Olympic Games: Is politics the main event? Documentary probes East-West struggle for ideological control
The Other Olympic Game: An ABC News Closeup ABC, Monday, 8-9 p.m. Correspondent: Stone Phillips. Producer: Jeff Diamond. Executive producer: Av Westin. The Olympic Games are no longer ``merely'' games; they have become a battleground for ideological warfare between East and West.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent years, according to this combative and clearly partisan ``ABC News Closeup,'' the Soviets' third-world strategy seems to have changed drastically, although their long-range determination to control the games remains the same. The focus has switched from a battle against South African participation in the games to a full-scale offensive against commercialization.
This startling documentary started out to be a ``20/20'' segment but escalated into a full-hour ``Closeup.'' While it makes marvelous use of athletic footage from the 1968, '72, '76, and '84 Olympics, it delves much deeper than graceful pictures of victorious athletes. It includes interviews with key figures in the international Olympics intrigues.
In addition, it has managed to gain access to confidential reports that indicate some third-world countries presented a secret plan to UNESCO for turning control of the Olympics over to that organization and a New World Sports Order, which would regulate international sports just as an earlier UNESCO plan would have created a New World Information Order to control the flow of international journalism.
This ``Closeup'' doesn't deny that the West has exploited the games for commercial gain. Says correspondent Stone Phillips: ``It's a system we've staunchly defended ... as a way to keep government and politics out of the Olympics. ... In the Soviet Union, a government committee controls sports. ... There is no separation of sport and state.''
John Coughlin, former deputy director of the British Sports Council, says: ``Sport is an exportable commodity in political terms. ... The sports arenas of the world have become the cold war....''
Until the 1968 summer games in Mexico City, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos's raised clenched fists in the black-power salute on the victory stand, the United States had managed, to a great extent, to keep politics out of its participation in the Olympics. Smith and Carlos were sent home. Eventually South Africa was uninvited to participate after other countries threatened to boycott the games.
From there on, politics has become an integral part of the Olympics process, culminating in President Carter's boycott of the Soviet summer games in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were boycotted by the USSR in reprisal for the '80 US boycott, although they claimed it was because of lack of adequate security. Those games were sponsored completely by private enterprise, with corporations from Europe, Japan, and the US spending more than $100 million for the right to associate their names with the Olympics. TV paid $225 million for the rights. The $220 million in profits from the commercialization was earmarked for the US alone.
Phillips says that ``the third world was outraged. It accused the West of turning the Olympics into a Hollywood circus, ... of using the games to make money and then refusing to share it with the developing nations who needed it most.'' To quiet the controversy, a $4.2 million Friendship Fund for needy nations was established by the US Olympic Committee. This paltry sum seemed to silence the objections.
But, according to this documentary, the controversy is far from over. ABC News got access to a letter that criticizes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for failing to consider third-world concerns about commercialization. One Soviet solution: the Goodwill Games.
Meantime, the IOC has decided not to do away with the commercialization, but simply to distribute the profits ``more fairly'' - by sharing them between wealthy and developing nations alike. Nobody knows yet if this will have any effect on the Soviet anti-Olympics crusade. The UNESCO threat has already been subdued by the withdrawal of the US from that organization and the recent change in leadership there.
With the summer games in Seoul just months away, the question now is whether the new profit-sharing system will blunt the attacks. But according to Stone Phillips, that is hardly likely: ``The political underside will not fade away. ... The East-West struggle for control of the games - for the prestige and the money - will continue.''
This ``ABC News Closeup'' on the Olympics itself accomplishes a nearly Olympian task of explaining the subtleties of ideology behind the seemingly obvious goals of athletic victory and money.