Olympic Conscience Wrestling

The thing you’ve been working for, all of your life?
That comes to fruition today?
The people in charge of this glorious time
Will turn you away if you’re gay.
Your colleagues, your teammates, your family, your friends,
(And you) couldn’t be more excited—
But if any of you has the wrong sort of love
Then—officially—you’re not invited.
You’ve worked all your life for this singular chance
But your hosts want to give you a choice
You can stand up and fight for the things that are right
Or compete, but keep silent your voice
I know what I want—cos I think of my friend—
You should stand up for her, and her wife…
It’s the right thing to do, which is easy to say
Since I haven’t worked all of your life.

I have known two (perhaps three, but I am bad with names, so am uncertain) Olympic athletes. One (maybe two) was my student. This student would have represented the US in the 1980 Summer Olympics… but that was the year of the boycott.

In my twitter feed, a simple and true statement: “When you tweet about Olympics, its like you’re tweeting about a party to which people like me were not invited. On purpose. By shitty hosts.”

For one person I care about, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime chance, the ultimate reward (regardless of medaling) for decades of hard work, deferment of any sort of payment, and dedication beyond anything I have personally ever accomplished. For another person I care about, the Olympics are a slap in the face, a denial of basic humanity, an insult on a global scale.

And they are both right, and I can’t honor both.

It would seem easy to say that one is being hurt (if I take the other side), the other merely not advancing to a privileged peak beyond other peaks in what really is just a game. But that does not accurately describe my Olympians, really. They did not come from privilege (though, yes, the earlier Olympians did–only those who could afford to be “amateur” athletes were admitted). They worked incredibly hard, and got incredibly lucky. They are victims of the Russian hosts (not at all in the same sense as GLBT athletes, spectators, support, or citizens), not perpetrators of discrimination.

I’ve been an Olympics junkie since 1968. The politics is horrendous, but the athletes are able to rise above it–as, in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos showed. 1972 showed terrorism saw the Olympics as a target; 1980 showed that politics saw it as fair game as well. And while I’m sure there may have been athletes who embodied the nationalism, or capitalism or communism, or discrimination by race, gender, class, sexuality, or more, other (more? I hope so, but have no numbers) athletes have used the platform to protest, to advance, to overcome.

Yes, I’m an atheist, but I do still believe in the Olympic games. At least for now. The hosts are indeed shitty, but (I hope, I hope, I hope) it’s the guests that make a party. And they want everybody there–most of them do, anyway–and are working to make sure you get invited to the rest of the parties.

And… I am willing to be wrong. I know I am biased. So as much as I want to make this an Olympics-positive site (I know other FtB bloggers are less than enthused with the games), the comments are open for arguments that I am wrong, misguided, or simply full of shit. (or right, of course, but hey.)


  1. Al Dente says

    I knew someone who won an Olympic gold medal. He was an asshole who never let anyone forget that he won an Olympic gold medal.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Bummer. I gotta wonder if, had he not medaled, he would have been an asshole who never let anyone forget that he was an Olympian. Some people are just plain assholes. (yes, I blame their environmental history)

    I can’t imagine my student being that way–so….. is that accurate, or wishful thinking?

    We’ll never know.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    A medalless former Olympian high school track coach provided some exercising/running advice and encouragement to this semi-lame then-student. Haven’t met any others that I know of.

    Meanwhile, back at Sochi – the omens are … ominous.

    If the facilities and services turn out to be so disastrously inadequate as the early reports indicate, the IOC may face a major purge. If the economic long-term consequences follow suit, maybe the Kremlin too.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    My # 3 should have said “zero free oxygen content” – the O2 was safely bound up with carbon, hydrogen, etc, back when molecules started replicating. Then a plume of photosynthesizers erupted, and buried the whole abiogenetic enterprise under volatile virtual lava.

  5. rq says

    I was wondering about the relevance. :D
    Also, from what I understand, the worst unpreparedness is in the journalist accommodations, from what I’ve heard of athlete facilities, they’re actually quite decent. If a bit strange at times (but that’s Russia!).

    Regarding the Olympics, I completely understand you, Cuttlefish. I love the games, but I have a hard time watching the preparations and I accidentally skipped the opening ceremonies, but I may not watch them at all because… because of the conflict of conscience. I wish the Olympics could just be an event for the athletes, no politics, on neutral ground, with opportunity for everyone. *sigh* The world should be a perfect place.

  6. rnilsson says

    As a child I used to know someone who had won an Olympic Gold Medal*. In sailing, in 1936 (oops). He was a quiet, kindly old grandpa to his little girls and never let on about his greatness, so I only heard about that from someone else. His wife was an amateur painter and their daughter made hat ribbons for the Navy, using gold leaf. They had a cabin next to my aunt&uncle’s little country hut. Regrettably**, he was so quiet and humble that I never thought of him as anything more than a friendly geezer.

    * I think it was gold. I don’t think that gold was used for naval hats.
    ** Or not.

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