Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | Tom Shanahan’s embarrassingly outdated defense of the idea that sports and politics don’t mix ignores the long history of the use of the Olympics by totalitarian governments to promote their regimes. This begins with the Olympic torch ceremony itself: a ceremony designed by Nazi planners to provide historical legitimacy to their murderous empire (that sent my father’s family to concentration camps and bombed my mother’s home in London). It also of course provided the dramatic opening for Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Olympia.

China, one of the world’s most systematic violators of human rights, is not using the Olympics to promote quaint Athenian ideals of democracy and sport. Instead, the Olympics are being used by Chinese authorities to promote the regime’s own nationalist and imperial longings that include the unconditional support of brutal governments in Burma and Sudan and its own destruction of the culture and natural landscape of Tibet.

I strongly urge Shanahan to stick to discussing local sports rather than demonstrate his ignorance by using Hollywood films as history lessons. The trauma of athletes inconvenienced by the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics pales in comparison to the fate of the thousands of Afghanis murdered by the Soviet army.

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