Cuktural Imperialism And The Olympics Essay, Research Paper
Cultural Imperialism and the Olympic Games
Virtually since their resumption in 1896, every four years the press is filled with complaints about the intrusion of power politics into the Olympic games. David B. Kanin has commented that while we are told that international Olympic system idealizes and promotes fair play and sportsmanship and ameliorates struggle, hatred, and petty jealously through structured competition and international goodwill, the realist is that “international sport thrives on the very politics Olympic publicists decry (Kanin 1).” Nevertheless, the games are more or less ‘political’, than anything else. Ninety-five percent of the problems faced by IOC’s president Killian involved national and international politics (Senn x). Further, it can be argued that what could be called ‘cultural imperialism’ has influenced and even shaped the games. Cultural imperialism at times facilitates inclusion of sporting events reflecting a host nations area of expertise or de-emphasizing sports that are popular with nations not in political favor. The following report will explore this issue up until the World War II games.
The Olympic Games and the Olympic system have become, in some critical ways, actors on the global political stage. Senn proves this point when he states, “Rather than being an autonomous institution into which politics creep uninvited, the Games and international sport themselves play a significant role in international politics as they embody conflict and tension (Senn xii).” However, others disagree stating that they view sport as a “transnational” rather than “international” phenomenon. This suggests the competition brings together non-governmental groups and organizations independently of the governments of the world (Senn xii). This leads to the question of why Americans even got involved in the Olympic Games. Bob Fulton believes that when Pierre de Coubertan was first introducing the revived Games, American athletes and athletic associations were not particularly interested in participation. They often felt that the Games were little more than an historical relic best left forgotten. Appeals to sportsmanship and the potential of the Games to foster understanding among diverse peoples (leading to world peace and harmony) were disregarded (Fulton 52-58). Only when American athletes began to do well in the Olympics did a majority of other athletes and organizations decide that participation has some real benefit. Therefore, it is suggested that political as well as competitive motives fostered American involvement.
American involvement in the Games, has had many long lasting effects on the Olympic system. It has been stated that Western sports and ideals have dominated many facets of the Olympics. Ruud Stockvis, a Dutch sociologist, states the popularity of any given sport in any given country depends upon the development of the positions of economic and political power among the nations of the world system (Guttmann 173). The United States is one of the largest Hegemons in the world, therefore, cultural imperialism is dominant in many of their sports and other Western nations. For example, baseball, basketball, American football, lacrosse, are some of the most popular sports all over the world. However, many nations have taken American sports and adopted them to suit their culture (Guttmann 174). For instance, Canadians have taken to a version of gridiron football and even imported American players (Guttmann 175). On the contrary, the United States has taken sports from other countries. Years after baseball became Cuba’s national game, jai-lai became popular among Americans (Guttmann 175). Lastly, there have been examples of extreme cultural imperialism in the past. British missionaries had forced peoples of Asia, Africa, and India to play cricket and soccer football against their will. It was an effort to Christianize these native peoples and force western values and culture upon them (Guttmann 177).
Proof that the games have become an attraction for showcasing the skills, expertise, and talents of athletes from specific countries (either hosts allowed under the system to add events or powers influential in defining the scope of the games) can be easily demonstrated. Also, certain cultural values have been forced into the Games and its ceremonies. These types of actions are another form of cultural imperialism affecting the Olympics. For example, we can consider the following:
? In 1912, Christian worship was introduced and conducted in the stadium as part of the opening ceremony. It later became peripheral in 1928 when the Dutch concluded that Protestant services were inappropriate at a festival to which athletes of every religion were invited (Guttmann 126).
? Archery has prehistoric origins on every continent, but the bows and arrows used in the Olympic contests were developed by Western modern technology (Guttmann 137).
? In 1936 at the Berlin Games, Germany added a sport – 11 – a side handball- in which its own team excelled (internet).
? The Nordic countries produced athletes who excelled in winter sports. A separate “Winter Games” was developed upon their insistence and this continued at four-year intervals (Guttmann 39).
These few examples prove that the Olympic Games have been used by nation-states to introduce competitive opportunities in which their own athletes excel. In addition, the inclusion of women in the Olympic games spurted controversy among the IOC. It seems that the expansion of women’s sporting events prior to and after World War II, was driven by Western nations such as Britain and France where women’s issues have achieved a place on a national policy social agenda (Senn 43). These types of nations could send the greatest number of skilled women athletes-increasing their chances of success. Members of the IOC argued that women’s bodies were unfit for athletic competition and voted to eliminate their events altogether (Senn 43). Some feminists from the United States even argued that they should not be included in the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, women’s events increased greatly over the years and they make up a huge part of the Olympic Games. Women being added to the Olympic Games is another example of cultural imperialism and its effects on expanding the games.
Decisions regarding intensification and expansion of the Games have also been politically driven. One can argue, that Coubertin’s efforts to re-establish the games were dominated by desire to revive France’s power and credibility which had been damaged by the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 (Senn 20). If France was successful in the games and its organization, it would look good for the country. Within France, Coubertin made an effort to improve education, especially physical education. This could help bring new life and strength to his country, mainly French youth who were the hope of the future (Senn 20). Even though Coubertin was successful in organizing the first games, it did not bring much recognition to France or himself. Other nations, especially the Greeks, accused Coubertin of stealing their heritage and they refused to give him credit for organizing the first modern Olympic Games (Senn 24). However, as the years progressed, Coubertin was given the credit he deserved and has been called the father of the modern Olympics.
Further, it can be argued that nationalistic rivalry is present in the Games and countries have used the Games to foster their political interests. A perfect example of a nation using the Olympics to legitimize itself, can be traced back to the Berlin Games of 1936. Since the Germans were excluded from the Games of 1920 and 1924, they wanted to show the sport world what they failed to appreciate (Senn 50). Adolf Hitler, who had just come into power, was anxious to use the Games to show the world the strength and vigor of its new order (Senn 50). If the Germans were successful in staging and winning the Games, this could prove their superiority. After Germany was awarded the Games, racist rhetoric towards Jews and Blacks began to surface from Germany. The Nazis were quoted as saying, “the Olympic Games are an infamous festival dominated by Jews (Senn 50).” Also, in response to the success of Blacks in the Los Angeles Games Germans said:
Negroes have no place in the Olympics. Today we witness the free white men have to compete with the unfree Negro. This is a debasement of the Olympic idea beyond comparison?(Senn 50)
Germany didn’t want to permit Jews and blacks to compete in their Games. Kanin states, “Nazi preparations demonstrated the effectiveness of an athletic appeal to a ruling ethnic group designed to tie together concepts of nation, state, and race (Kanin 53).” It has even been rumored that Germany hired a filmmaker to produce a film called Olympia. This film depicted the Germans and other Aryans as superior human beings. However, after much debate, Germany allowed Jews and blacks to participate in the Berlin Games. Nevertheless, only two Jews, one a woman who lived in the United States, competed on the German team (Senn 54). All these examples prove that a host country has much power in dictating the rules of the Games.
Over the years, the Olympics have grown to be a international sporting competition, where nations can put international tension aside and compete on the playing field. Athletes represent their country and when they do win, it raises national pride within that country. On the victory stand a champion may feel he or she is representing only himself or herself or may feel transformed as the representative of a country, society, or cause (Senn xv). Nevertheless, Cultural imperialism has impacted the Games tremendously and its effects can even be seen in today’s Games.