Kyle Smith: Cancel the Olympics





[Mr. Smith is a movie critic for the New York Post.]

Here's a proposal to increase harmony and goodwill among nations. Cancel the Olympics forever.

Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who founded the modern Olympics and literally left his heart in Olympia, Greece (as decreed by his will; the rest of him is buried in Switzerland), envisioned nations using former battlefields for track and field. "Export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands," he decreed. "That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally."

It all sounds so wholesome and wonderful, along the lines of beating swords into ploughshares -- or into a discus or two. But as an ally in the cause of peace, the Games have proven to be approximately as effective as their founder's home nation has been as an ally in war. They have sown strife in all sorts of ways, or given it a sporting chance. And they have given a big competitive push to bad behavior.

International hostility has had no difficulty finding its way into the arena, and in many cases the Olympic torch has inflamed nationalist feuds. In wartime the Games were simply cancelled (1916, 1940 and 1944). Germany and its World War I allies were not invited to the 1920 or 1924 Games. Germany and Japan were not invited to those of 1948. Major boycotts occurred in 1956, 1976, 1980 and 1984. The Soviet Union didn't attend until 1952, and even then it sent agents to shadow its athletes and prevent defections. The 1972 Games in Munich and the 1996 Games in Atlanta were playgrounds for terrorists. The 1936 Berlin Games were -- and the 2008 Beijing games will be -- propaganda coups for evil regimes seeking to put on smiley faces for the Katie Courics of the world journalism corps.

Conflict is one thing, conduct another, and here the Olympics deserve some sort of medal. They have managed to take mere athletes and coaches and turn them into masters of international intrigue, all along exalting the purity of athletic competition. Even the peaceful Olympiads are a circus of doping, cheating, corruption and bad sportsmanship. When the Olympic flame is lit, the world turns into hockey dads. Creative use of drugs has been central to the Olympics since at least 1904, when the winner of the marathon took strychnine and brandy. By 1956, it was common knowledge that many athletes were taking testosterone.

Of course there are plenty of ways to cheat without drugs. In 1900, three American marathoners at the Paris Games arrived at the finish line to discover that French runners they had never seen pass them had already won. The winners were the only contestants not spattered with mud. In 1908's London Games, an Italian runner collapsed trying to complete the marathon, but a British official literally dragged him across the finish line to beat a fast-closing American. After an investigation, the American was awarded the gold. The American contingent had earlier insulted the host nation by failing to dip its flag to the king during the opening ceremonies, a protest against the British rule of Ireland engineered by the team's Irish-Americans.

Chilling, scarcely veiled threats at matches have a long history, too. After a French fencer won a disputed match with an Italian rival during the "Chariots of Fire" Olympiad of 1924, the entire Italian team marched out singing the fascist anthem. The Times of London pleaded that the Olympics be discontinued, noting that the Games "exacerbated international bitterness."...



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