The war in Ukraine and the morale of the Olympic Committee | A story of contradictions, silences, complicity and hypocritical attitudes

The moral of the moralists of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is usually a thorn in the throat, an uncomfortable presence. It operates on the life of the movement that it leads and proclaims itself in extreme situations such as the war in Ukraine. Its history is the history of contradictions, silences, complicities and hypocritical attitudes. He has just asked the sports federations to cancel their participation in any planned competition in Russia and its staunch ally, Belarus. But also, that “no Russian or Belarusian national flag is displayed or any anthem is played.” Among the fundamental principles of Olympism – always in force and ratified in the Olympic Charter of July 17, 2020 – is a central one: “Since sport is an activity that is part of society, sports organizations within the Olympic Movement They must apply the principle of political neutrality. Something inapplicable.

The IOC issued a statement before the Russian invasion of Ukraine where it emphasized that “reiterates the strong condemnation of the violation of the Olympic Truce by the Russian government and the government of Belarus through their support.” What does he mean by the truce he invokes, the ekecheiria in the Greek language? It is a tradition born in the Olympic Games of antiquity (8th century BC). The wars stopped to compete in Olympia a week before the opening of the Games and, if they resumed, it had to be seven days later. Its symbolic weight, binding only for the Olympic movement, continues to this day.

By that logic, Vladimir Putin’s government violated the truce. A minor fact within geopolitics but not for the world of Olympism. For the IOC it is the validation of an idea: that sport should be considered as a tool for peace.

In 1992 the Olympic Committee revived that deep-rooted tradition in the midst of the Peloponnesian Wars and thea regulated as a pause in the armed conflicts of the 20th century. She asked that her member countries respect her and even had the support of the United Nations. A resolution, 48/11 of October 25, 1993, urged that the Olympic peace be fulfilled.

With the Winter Games beginning in Beijing on February 4, the truce continues until a week after March 13, when this year’s Paralympics end. The invasion of Ukraine was the reason given by the IOC to punish Russia. Thirty years ago, the Committee chaired by the Catalan Juan Antonio Samaranch found itself in a similar predicament due to the Balkan War. Then he rescued the spirit of the truce as a condition for the Barcelona ’92 Olympic Games not to be affected. The city of his birth.

The Committee allowed Yugoslav athletes, while witnessing the fragmentation of their country, to compete as “independent Olympic participants”, dressed in white and accompanied by the verses of the Olympic anthem. The delegation was made up of 52 Yugoslavs and 6 Macedonians. The corrective now applied to Russian and Belarusian athletes would be quite similar. In 1992 the sports authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina complained about this alleged concession to the IOC. His country was at war with Serbia and Montenegro like now Russia and Ukraine. Those Barcelona Games were won by the so-called Unified Team –with athletes from the dismembered Soviet Union–, which relegated the United States to second place.

The biggest stain that the IOC has attached to its medal table is the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Those of Nazism, those of Hitler, those who organized themselves despite the gloomy world that was coming. Two weeks before the start of the competitions in the German capital, Franco rose up against the constitutional government of the Spanish Republic and generated a civil war that would last almost three years. The government of Manuel Azaña resisted as long as it could. But his country boycotted the Berlin Games and did not participate for the first time in history. He had even gone further. He organized the Barcelona Popular Olympiad which was frustrated by the start of the Franco uprising.

Two months after the Games where the American Jesse Owens shone, fascist Italy invaded, conquered and annexed Ethiopia. The Olympic Truce did not exist then, but the IOC presided over by the Belgian aristocrat Henri de Baillet-Latour did. He had been chosen to succeed Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The Berlin Games were held during his tenure where he posed for a photo flanked by Rudolf Hess and Hitler in a box.

Samaranch was a teenager in ’36, but he would become president of the IOC in 1980. He held the position until 2001. An unassuming Franco supporter, when he died in 2010 he was remembered by one of the journalists who investigated him the most, the British Andrew Jennings as “the great survivor; probably the last of his generation of European fascist politicians to remain active in public life. He reinvented himself to the point that his followers proposed him as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

On July 18, 1974, a year before Franco’s death and in an act to commemorate the start of the Civil War, Samaranch made the fascist salute surrounded by authorities of the regime. Six years later he would become the presidency of the IOC. His son Juan Antonio has just been appointed Vice President of the same Committee that his father headed for more than two decades. He was elected at the last assembly during the Winter Games in Beijing. Although the only candidate, he was not elected unanimously: he had 72 votes in favor, 4 against and received 7 abstentions.

With or without Samaranch’s vote, for now Russia is running no more risks than the sanctions announced a few hours ago. It is the country most punished by the IOC in recent years. Due to the doping scandal, at the Tokyo Games its athletes competed without the company of their flag, their anthem and only on behalf of the local Olympic Committee, but not Russia. The penalty is valid until this year. Once again sports and politics coexist promiscuously. As Discépolo would say, they continue to “roll around in a meringue/And, in the same mud, all of you grope”.

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The war in Ukraine and the morale of the Olympic Committee | A story of contradictions, silences, complicity and hypocritical attitudes