FIX THE OLYMPICS… The current protests surrounding the Olympic torch are probably just a prelude to much bigger controversies that will ensue as the actual games approach. And to the extent that all these protests put pressure on China to improve its human rights record, that’s a good thing. But using the Olympics as a venue for global politics is obviously not the best thing for the health of the games themselves. Indeed, as Tony Perrottet points out in an op-ed in the New York Times today, the ancient Greeks managed to hold the Olympics every four years for ten centuries, despite near constant warring among the city-states (and with political fights occasionally erupting at the games). The modern Olympics, by contrast, have been canceled three times because of war (1916, 1940, and 1944). And in other times (1980) the games have been diminished by becoming great power proxy fights.
So how is it that the ancient Greeks managed to better insulate their Olympics from geo-politics? The answer is that they didn’t move the venue every four years the way we do. Instead, with one exception, they always held the contests at the religious sanctuary of Olympia, in a politically irrelevant corner of the Peloponnese. Perrottet suggests that we follow the Greek’s example and find a permanent home for the games in some safe little neutral country like Liechtenstein.
The Washington Monthly’s Christina Larson came to the same conclusion four years ago, though in her story, “Movable Feat,” she argued for planting the Olympics permanently in its ancient homeland, Greece. As her editor, and a Greek, I obviously agree. And any doubts that Greece has the organizational ability to handle the event were put to rest by the stunning success of the 2004 games in Athens.
I hope the Beijing games go well. But if they don’t, maybe we ought to consider the possibility that the ancient Greeks knew what they were doing.