By Paul K
I don’t know if it’s just me, but watching the Olympic Games – the result of months of training and effort – always feels like a privilege. I love the passion, courage, perseverance, and resolve on display. Do you remember when Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian? What about Usain Bolt being so far ahead of his opponents that he could slow down before reaching the finish line? How about Vivian Cheruiyot setting a new 5000m Olympic record?
While such instances leave you with a warm feeling inside, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing during the Olympics. There’ve been many shocking moments inside and outside the various stadia that left a sour taste. The Munich Massacre of 1972 and Tanya Harding’s alleged attack on Nancy Kerrigan have even been documented in movies.
But here are five other instances where the Olympics didn’t live up to their inspirational standards.
No Jews Allowed – Berlin, Germany (1936)
The Berlin Olympics has to be one of the worst sporting events in history. Adolf Hitler used these games for Nazi propaganda, whereby they downplayed their human rights abuses against Jewish and Roma people. They also promoted racist policies and hid their military conquest ambitions.
Even though there were boycott discussions in many countries, such as the United States, forty-nine countries attended the games. Other nations, for example, Spain, attempted to host an alternative tournament, but this effort failed. The participation of many countries briefly covered up the atrocities, discrimination, and exclusionary tactics present in the Nazi ideology.
Sadly, the persecutions of Jews resumed after the games. Then, a few years later, Germany plunged the rest of the world into World War II.
Athletes Stopped By Police – Turin, Italy (2006)
During the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italian police raided the Austrian team to investigate doping. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) alerted the police after learning that former Austrian coach Walter Mayer was living with the athletes despite being banned over doping violations.
The Austrian Olympic Committee issued a statement saying Mayer was not part of their contingent and was only a “private citizen”. The athletes, who were competing in cross-country and biathlon events, were taken to Sestriere for testing.
Austrian State Secretary for Sports Karl Schweitzer complained that the raid disrupted the athletes’ preparations. None of the tests came back positive. Unfortunately, they lost their race the next day.
Intentionally Losing Matches – London, United Kingdom (2012)
One of the most unsporting actions in Olympic history happened during the 2012 games in London. The Badminton World Federation (BWF) accused and disqualified eight badminton players for throwing their games to get a desirable next-round draw. The players were from South Korea, Indonesia, and China.
The BWF condemned the players for not trying to win, while the spectators repeatedly booed the performances. Referee Thorsten Berg informed the players they faced disqualification if they didn’t change their behaviour. They didn’t listen, thereby bringing their sport into disrepute.
Lochtegate – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2016)
Team USA swimmers Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and James Feigen alleged being robbed at gunpoint after leaving a nightclub at around 6.am. Once investigations began, it emerged that the guys had vandalised a bathroom at a gas station. The people who held them at gunpoint were security guards asking the Americans to pay for the damages.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Swimming suspended Lochte for ten months. The rest of the swimmers received four-month suspensions. Other penalties resulted in blocked funding and swimming-related payments.
The Doping Dilemma
Doping remains one of the biggest problems at the Olympics. Many renowned athletes have been caught cheating and lost their medals. Remember, it’s not just about them. Consider the other athletes who fall short of winning the gold medal only to discover that the winner stole their victory.
While individual fraud is commonplace, no one could have anticipated the report about state-sponsored doping by Russia. Accusations began in 2014, citing a doping program covered up by the country’s testing agency. Eventually, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) suspended non-compliant athletes from competitions for four years.
Last year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced the ban to two years.
Even though Russia technically is not competing at the 2020 Olympics, its athletes are present under the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) banner. This means that while they will not hear their anthem or have their flag displayed, they can still challenge for medals.
Critics say this approach is an insignificant punishment for a country accused of violating the Olympic spirit for many years. The current challenge is how the International Olympic Committee and other nations will combat doping in global sports events.
The Olympic Games continue to play an essential role in our lives. At the end of the day, the goal must be to reduce these scandals that hurt the event’s image and provide a level playing field for all participants.