The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics welcomes 92 participating nations. The collection of athletes from all across the world captures the world’s attention running from February 9th until the 25th. This year, just like the other Olympic games, will bring attention to more than just the competition, it will draw attention to political and social concerns.
Since 1896 when the first modern day Olympics began, politics have been a part of the international event. National rivalries are at the heart of the Olympics, stemming from the athletic competition to shedding light on social and political causes. This year will be no different from the others as there are sure to be protests highlighting global concerns.
The first modern day Olympics were hosted in Athens, Greece in the summer of 1896. Only 14 nations competed, but political turmoil was still present. Germany and France were two of the competing countries, however, they had to be persuaded to enter the games. In 1896, the French and Germans had a long-standing animosity due to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The two countries were going to boycott the games but eventually decided to send athletes to the compete.
The first Olympics also sparked controversy because no women could partake. Perhaps the first public Olympic protest was conducted by Stamata Revithi, a female Greek runner. On the day after the marathon event, she ran the same course to demonstrate that women should also have a place to compete. Many consider this act as the reason why women were allowed to compete in the 1902 games.
Unfortunately, politics are more a part of the Olympics than we think. Throughout the past 120 years, there have been countless protests and boycotts surrounding the games that are related to political concerns. Other examples of Olympic turmoil include the 1980 Moscow games when over 60 countries did not compete in objection to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and then in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when the Soviet Union and 14 other nations did not partake, likely as a payback for the previous games.
The location of this year’s Olympic game, which was selected in 2011, sparks political concern for North and South Korea. These two countries are still technically at war, but sports has seemed to ease the hostility. North Korea, reluctant at first, is sending athletes to the Winter Olympics, which is the first time in post-war history that a country has hosted a team from a nation that they are at war with. Russia is also under the spotlight, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the country from competing due to doping. However, Russian athletes who can prove that they are clean will be able to compete under the country OAR: Olympic Athlete from Russia. The IOC stated that organized political Russian demonstrations will bring further sanctions for the country.
The athletic competition is sure to capture the world’s attention and we will feel the swell of pride when our athletes win and our national anthem is played. In the backdrop, however, you can be sure, that this year is no different from times past as the Olympic Games continue to illuminate the political and social dimensions of our world.