Column: Playing International Games ... Maybe There’s Another Way
Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio, 1994 and 1997-2nd ed.)
Dateline: Israel, late July.
1. Some Background1968 Mexico City. East Bloc judges witness American basketball victory but turn back clock. In extra time awarded Soviets score and the victory is reversed. African American athletes win Gold then use victory platform as personal platform to protest civil rights situation in U.S.
1972 Munich. Arab World terrorists invade the Olympic Village and murder members of Israeli weightlifting team. The murderers are given sanctuary in Libya.
1980 Moscow. President Jimmy Carter mandates that U. S. athletes will not attend games in Moscow as the Soviet military has intervened in Afghanistan. Carter pressures American allies to also boycott games and many do so.
1984 Los Angeles. The Soviet Union boycotts Olympics held in Los Angeles claiming that there will not be adequate personal security for athletes. Most East Bloc countries support boycott but some do not. China sends a team to games and Chinese athletes are wildly cheered by American audiences.
2001. July 14 Moscow. Meeting in Moscow, the International Olympic Committee awards the 2008 games to Beijing, although there are openly expressed concerns over human rights in China. Within a week of the selection, American Chinese academics are arrested in China on nebulous charges of spying. They are soon released in preparation for visit by U.S. Secretary of state.
2001. July 15 Jerusalem. The 16th Maccabiah Games are opened in Jerusalem amidst calls for boycotts and political protests.
2. Some Words about the 16th Maccabiah Games: A Post-Script for Moscow 1980 or a Prelude to Beijing 2008.
Our plane landed in the early afternoon on July 12. The large greeting sign at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv proclaimed welcome to the athletes of the 16th Maccabiah Games. We looked about us as we lined up for the passport and customs check. We found we were surrounded by young people laughing and speaking Russian. Their satchels and dress clearly indicated that they were among the hundreds of Jewish athletes from throughout the world coming to compete in the games. The Maccabiah Games had been held with a few exceptions each four years since 1931. This year the games were not an occasion of unqualified celebration. Much political attention and tension surrounded the competition. The United States Maccabiah Committee had urged that the games be postponed. Then when they were not, the committee urged that U.S. athletes not compete. The American basketball coach withdrew as did several of the members of the team. However, after the committee relented and indicated it was all right for Americans to participate a new coach was found and he quickly put together a team. The American softball team did withdraw, and the softball competition was saved at the last moment when a Venezuelan team entered (competition demanded at least three teams.
Many nations refused to allow their athletes to come. Holland boycotted the games but a single Dutch athlete attended in defiance of his home country's committee. The Australians threatened a boycott that was withdrawn at the last moment, and the Green Party urged that all athletes even those who made the trip to Israel refuse to play in the games. Many teams were put together when it was agreed that expatriates living in Israel could perform as members of teams from their former countries.
The 16th games were held.
The Maccabiah Games were first held in 1931 in Tel Aviv in order to bring together Jewish athletes from throughout the world for competition in Israel. Maccabees sports organizations were first formed at the end of the Nineteenth Century in Constantinople. The organization came to Jaffa, (now) Israel, in 1906. The organization grew to 120 chapters in Israel and in almost all of the countries of the Diaspora. The games have had a message with political overtones since their inception.
The games are named for Judea of Maccabee, the hero of the Jewish people who led an outnumbered army from camps in Modi'in on a triumphal march to reclaim Jerusalem and the Second Temple from the Greeks in 164 BCE. There they cleaned the Temple and removed the icons of worship to Zeus and other Greek Gods. Then when they finished and they wished to have a long celebration, they discovered they only had oil to light their lamps for one evening. But they were destined to celebrate as the oil supply for one evening kept the lamps lighted for eight evenings of celebration. This miracle of (C)hanakuh is celebrated annually.
The message of the games was at the same time several messages--a message of international solidarity among the Jewish People of their restored homeland, and the people of the Diaspora, the people who had moved to the ends of the Earth. But also it was a message of Zionism, a message of the Aliyah--the call to come home. Shortly after the first games, the athletes from Lithuania announced that they would remain in Tel Aviv, and they mailed their flag back to their home country. In 1935 the games were held under the emerging and growing shadow of Nazism. This time athletes from many European countries chose not to return home.
The tragedy of war and Holocaust and the political turmoil and war accompanying Independence for Israel saw the games abandoned until 1950. With the renewal of the games in the mid-century, many of the world's top athletes have participated including Olympic gold medallists Mark Spitz, Isaac Berger, and Ron Ashworth as well as Wimbledon Tennis champion Dick Savit.
Born in an atmosphere of politics, the games remain immersed in political squabbles and international controversy.
The ostensible reason for much of the reluctance of national groups to send athletes to the 16th games in Jerusalem involves concern for their safety. It is not only irony, but it is a double punishment for Israel to see their games boycotted because of concerns for athlete safety, because it was their national weightlifting team that was sought out by the Arab terrorists and murdered in Munich in 1972. Now the terrorists seem to have again come forth to intervene in their athletic endeavors. Now the violence comes out of the Intifada, the struggle of Palestine Arabs against Israeli military and civilians usually near the lands of the Palestine Authority but also deep within uncontested Israeli lands. But there is more to the boycotts than the Intifada. The Australian's threatened boycott results from a tragedy of the 1997 games. Then during an opening ceremony in Tel Aviv a platform bridging a river collapsed as athletes crowded on to it. Four Australians were killed but many more were also thrown into a highly polluted river, and the toxins have afflicted them with possibly lifelong diseases. Only recently was a long-term legal struggle over financial responsibility for the consequences of the accident resolved. This was not good enough for the Greens. They have demanded that the games be stopped because the particular culprit river in Tel Aviv has not been cleansed of its toxins.
Amidst all the controversy and worry the games were held. On July 23 from our Novotel Hotel rooms the fireworks over the old city of Jerusalem burst forth the celebration of the closure of the 16th Maccabiah Games. Many kudos were given to security personnel, they had done well. They had to do well, as they intercepted potential terrorists before they could act.
Amidst all the controversy concerning the Jerusalem games, CNN blasted forth the news from Moscow. that Beijing has the 2008 games. The IOC vote was a political vote. The Olympics are not International games they are a collective exercise in nationalism. The U.S.A. protested Moscow in 1980, and the U.S.A. Maccabiah Committee found reason to protest Jerusalem in 2001. Certainly if we wish we can look and find reason to protest Beijing in 2008. We can hope China will improve on many fronts, but on some front it will not, if we need an excuse as Jimmy Carter felt he needed in 1980, we will find one. But if we do, and even if the excuse is a compelling one, what should the nature of our response be. Must we do as Carter did?
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