The Gist: Turin, Torino, To Run
A Good Day for an Olympic Boycott
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, February 10, 2006
While tectonic chunks of the world continue on their frantic course—low-grade civil war in Iraq, resurgent fanatics in Afghanistan, genocide in Darfur, trampling the law in Guantanamo, mocking it in Congress, spreading democracy by howitzer here and there—the winter games in Turin will go on, beginning Friday, as if camaraderie and fellowship were globalism’s windfall. And why not?
“The games went on in Australia,” the great Red Smith, sports columnist for most of the last century, wrote in 1980, “almost immediately after Soviet tanks crushed a revolt in Hungary [in 1956], though blood flowed when Hungarians met Russians in water polo. The games went in Mexico City two weeks after Army machine guns massacred more than thirty students in the Plaza of the Three Cultures. The games went on in Munich where Arab terrorists were murdering eleven members of the Israeli delegation.” The games also went in Montreal without twenty-nine African nations that had protested New Zealand’s participation, because New Zealand had played a rugby game in South Africa, then the land of apartheid. The games went on ’92 as the Balkans were warming up for their many seasons of ethnic cleansing. And the summer games went on two years ago, wherever they did go on (they were that memorable), even as Iraq was going from one kind of police state to another without affecting the daily carnage.
So they’ll go on in Turin, but with the kind of drama that presents in mid-afternoon soaps on low-budget Spanish-language networks. They go on because they have to go on, because NBC's $1.5 billion investment in broadcasting rights has to reap dividends, because networks in the United States as elsewhere have to make believe that those Olympic rings aren’t a replica of a few nations’ manacles on the undemanding imaginations of a few billion television spectators. What was that about being at war? If that were the case, it would have been the becoming thing of the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, to withdraw — to boycott themselves, for decency’s sake — and let the games be played in more propitious times. But that would assume that the games have anything at all to do with camaraderie and fellowship, rather than mere lucre and stagecraft. Don’t get me wrong: the games will have their moments, even their moving moments, but mostly for what we wish they genuinely were, not what they vainly, heartbreakingly strive to be.