By Jackie Fletcher, Opinions Editor
The Olympic Games are more than just an athletic competition. The Olympic Games provide a stage for international interaction and national pride; they possess the power to send messages to the world.
After all, was the 1980 Olympic Hockey Game now known as “Miracle on Ice” just an athletic competition between the Soviet Union and the United States? Of course not; it was a proxy-battle for the Cold War that had implications far beyond athletic prowess. It is precisely the message-sending aspect of the Olympics that has the most impact and is thus the most contested.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent such a message this year at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games when it banned Russia from competing, citing its state-sponsored doping as the cause. While some have called this punishment too severe for athletes who have worked their entire lives to compete, is it really so unfair? Should a country that has completely disregarded the meaning of clean, fair competition and tampered with drug-tested urine samples be allowed to participate in an international event like the Olympics without any repercussions? What message would that send to other countries? Where would the IOC draw the line?
Also, Russia is not the only country that has faced a ban. For example, the 1948 Olympic Games in London barred Germany and Japan from competing because of their instigative role in World War II. From 1968 to 1988, South Africa was also prohibited from attending any Olympic Games because of their blatantly oppressive and racist apartheid regime. After Taliban-controlled Afghanistan banned women from participating in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the IOC rightly banned them from participating. Today, however, Germany, Japan, South Africa and Afghanistan all fairly and justly compete in the games.
Now, this isn’t to say that a ban will precipitate immediate reversals of whatever policy the IOC deems unjust; surely movements aren’t born overnight. Yet a public shaming from both the IOC and the international community is a good place to start. After all, had these countries been allowed to participate under their prohibited conditions, would these states have ever been compelled to change?
Overall, without the ability to place restrictions upon and ban countries from the Olympics, the international community has no leverage against oppressive and wrongful countries. It is one thing to have individuals speak out against a country’s unjust practices, but it is rather difficult to argue with an international consortium of leaders who make decisions that many people look to as a rightful authority. In a world where it is difficult to incite change among oppressive regimes and generate a response to a message, the Olympics provide a platform for not only athletic but social and political improvement as well. If the IOC’s ability to control who participates in the Olympics were to be taken away, so would a potent force of change disappear from the world.