Monday, March 24, 2008

About That Olympic Torch Run ...

The "mother flame" of the 2008 Olympics torch was lit today in Olympia, Greece (see the website of the IOC for more on the torch run from Olympia to Beijing).

I can't resist pointing out that the ceremony of the torch run did not originate in antiquity, as so many seem to assume, but rather in the 1930s. As is the case with many of the atmospherics of the modern Olympic Games, it was thought up by the German organizers of the 1936 Berlin Games, aka "the Nazi Games," as the IOC website's info on the 1936 Games acknowledges.

The Berlin Games were organized in large part as a Nazi propaganda fest, culminating in the brilliant Leni Riefenstahl film "Olympia." Riefenstahl went to Olympia to personally stage and film the torch-lighting scenes for her movie, making her the true inventor of today's ceremony.

In fairness to the IOC, I must note that the Olympic Games are awarded to cities, not countries, and that the Nazi party did not take power in Germany until 1933, after the IOC had already awarded the 1936 games. However, the IOC did nothing to resist while the Nazis used their hosting of the Games to obtain the maximum value for themselves in world opinion.

The Nazis didn't do too badly at public diplomacy, considering how thoroughly they beat back calls in the U.S. and elsewhere for a boycott of the Games. Consider the below quote (courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) from Avery Brundage, the great American athlete and philanthropist who headed the American Olympic Committee:

Responding to reports of the persecution of Jewish athletes in 1933, Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: "The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race." Brundage, like many others in the Olympics movement, initially considered moving the Games from Germany. After a brief and tightly managed inspection of German sports facilities in 1934, Brundage stated publicly that Jewish athletes were being treated fairly and that the Games should go on, as planned.

Watch for lots more cave-ins just like Brundage's as the Olympic torch gets closer to Beijing and the calls get stronger for a boycott, or at least a snub of the opening ceremony.

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