When we think of the Olympics, we increasingly think of corruption scandals, doping, tacky commercialism and, perhaps even worse, all those sappy human interest stories NBC runs on its telecasts. And now we have the Chinese tarnishing this summer’s Games by cracking down in Tibet, leading protesters to disrupt the torch relay in London, Paris, San Francisco, and elsewhere. If only we could go back to those days when the Olympics brought together the world’s youth to hold hands and sing kumbaya while a few people ran around a track and swam in a pool, right?
Actually, these modern Games (or post-modern, if you consider, as I do, the end of the Cold War as a watershed in geopolitics) are much closer to the ancient Greek model than the festival of shamateurism that a bunch of European aristocrats invented at the end of the 19th century. Since the end of the cold war, the Olympics have thrown off the chains of ideological battle and reverted to the values of the original games, among which were the dominance of the personal over the national, the economic over the political and the athletic over the larger concerns of the state. Thus these new-old Olympics have returned to their entertainment, ritual, and athletic essence, for which we can be grateful.
Which is why – I argue in the National Interest Online – however a particular country wants to express its displeasure with China’s oppressive regime, boycotting the Olympics is not the way to go.