Every four years, millions of people in the United States and around the world get a case of Olympic fever. When nations from all corners of the world send their finest athletes to London from July 27 to August 12 for the Games of the XXX Olympiad, a slight uptick in optimism around the world will be noticeable. Watching nations competing in the Olympic arena instead of on the battlefield, it is easy to get caught up in romantic sentiments of peace and optimism.
1920 Olympics cremony
Sometimes Olympics take place during non-peaceful times, however. The 1916 Olympics were to be held in Berlin, but were completely cancelled after World War I broke out. Similarly, the 1940 Olympics and 1944 Olympics were cancelled because of World War II and the Winter War. Immediately after both World War I and World War II, the war’s losers were not allowed to participate in the Olympics.
London 1940 Olymics
Boycotts during times of conflict are also common throughout Olympic history. Spain chose to boycott the 1936 Olympics in Germany after Adolf Hitler assumed power. The 1965 Summer Olympics saw seven countries boycott because of the Suez Canal crisis, Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, and China boycotted because of Taiwan’s participation under the name “Formosa.” 1976 saw many boycotts for a variety of reasons, but 1980 and 1984 are the boycotts most Americans will remember. U.S. President Carter refused to allow U.S. athletes attend the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, while the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
1936 Olymipcs pool
Boycotts are often times an effective non-violent way of sending a message or harming another country’s reputation or pocketbook. Sadly, violence is not an uncommon sight in Olympic history, as violence on various battlefields has bled into the Olympic arena.
The bloodiest Olympic game in history must belong to the 1976 Games in Munich when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Munich Organizing Committee President Willi Daume wanted to cancel the games following the massacre, but was convinced to let them continue after a memorial service. 83,000 attended a memorial at Olympic stadium, with 10 Arab nations refusing to lower their flags in honor of the fallen Israelis. The games continued following the ceremony, but without the remaining Israeli athletes.
Olympic violence hit closer to American’s homes on July 27, 1996 at an evening concert at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. At 1:20 am, three pipe bombs exploded, wounding 111 people. It wasn’t until the following year when Eric Robert Rudolph set off two more bombs that he was caught and sentenced to four life sentences.
Sometimes real world political conflict can affect individual players at the Games. The 1956 Games experienced heightened tension and aggression because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary. A men’s water polo match between the two countries, which would later become known as the Blood in the Water match, saw unprecedented violence in the pool. Hungarian spectators would have rioted if it were not for the appearance of police.
As the 2008 Beijing Olympics approached, it appeared everyone had a concern or complaint. Pollution, censorship, human rights allegations, and global economic concerns all appeared to put the Beijing Olympics down a path for failure. The games actually went off rather smoothly, but not all violence was avoided. Two American tourists were stabbed by Tang Yongming on the Drum Tower. One of the victims was Todd Bachman, father-in-law of USA’s volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon and American athlete Elisabeth Bachmann.
It’s never foolish to look for signs of optimism when it comes to establishing peace. The Olympics are a time for celebrating our best athletes and sharing our culture with the rest of the world. However, we do not yet live in a peaceful world and violence does not simply take a vacation every four years when the Olympics begin. May London continue to experience a peaceful games this year.