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Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Olympics, Christendom and the Sacred

The "sacred" doesn't disappear under the pressure of modernity it simply migrates elsewhere.

The week's headlines over the protests against Chinese violence in Tibet provides a significant moment of illumination on the reality of this process with regard to the Olympics, sport and the nation state.

A lot of criticism of the Oympic movement in recent years has focussed on the linking of the event with marketing and consumerism. While there is undoubtedly substantial empirical truth in this tale it has tended to occlude the ongoing linkage of performance sport and national identity in the Olympic movement.

The Christian movement in the West has spent the last few centuries disentangling itself from the linkage to state power and the upholding of national identity expressed in the Christendom settlement.

The Olympics has been heading in the opposite direction with performance sport becoming inextricably linked with government purposes. The International Olympic Committee has been in the business of promoting the Olympic games as a hyper-nationalist event.

Governments provide huge amounts of funding to run the events, providing the continued justification for the IOC's existence. The symbolism of the Games particularly the flame and the opening and closing events draws large draughts on unacknowledged elements of ritual usually associated with the "religious" elements of human behaviour. The sacred has become more and more visible in these ceremonies over recent decades.

The IOC has brought politics, national purpose and state power together in a new sports "Christendom" that benefits chiefly the IOC and the state authorities who wish to obtain the blessing of association with the event for their own political purposes.

The actual benefits of a Christendom arrangement, whether it is religion or sport linked to state power for those who are on the margins of empire are dubious in the extreme.

Suggestions that protestors should let the Olympics proceed and keep politics out of sport are totally misguided. Olympic sport is in politics up to its neck. Watch to lobbying associated with the decision as to where the Games will be held.

We need to get sport out of politics by abolishing the Olympics movement and being saved the hypocrisy that has politicians and commentators proclaiming that the Olympics are purely about sport. The Chinese government has performed us all a service in making that abundantly clear this week.

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