Thomas Bach’s Olympic Gold Medal Winning Snit

You can always count on the International Olympic Committee to be on the wrong side of political debate. The IOC’s new commander in chief, rather President, Thomas Back is upset with American President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron because they along with others have passed up the opportunity to attend and be seen at the Winter Olympics which has started in Sochi Russia.

It is thought that world leaders are snubbing the Olympics and Russian President Vladimir Putin because Russia is introducing laws aimed at taking away gay and lesbian human rights. Putin and Russian politicians have pretty much pulled the welcome mat from gay and lesbians in the country. That action hasn’t triggered Bach’s anger but world leaders not showing up to an event as important as the Olympics to Bach and old European aristocracy (the International Olympic Committee delegates) is a slap in their face.

Bach apparently doesn’t know much about history and accused missing in action world leaders, his peers in his mind and in the IOC thinking, of using the IOC’s status and prestige “as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests”.

The group, which has permanent observer status–a designation that only the Vatican at the United Nations was ever given, has once again come up short. The International Olympic Committee and the five interlocking rings logo seems to have a hypnotizing impact on people. It’s the Olympics, we have to watch, it is all about patriotism and rooting for our guys and our girls. The feeling of pride swelling inside when our athletes stand on the podium and get a gold medal (which isn’t made of gold) and then the national anthem is played.

But the real Olympics is not shown on a stage where the world can see. It’s a backroom game where money and power trump athleticism.

Very few people have ever stood up to the Olympics power. In 1935 Ernest Lee Jahncke and Jeremiah Mahoney pushed for an American boycott of the 1936 Berlin Summer Games. Neither succeeded but Jahncke inadvertently opened the door which led to Avery Brundage becoming a key figure in both the United States Olympics movement and the International Olympics Committee.

Jahncke, who was an American International Olympic Committee delegate, expressed outrage with reports of what was happening within Hitler’s Germany and on November 25, 1935 sent a letter to IOC President Count Henri Bailet Lator floating the initial idea of an American boycott of the 1936 Berlin Summer Games.

“Neither Americans nor the representatives of other countries can take part in the Games in Nazi Germany without at least acquiescing in the contempt of the Nazis for fair play and their sordid exploitation of the Games.”

The letter seemed to go unanswered.

Jahncke, who was a former assistant secretary for the United States Navy and was of German descent, was thrown out of the exclusive club known as the International Olympic Committee by July 1936 and his spot was taken by Brundage.

Jahncke wasn’t the only one who called for an American boycott of the 1936 Berlin Games. In December, 1935, the president of the United States Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Judge Jeremiah Mahoney recommended that America drop out of the Berlin Games. A number of United States Catholic leaders joined with Mahoney including New York Governor. Al Smith and Massachusetts Governor James Curley calling for a boycott.

Avery Brundage, who was the president of the American Olympic Committee, got the votes he needed to repel Mahoney and the American team went to Berlin. Brundage felt there was no need for the Olympics to be part of the political world and that the German government would treat Jewish athletes fairly.

Two Jewish athletes, runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, never competed in their 4 x 4 relay. Glickman spent the rest of his life explaining that Brundage pulled him and Stoller from the race because Brundage wanted to spare Adolf Hitler the embarrassment of seeing two Jews on the podium receiving gold medals.

Brundage was a member of the America First Committee. That group advocated an anti-war sentiment and urged America to take hands off approach on policy with regards to Germany to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In the 1970s Brundage called the 1936 Berlin Games the finest ever.

Brundage would eventually become the International Olympics Committee president and presided over the 1972 Munich Games where the terrorist attack took place and 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in the Olympic village.

The athletic event, which was supposed to not be part of the political world, was politicized. Brundage suspended the Games for a day and then made a rambling speech which included the phrase “the Games must go on.” That was the last time the Olympics movement acknowledged what happened in Germany in 1972.

The International Olympic Committee has never acknowledge the massacre official and in 2012 refused to honor the slain athletes and coaches at the London Summer Olympics on the 40th anniversary of the attack.

The modern day Olympics are fully immersed in the real world. The Berlin or Hitler Olympics was politically charged. President Franklin Roosevelt urged the American team to go to the Berlin Games knowing full well about the strangling of Jewish rights in Germany. The 1940 Olympics Summer Games were canceled. That event was supposed to have taken place in Tokyo.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 finished off the Tokyo Games.

In 1968, Brundage expelled two Americans, John Carlos and Thommie Smith, from the Olympics village in Mexico City after the pair raised their fists in a “Black Power” salute to protest black poverty after they won a gold and silver medal in an event. Brundage, by that time, was the International Olympics Committee president and detested political interaction with the Olympics playground.

Brundage found an ally in the young Brent Musburger who was a young sports columnist in Chicago in 1968. Musburger compared the black power salute by John Carlos, Thommie Smith and the third place finisher Australian Peter Norman to 1936 Berlin.  “Smith and Carlos looked like a couple of black-skinned storm troopers,”  Brent wrote in 1968. Musburger had inexplicable success after 1968 but Norman was punished by Brundage and his associates. Norman ran qualifying times for the Australian Olympic Team lead up for the 1972 Olympics for the 100 meters five times and 200 meters 13 times during in 1971 and 1972. He failed to make the team.  Australia male sprinters, to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

That was not the end of the story for Norman. In 2000, he was banned from the Sydney Olympics because he was still persona non grata and ended up at those Olympics as a guest of the American team. Norman was posthumously honored by his country in 2012 for being scapegoated. “Apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite repeatedly qualifying; and belatedly recognizes the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.”

So much for Olympics fairness and bringing harmony to the world.

Of course the Olympics movement is loaded with political ammunition. The 1976 Montreal Games had a twofold problem. A good many African countries boycotted the festivities because New Zealand was not barred from the event. A New Zealand rugby team played in South Africa and the African countries felt that New Zealand should not have allowed that team to play in apartheid South Africa.

The apolitical Olympics that Brundage led was hypocritical. On August 18, 1964 South Africa was formally banned from the Tokyo Olympics for failing to rid itself of being an apartheid state.

The Montreal Games nearly ended the Olympics with the enormous cost attached to the building of facilities to host the event. Only Los Angeles bid for the 1984 Games as no community wanted to pay for the Games. The United States Olympic Committee pushed for a Denver, Colorado based 1976 Winter Olympics but Colorado voters said no by a 3 to 2 margin because of the potential cost of the Games after the Munich Massacre in November 1972.

It was the first time Americans stood up to Brundage and the IOC.

Brundage became the International Olympics Committee president in 1952.

The Munich Olympics was Brundage’s last as IOC President. In the 40 years since Brundage left office, the IOC has become far more political. Brundage wasn’t around for the United States and western countries boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. United States President Jimmy Carter led the way and barred United States athletes from going to Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and eastern bloc countries got payback by boycotting the 1984 Games.

There was a bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games which killed one person. Years later, an anti-abortion activist was arrested and charged with the crime.

The Montreal Games hiked taxes in Montreal, Quebec and in Canada. The bill was finally paid in full in 2006 and cost taxpayers billions. Peter Ueberroth commercialized the 1984 Los Angeles Games and sold everything he could to corporate sponsors for big money. Other Olympic organizing committees went to school on the 1984 LA business plan.

The International Olympics Committee got politically savvy and sold the Games as a way to improve an area’s infrastructure. Barcelona’s 1992 Games included building up the city’s port. Politicians use the Olympics as the excuse to upgrade areas, of course, they could do that without an event but don’t.

But it is very difficult to tell that there was an Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 except for the leftover sports facilities. The Georgia Dome, which was opened about 20 years ago and played a role in the 1996 Games, is now considered obsolete for use by a National Football League team. The Atlanta Falcons ownership wants a new facility in the city which goes to show that facilities have a very short shelf life. Major League Baseball Atlanta Braves ownership plans to move to Cobb Country, Georgia because the stadium built for the 1996 Olympics and the team’s home since 1997 is obsolete. The franchise is hoping to have a new stadium ready by 2017.

The 2002 Salt Lake City Games was marred by an IOC bid rigging scandal. Bain Capital CEO Mitt Romney left his company or maybe he didn’t leave his company to run those Games. Romney needed cash in a hurry to help bridge the Salt Lake City money shortfall and turned to Washington to get federal funding.
Romney should not be criticized for that. He was doing what the heads of local Olympic committees do. The IOC demands that any cost overruns associated with the building of facilities for an Olympics is paid for by the local city, state or national governments. That’s the way the game is played. You want an Olympics and you lose money, that’s not an IOC problem, that’s a your problem.

It is estimated that United States taxpayers bailed out the Salt Lake City Games to the tune of $1.5 billion.

Australian taxpayers are stuck with the bills from the 2000 Sydney Games. Greece was not bankrupted by hosting the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens but the more than $10 billion worth of debt hasn’t helped the Greek economy. Turin no longer is prospering following the 2006 Winter Olympics in the Italian city. No one knows what the 2008 Beijing Games cost, but that was a loss leader for China as China got onto the world economic stage because of the Games while whitewashing human rights violations.

There is no real bill from the financially stressed Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 but locals are not happy with the debt piled up by those events. London may be a financial disaster when the bills from the Games that open up on Friday come due.

This is the real Olympics.

The sad part is that for the majority of the athletes this is their time to shine in the sun. Most of them have to pay their way there and struggle to find money while they train. But to the IOC they are a disposable commodity. The way athletes are now judged at the Olympics isn’t by the amount of medals they win or even competing.

No, it is how many endorsements can an athlete get from competing. In America, athletes become storylines on TV and most events are ignored. The truth is ping pong will get more global viewers than an American soap opera story. But TV wants women to watch and if they can build a storyline, which, they think, will suck women into watching the proceedings.

American television pays the bulk of the money that goes to the IOC.

You can always count on the International Olympics Committee to be on the wrong side of an issue whether it is criminal prosecution of athletes caught with banned substances–it is not a crime, it is cheating—leaving a community in fiscal straits or deviating from a program and forgetting a sorrowful event that happened on their clock. The new IOC President Thomas Bach is proving to be a worthy successor to Brundage, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Dr. Jacques Rogge. He is continuing the tone deaf Olympics policy but after all, the International Olympic Committee believes it is a sovereign nation complete with a flag so Bach is correct in the IOC mindset to be upset with world leaders who are snubbing him, the IOC and Vladimir Putin in that order.

Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected] . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, ( ),  From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (  )  and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( ) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition ( ) are available from e-book distributors globally.
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