute.

Since the London opening ceremony, critics were quick to make comparisons between Beijing and London. The London Opening Ceremony was an impressive feat; it showed how the Industrial Revolution has made an incredible transformation in the lives of the British people and the country. Other highlights included James Bond accompanying Queen Elizabeth, a dance performance dedicated to Britain’s National Health Service and one of Britain’s funniest fictional television characters, Mr. Bean, was also involved in the performance.  Mr Bean was up to his usual antics and as expected, his brief appearance was very well received.

Of course, everyone has their own favourite Olympic opening ceremonies but making harsh and unfair criticisms of the Beijing opening ceremony are uncalled for. Amongst those critics was Ai WeiWei, who was one of the designers of the Bird’s Nest stadium. He asserted that the Beijing opening ceremony had ulterior political motives. Ai praised the London ceremony of its “human touch” and it was inclusive of ordinary British citizens’ lives and their struggles and joy.


Ai claimed that Beijing’s ceremony did not reflect “real” events – meaning that it did not show the everyday life of Chinese citizens. Instead, Beijing attempted to “create an image” and said the government “didn’t care about people’s feelings”.

Ai’s denunciation reinforces those who already hold negative views about Chinese politics and government. I went to Beijing in 2008, and I can vouch that Chinese citizens were very proud and privileged they had the opportunity to host their first Olympics. We should not assess the two ceremonies with the same standards because we need to be aware of China’s position in the global community. China has only recently opened up to the world; the Olympics were an opportunity to introduce itself and to show the world they are an active member of the international community. Beijing shared with us the history of China; the four great inventions, Chinese dance, the renowned Tang Dynasty, Confucius teachings and Chinese calligraphy. Understanding a different culture and history is the first step towards mutual respect. Adding to this, Chinese history and culture are still a mystery to many of us.

Ai’s attitude is an example of someone combining politics with the Olympics. He used an opportune moment to downgrade China’s image and at the same time, reinforced his own personal political views about the government rather than offering an objective evaluation about the quality and substance of the performance. 

Since the Olympics was revived and became a global event, it has often been tangled up with politics, controversies and drama because countries use the Games to amplify their political motives and views.

Berlin hosted the 1936 Games and Adolf Hitler did not recognise American athlete Jesse Owens’ triumph in his events because of Owen’s ethnic background. Hitler used the Olympics to tell the world that Germany had made a comeback from political and economic turmoil which the country had suffered after the end of the First World War. Also, Hitler wanted to promote Nazi race ideologies.   

In the 1952 Helsinki Games, there was a huge drama in regards to the accommodation arrangements at the Games. Tensions between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S had escalated before the Games leading Eastern Bloc athletes to have separate accommodations.


In 1972, it was the tragic Munich Crisis. A Palestinian group called the Black September abducted members of the Israeli Olympic team and demanded the Israeli government to release more than 200 prisoners who had been jailed in Israel. Black September killed 11 athletes, which shocked and horrified the international community. This tragic incident reflected the deep-rooted hatred and conflict between Israel and the territories of Palestine.

Over 20 African countries boycotted the Montreal Games in 1976 because the International Olympic Committee had permitted New Zealand to participate at the Games. African nations held hostile attitudes towards New Zealand because its Rugby Team had played at Apartheid South Africa. At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the U.S., Western allies and China boycotted the Games to demonstrate their objection against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At the next Games in Los Angeles, the Soviet Union took the opportunity to retaliate by not attending. Eastern Bloc countries (except Romania) and Cuba followed suit. The then U.S. President Ronald Reagan angrily said “a blatant political action for which there was no real justification”.

Major controversies occurred at Beijing 2008. What was meant to be a historical moment for China turned out to be an outbreak of anti-China sentiments. Pro-Tibetan independence and human rights groups said that China should not host the Olympics because of its human rights record. Even high profiled individuals staged their personal political views against China. Steven Spielberg abandoned his work as the artistic advisor for the opening ceremony.

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About the Author

Hsin-Yi Lo is a freelance writer. She was a journalist with Newsquest Media's Brighton Argus and Echo Essex newspaper and online titles. In her spare time she enjoys movies, gaming, reading and travelling.

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