Corporate Sport – High Class Hooker, Low Life Pimp

During the weekend, Formula One decided to go ahead with the Grand Prix in Bahrain, despite the Bahraini government simultaneously abusing and killing its civilian population for daring to ask for some rights. Formula One officials were quick to state: ‘This is a sporting event, it’s not political’.

Meanwhile, calls to protest the London 2012 Olympic Games due to cost, unethical corporate sponsorship and the context of ‘austerity’ for all but the 1% are also met with the rebuke ‘But it’s just a sporting event’.

This is nothing new. Today’s article, takes a look at the murky world of the corporate sports machine, willing to lay in bed with the most heinous regimes in recent history, for the sake of a fast buck.

Nazi Olympics Anyone?


The German Olympics in 1936 took place under the watchful eye of one Adolf Hitler. Although the International Olympic Committee awarded Germany the Games two years prior to Hitler’s accession, they had ample time in the following years to find another host country. However, not only did the Olympics go ahead, but the IOC president of the day Henri de Baillet-Latour bent over backwards to accommodate the particular tastes of his anti-Semitic hosts. In 1934, Baillet-Latour and a future IOC president Avery Brundage flew into Nazi Germany apparently to assess the state of the country and it’s suitability to continue as hosts. Surprisingly, given what we know to be the case on the ground, Nazi Germany got a clean bill of health from both men, who went so far as to state that any anti-semitism was not the domain of the IOC, once again the Olympics was touted as an apolitical event.

So, the Nazi Olympics continued, despite Germany openly refusing to allow Jewish athletes (or any other group deemed non-Aryan) to represent their nation on the track or field. Furthermore, the US government accepted the IOC request to remove two Jewish athletes from the 4x100m relay team to avoid embarrassing Hitler and his Aryan accomplices, in the event of defeat.

But all this is fine of course, because it was just a sporting event, and nothing to do with politics at all.

Dark Night in Mexico City


In 1968 the Olympics was to be held in Mexico City. On the 2nd October, 10 days before the Games, the vibrant student movement of Mexico held a peaceful march into Tlatelolco Plaza in the city. The students were protesting the repression and police violence meted out by the authoritarian state in recent months.

With the students neatly assembled in the Plaza with their banners and placards, the Mexican army opened fire and continued to massacre the students for two hours.

There was disbelief in Mexico and around the world, at the paltry government estimate of 4 deaths, and their stories of militant communist agitators whipping up internal strife. The world knew that thousands of young people were massacred that night in Tlatelolco Plaza.

However, the now fully grown IOC president of the day, Avery Brundage, announced (to the surprise of a waiting world) “None of the demonstrations or violence has at any time been directed against the Olympic Games,” and in fact, the Olympics was “a veritable oasis in a troubled world”. He dismissed the massacre as “an internal affair”.

Sound familiar?

The Thrilla in Manila


In 1975, Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos invited Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier to hold their fight in his country, to gain international credibility and internal distraction from his policies. Marcos had by this time, increased the size of the military from 65k to 250k, had used $54bn from the country’s own treasury to fund his re-election, and indulged in widespread arrests, torture and killings of political opponents and protesters. Those look at Greece and Italy’s recent suspension of democracy may smile wryly at Marcos, speaking of his decision to override democracy by ending the two-term rule limit: “the stakes too high for us to permit the customary concessions to traditional democratic processes.”– Ferdinand Marcos, January 1973. By 1975, the people of the Philippines were suffering their third year of martial rule under Marcos.

However, boxing promoter Don King worked with Marcos and others to host the biggest boxing event of the decade (and historically, the century) in Manila. Marcos paid the boxers well above the standard fees of the day, to seal the deal. Ali was promised $4.5 million, including $3 million from the government of a country where the annual salary of 70 percent of the work force was less than the price of an upper box seat — then $133 — at the Araneta Coliseum in suburban Quezon City.

Once again, those objecting to this blatant collusion of corporate sport and corrupt government were met with utter hostility, as people politicising a sporting event.

Apartheid Rugby


In 1981, South Africa was in the full flow of racial apartheid. The state was segregated into racial groups and a person’s access to services, space, housing, employment, education, transport – their whole world in act was defined by race laws. In reality, this meant if you were born black or ‘coloured’, you lead a life restricted by permits, oppression and often death. This insidious regime was being opposed all over the world, but not of course, the world of sport. The apartheid regime were still allowed to participate in the Olympics and (their national sport) International Rugby competitions, as if they were of equal world standing to other states – and not infect, as they should have been, a pariah state, internationally isolated until it abandoned its ideology of racial supremacy.

In 1981, the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team – who did not permit black players to the team) set off on its tour of New Zealand amid huge opposition from anti-apartheid campaigners across the globe.

The New Zealand Rugby Union refused to cancel the tour, despite widespread opposition internally and internationally. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon refused to block the tour despite having signed the 1977 Gleneagles statement condemning Apartheid and calling for the end of the apartheid regime.  He once again stated the case that this was a sporting event and not a place for political intervention.

In the event, the tour became a farce, successfully blighted by mass protests. Two games were ditched altogether, one by a group of 200 people who liberally sprinkled the pitch with tacks before staging a sit in. Despite a stadium full of sports fans yelling ‘go get a job’, ‘get a wash’ and branding them ‘dirty f***ing hippies’, the protest succeeded. In retrospect, where would you rather have been that day? Making a stand for racial equality, or frothing at the hot dog filled mouth that your beloved sports day had been ruined?

The Sports Industry as Chief Bauble


Writing for Verso Books in 1999, Marqusee wrote that the corporate sports industry was in fact, a friendly agent of neo-liberalism. Its star athletes and sport events used to divert people’s attention from social problems, or to shape personal identities according to political interests. In each of the cases above, the sporting events served the joint interests of their corporate backers, and the host governments. Be it to divert from crisis, to legitimise the unconscionable, or merely make vast sums of money – corporate sports has played its part, dutifully spreading it’s legs for Mussolini’s fascist Italy, Hitler’s Germany, Marcos’ Manila, Apartheid South Africa and, this weekend, Bahrain. If in fact, Corporate Sports were a high class hooker; her underwear would indeed be soiled by the secretions of the lowest of the low.

To claim these events as ‘just’ sporting events, and ‘apolitical’ is an outright lie, so stunning in its affront to common sense and facts, that it makes one wonder why it isn’t exactly readily challenged by the media. In all these cases, on the whole, the media supported the event, and branded protesters as attention seeking troublemakers, at best with a good cause but the wrong tactics.

These phrases ‘It’s just a sporting event’ and ‘It’s not political’ and ‘I agree with some of the things the protestors are complaining about but…’ are all derived directly from the narrative scripted by the pimps of corporate sports and their punters, the despots of the world. From the press office of the Bahraini dictatorship, via BBC News at Six, to Bob Smith in Dudley and on to Bob’s children who overhear him as he opens a beer on Sunday, happy that his race is going ahead and he doesn’t have to change his plans thanks to some bunch of troublemakers.

But what about the athletes who’ve worked so hard to get there?


This is perhaps the toughest question put to those who oppose the corporate jamborees, like those above, on principle.

On the one hand, it is difficult not to sympathise with the unenviable position of the athletes in this. People who have committed themselves to the mastery of their sport of choice, unsurprisingly must look upon the threat of disturbance, interruption or abortion of these events, the culmination of their training efforts, with a combination of fear, frustration and great disappointment.

At the same time, there are other factors to consider. Firstly, corporate sponsorship. It is understandable that aspiring and successful athletes alike are wooed by this tempting revenue source. However, when an athlete accepts vast sums of money to advocate for a corporation – they become necessarily linked. Be it BP, Cadburys, McDonalds or Walkers Crisps – that athlete has ceased to serve simply as an athlete, but as a paid representative of that corporation.

Secondly, there has been a history of stoic athletes making a stand in spite of all this, for important causes of their time. Tommie Smith and John Carlos would be one such example, at the aforementioned Mexico Olympics of 1968. How powerful it would have been this weekend, if the already multi-millionaire drivers of Formula One had take to the podium to undertake a display of support for the people of Bahrain, or withdrawn from the event altogether.

It is no different with the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Where are the athlete’s refusing to wear an Olympic medal mined by Rio Tinto for their appalling ecological and ethical record?

Where are the athletes refusing to wear a kit sewn for 34p an hour in an Adidas sweatshop in the Far East?

Where are the Paralympians refusing to participate in an event sponsored by ATOS, the company right now persecuting disabled people across the country by withdrawing their social security payments after bogus ‘fitness to work’ tests?

There are sadly, none to be found.

Finally, a blunt question. Are we saying that on the scale of human suffering, the blighted lives of those impacted by the egregious behaviour of these Corporate Sponsors, and the behaviour of the host government are mere trifles in comparison to some interruption of walking, talking billboards for both – which, it is sad to say, is what sports people have become. Is corruption, a lack of ethics, torture, less important than driving cars around in a circle or running quickly or someone jumping further than someone else?

Clearly, to anyone with a working brain and conscience….no.

We Need to Get a Grip

It is time for us to get a grip, avert our eyes from the seductive dancing of the Corporate Sports machine, and think about our knee jerk support for sporting events in the face of ethical issues. In less than 100 days, another corporate bonanza takes place in the UK. The London 2012 Games has cost the UK taxpayer at least £11bn. It is sponsored by the worst offending corporations in our world, basking themselves in the beneficent glow of the Olympic torch. All the while, the UK government is launching the greatest assault on the nation’s public services in its history. The response given to those planning to protest up to, during and around the games? ‘But it’s just a sporting event’, ‘It’s not political’…and ‘think of the athletes’.

  The great thing is though, in spite of all this spin and mythology; The Nazi’s fell, and the protestors against Apartheid, and Marcos and others succeeded amidst all this of shining light onto the issues. Those regimes are now consigned to the dustbin of history. And now, we have our moment in history. We get to choose to take our seats for the floorshow, or make a stand for a world worthy of the best of humanity. That really would make London 2012, the Greatest Show on Earth.

For more information on Olympic civil disobedience, follow @ourolympics on twitter or go to http://www.ourolympics.org/. The Counter Olympics Network (CON) also has the best collection of articles and information on the Olympic issues, currently on the web. Support these campaigns and make a difference.







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