Olympics are deeply political. Just now the North Korean women’s football team left the pitch after their images were shown next to a South Korean flag at Hampden Park.
According to BBC News, Andy Mitchell, the London 2012 Olympics spokesperson, said it was “a genuine mistake”. Perhaps. But with political consequences.
In Brazil, local elections are forthcoming, and many of the candidates and pundits express concern with the budget for the next Olympics to be held in Rio 2016.
Crony capitalism is a common theme to London and Rio. In the Brazilian case, things are made worse in that the Olympic season will coincide with the World Cup, to be held in the same country in 2014.
Voters of many persuasions seem worried that a great deal of public money has been allocated to prepare for both events and, yet, results are far from clear.
The issue is indeed historical, but only in more recent times has a whole public-private industry more fully developed around these themes.
Besides the political-boycott motive and the crony-capitalist motive, there are also issues of nationalism, of competition in the international system, and of national glory and shame.
For example, during the Cold War, it was common for each superpower and allies to boycott specific parts of the schedule, or even Olympic games in full.
North Korea seems to be living in the Cold War days again. Or perhaps it never waved them good-bye.
Politics is far from over in the London Olympics. We’ll be watching a lot of these other themes recurring time and again. The symbolic side of political dispute has considerable space to flourish.
Politics has also already started for the next cycle in Rio. In this latter case, the issue is perhaps still more concrete and less symbolic.
Nothing, however, prevents its potentially increasing complexity. In Brazil, sports are a matter of national pride. Preparing them well might become part of the game itself. Meanwhile, the ‘strictly professional’ and technocratic British counterpart seems to be in diplomatic trouble.
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