The dissidents' guide to the Olympics: `War minus the shooting'

As the world corporate media goes Olympics mad, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has assembled a range of alternative viewpoints on what the modern Olympic Games really represent. While -- when it suits their interests -- establishment media commentators and capitalist governments loudly proclaim that ``sport and politics don't mix'', it soon becomes apparent that the Olympics spectacle is drenched in politics and the promotion of the worst aspects of dog-eat-dog capitalism. But sometimes it is also a site of struggle, as this selection of articles, drawn from the Links and Green Left Weekly archives, as well as other progressive sources, reveals.

Hypocrisy, human rights and the Beijing games

Sport, like religion, is a reflection of broader society. In a capitalist world, with its individualism, corporate competition, alienation and competing nationalisms, sport has become a commodified spectacle in which the majority does not participate. No sporting event reflects global capitalism better than the Olympics: elitist, commercialised and corrupt. A platform for politicians and dictators, but officially “non-political” — meaning in practice that athletes and spectators are forbidden from voicing opinions.

Read more.

What the Olympics really represent

George Orwell once described “serious sport” -- for its promotion of violence, national hatred and jealousy -- as “war minus the shooting”.

The Olympics are really about serious politics. Whilst pushing the world's best athletes “higher, faster, stronger”, the IOC also pushes the political agenda of the world's richest countries and companies. The Olympics form part of the war machine of the corporate sector.

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Dave Zirin: China's Olympic trials

This is the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China's seemingly endless army of potential consumers. This is the reason that George W. Bush will attend the opening ceremonies, the first US president to do so on foreign soil, and that in March, mere days before the crackdown in Tibet, Condoleezza Rice, laughably, took China off the State Department's list of nations that abuse human rights.


Dave Zirin is also blogging daily during the Olympics at

Chinese workers and peasants the main victims: the bitter truth about the Olympics

By Phil Hearse

So the Beijing games are nearly upon us. There is no public event, other than perhaps the soccer World Cup, that is so universally approved of as the Olympic Games. An orgy of TV time and newspaper columns will whip up passions about what are, after all, minority sports. How many of the two billion or so people who will watch on TV could – before the event – name the world pole vault champion, the world archery champion or the Tai Kondo champion? About 0.0001 per cent.

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Tibet and the `Olympic tradition'

Ironically, the Olympic torch tradition was, in fact, invented for precisely that purpose — by Hitler’s propagandists for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Beijing Olympics are not an aberration. Neither were the Berlin games. Since their inception at the beginning of the 20th century, the Olympics have been controlled by a committee drawn from the world’s elites and accountable to neither athletes nor the public. The antithesis of participatory sport, this mass spectator event is most of all about corporate sponsorship and marketing.

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Dave Zirin: China's brutal Olympic echo

China’s brutal crackdown against Tibetan protesters ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing carries with it a terrible echo from the past... Yet the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic cash deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were supposed to be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen. Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark Malloch-Brown told the BBC, "This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that."

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The Olympics, sportswear and super-exploitation

As the clock ticks down to the Beijing Olympics, workers producing for the international sportswear companies that spend millions on Olympic and athletic sponsorship deals are still working excessive hours and paid poverty wages, according to a damning new report, Clearing the hurdles: Steps to improving working conditions in the global sportswear industry, from Play Fair 2008.

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Heroes of Beijing: the triumph of the West

Nation states will compete to move up the medal table and the flag of the People’s Republic of China will likely be hoisted more than most, accompanied on countless occasions by the playing of the Chinese national anthem. The ultimate winners, however, will never stand on a podium although their logos will be on view throughout the course of the event. Transnational corporations will reign supreme in Beijing just as they have been doing for at least the past thirty years and Western capitalist values will have taken another step closer to the winning line.

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CUBA: Money has `tainted' Olympics

In 2000, the head of Cuba's Olympics committee, Jose Ramon Fernandez, accused Western commercial influences of corrupting sport. Fernandez, who was also one of the country's vice-presidents, charged that rich countries are promoting a ``sports talent drain'' from the Third World, similar to the ``brain drain'' of scientists and professionals.

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Bribery and big business: making the International Oylmpic Committee run

The hidden winners of the Olympics have the spotlight turned on them in a book by Andrew Jennings, a journalist who former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch once tried to have jailed for alleging that IOC members took bribes from cities bidding to host the games.

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Brother of the fist: Peter Norman

By Dave Zirin

It's 1968, and 200-metre gold medalist Tommie Smith stands next to bronze winner John Carlos, their raised black-gloved fists smashing the sky on the medal stand in Mexico City. They were Trojan Horses of Rage — bringing the Black revolution into that citadel of propriety and hypocrisy: the Olympic Games. When people see that image, their eyes are drawn like magnets toward Smith and Carlos, standing in black socks, their heads bowed in controlled concentration. Less noticed is the silver medalist. He is hardly mentioned in official retrospectives, and people assume him to be a Forrest Gump-type figure, just another of those unwitting witnesses to history who always end up in the back of famous frames. Only the perceptive notice that this seemingly anonymous individual is wearing a rather large button emblazoned with the letters O-P-H-R, standing for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

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1968: Black Power Salute

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games the enduring image was Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the African-American athletes raising their gloved clenched fists in support of the Black Power movement during the Star Spangled Banner, they were subsequently banned from the games for life. This film looks at what inspired them to make their protest, and what happened to them after the Games. Featuring Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Bob Beamon and Delroy Lindo. Also read about Peter Norman, the Australian athlete who gained third place, who supported Smith's and Carlos' protest. Norman is the subject of a new documentary, Salute, which can be previewed here.

Part 1

Click HERE to watch parts 2-6

The 1936 People's Olympiad

The People's Olympics (Olimpiada Popular) was planned for Barcelona, Spain as a protest event against the 1936 Summer Olympics planned for Berlin during the period of Nazi rule. The newly elected, left-wing Popular Front government in Spain decided to boycott the Berlin Olympics and host their own games.

Read more.


Olympics is a really great event. And you can't fight with that. People want to see such events. What is bad is that people fight in the same time. Centuries ago there was a decision made: no war during Olympics. And what is happening right now in Georgia and South Ossetia? I can't understand that. The Olympics host right now is country that violates human's rights, but it was for no reason. Because the Olympics are happening in China we are looking at this country and trying to change something there. So let's also look at Goergia, she also needs our help.

By Naomi Klein - August 7th, 2008

So far, the Olympics have been an open invitation to China-bash, a bottomless excuse for Western journalists to go after the Commies on everything from internet censorship to Darfur. Through all the nasty news stories, however, the Chinese government has seemed amazingly unperturbed. That's because it is betting on this: when the opening ceremonies begin friday, you will instantly forget all that unpleasantness as your brain is zapped by the cultural/athletic/political extravaganza that is the Beijing Olympics.

Like it or not, you are about to be awed by China's sheer awesomeness.

The games have been billed as China's "coming out party" to the world. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics are the coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizing society, one that China has perfected over the past three decades, and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarianism communism -- central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance -- harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it "authoritarian capitalism," others "market Stalinism," personally I prefer "McCommunism."

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums, highways and railways -- all in record time. It has razed whole neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks to an "anti-spitting" campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month -- a sort of government-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the games -- Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent bloggers -- hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months. Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one of Beijing's 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some of American's most powerful corporations -- Cisco, General Electric, Honeywell, Google -- have been working hand in glove with the Chinese government to make this moment possible: networking the closed circuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the "Great Firewall" that allows for remote internet monitoring, and designing those self-censoring search engines.

By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth $33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field have recently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cash in the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks are seen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, for instance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security and Surveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds has been floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in the past two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006 and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance's stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government's lavish spending on cameras and other surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of "Olympic Security." But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event? The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion -- to put that in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights groups have pointed out that China's security upgrade is reaching far beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated "safe cities" across the country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety -- iris scanners, "anti-riot robots" and facial recognition software -- will stay in China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking workers and rural protestors.

What the Olympics have provided for Western firms is a palatable cover story for this chilling venture. Ever since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, U.S. companies have been barred from selling police equipment and technology to China, since lawmakers feared it would be directed, once again, at peaceful demonstrators. That law has been completely disregarded in the lead up to the Olympics, when, in the name of safety for athletes and VIPs (including George W. Bush), no new toy has been denied the Chinese state.

There is a bitter irony here. When Beijing was awarded the games seven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny would force China's government to grant more rights and freedom to its people. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and repression. And remember when Western companies used to claim that by doing business in China, they were actually spreading freedom and democracy? We are now seeing the reverse: investment in surveillance and censorship gear is helping Beijing to actively repress a new generation of activists before it has the chance to network into a mass movement.

The numbers on this trend are frightening. In April 2007, officials from 13 provinces held a meeting to report back on how their new security measures were performing. In the province of Jiangsu, which, according to the South China Morning Post, was using "artificial intelligence to extend and improve the existing monitoring system" the number of protests and riots "dropped by 44 per cent last year." In the province of Zhejiang, where new electronic surveillance systems had been installed, they were down 30 per cent. In Shaanxi, "mass incidents" -- code for protests -- were down by 27 per cent in a year. Dong Lei, the province's deputy party chief, gave part of the credit to a huge investment in security cameras across the province. "We aim to achieve all day and all-weather monitoring capability," he told the gathering.

Activists in China now find themselves under intense pressure, unable to function even at the limited levels they were able to a year ago. Internet cafes are filled with surveillance cameras, and surfing is carefully watched. At the offices of a labor rights group in Hong Kong, I met the well-known Chinese dissident Jun Tao. He had just fled the mainland in the face of persistent police harassment. After decades of fighting for democracy and human rights, he said the new surveillance technologies had made it "impossible to continue to function in China."

It's easy to see the dangers of a high tech surveillance state in far off China, since the consequences for people like Jun are so severe. It's harder to see the dangers when these same technologies creep into every day life closer to home-networked cameras on U.S. city streets, "fast lane" biometric cards at airports, dragnet surveillance of email and phone calls. But for the global homeland security sector, China is more than a market; it is also a showroom. In Beijing, where state power is absolute and civil liberties non-existent, American-made surveillance technologies can be taken to absolute limits.

The first test begins today: Can China, despite the enormous unrest boiling under the surface, put on a "harmonious" Olympics? If the answer is yes, like so much else that is made in China, Police State 2.0 will be ready for export.

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.


Viewing the Olympics from Cuba

By Circles Robinson*
August 20, 2008

The last time I saw my father in 2001, we discussed the 2000 Sydney Olympics
as best we could, he from his sick bed, imprisoned by his Parkinson’s
disease, and me making preparations to move to Havana.

Those were the last Olympic Games he watched on TV, before his death in
2003, but his comments have stayed with me. A patriotic man, grateful for
the opportunities he had had in the USA, he nevertheless found his love for
sports compromised by the world of advertising and the profit-oriented media

Here it was as if no other country had athletes competing,” he told me.
“It was obvious that the business of TV advertising was first and the
sports themselves were a far off second,” he added.

I have often recalled those statements when watching first the 2004 Athens
games and now the 2008 Beijing Olympics from my apartment in Havana.

There could be nothing more diametrically opposed than Olympics sports
coverage in Cuba and the United States.


When Beijing 2008 kicked off on August 8th, 17 days of uninterrupted 24-hour
coverage began on Cuban television. Events are beamed in live and also
repeated so that everyone gets a chance to see what they want. Like all
Cuban TV, the Olympic coverage is commercial free, and virtually all
disciplines are shown independent of whether the island has participants.

Much of Cuba is tuned in at all hours watching the events as they happen
(despite the 12-hour time difference with Beijing). You know that because
the sounds of the TVs can be heard from open doors and windows and if it’s
an important match for a Cuban team or individual athlete, collective cheers
or sighs can be heard into the wee hours of the morning.

Cuba is a sports-loving country, and interest extends beyond the island’s
participation, to that of athletes from other latitudes. In fact, Cuba sends
sports trainers to dozens of nations to help them improve their programs.

While many people in the US are also watching the Olympics, the broadcasts
themselves are seen as a business venture. This time around NBC Universal,
owned by the giant General Electric Corp., “won” the rights to broadcast by
paying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nearly US $900 million.
In fact, Reuters reported on August 11th that NBC had already sold over a
$1 billion just in ads with plenty more to come. Coverage is focused on the
marketable “big names” and the “big rivalries”, with little attention paid
to the participation of athletes from other nations.


I am as glued to the TV as any of my neighbors. I particularly like to watch
the Olympic track and field events, volleyball and baseball, boxing, rowing
and cycling.

The fact that Cuba, a small island nation of 11.2 million people, is
competitive with the world powers in several sports adds to the excitement
here. The feat is even more significant when taking into account that Cuba
uses only Cuban-born athletes while many North American and European
countries literally purchase talent abroad.

Cuba’s competitiveness in the Olympic arena began in the 1970s and didn’t
fall from the sky. It was the product of a major effort to spread physical
education, sports participation and training opportunities throughout the

In Cuba, anyone can become an athlete, whether they are born in Havana or
in the most remote village in Guantanamo,” Angel Gutierrez, a retired
physical education teacher who taught in primary schools for over 20 years
told the IPS news service.

In fact, few of the Cuban amateur stars started their sports careers in the
capital. So far, athletes from all over the country have contributed to
Cuba’s first Beijing medals including Mijain Lopez (Greco-roman wrestling),
Yanelis Barrios (discus) and Idalis Ortiz (Judo) from Pinar del Rio; Yoanka
Gonzalez (cycling) from Villa Clara; Anaisy Hernandez and Yanet Bermoy
(Judo) from Cienfuegos; Eglys Cruz (shooting) from Sancti Spiritus and
Yordanis Arencibia (Judo) from Las Tunas.

The popular Dayron Robles, the 110-meter hurdles world record holder, has
qualified for the final heat. He is from the country’s easternmost province
of Guantanamo, while javelin thrower Yipsi Moreno, who just won a silver
medal, is from Camaguey.

Yes, some top Cuban athletes have decided over the years to accept lucrative
contracts abroad and abandon their national team. A “defector” is treated in
the foreign mainstream media as another victory for free market capitalism
and a triumph of the American dream over a government that sees athletes as
stars but does not make them tycoons.

What’s more amazing is how many Cuban athletes refuse the offers, preferring
their Cuban lifestyle —which, although above the average living standard for
the country, would be considered poverty in terms of material possessions to
people from the developed world.

I’'m not sure what my father would have thought of life in Havana, but I
think he would have greatly enjoyed watching the Olympics with me on Cuban
TV – commercial free.

*Circles Robinson’s reports and commentaries from Havana can be read at:;_ylt=AudHc6OW57tPoGaAK.5dO9c5n…

Rogge rips the wrong guy
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports 5 hours, 28 minutes ago

BEIJING — Jacques Rogge is so bought, so compromised, the president of
the IOC doesn’t have the courage to criticize China for telling a decade
of lies to land itself these Olympic Games.

All the promises made to get these Games — on Tibet, Darfur, pollution,
worker safety, freedom of expression, dissident rights — turned out to
be phony, perhaps as phony as the Chinese gymnasts’ birthdates Rogge was
way too scared to investigate.

One of the most powerful men in sports turned the world away from his
complicity. Instead, he has flexed his muscles by unloading on a
powerless sprinter from a small island nation.

Rogge’s ripping of Usain Bolt’s supposed showboating in two of the most
electrifying gold-medal performances of these Games has to be one of the
most ill-timed and gutless acts in the modern history of the Olympics.

“That’s not the way we perceive being a champion,” Rogge said of the
Jamaican sprinter. “I have no problem with him doing a show. I think he
should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap
on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not
make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters.”

Oh, this is richer than those bribes and kickbacks the IOC got caught

All the powerful nations — including the United States — have carte
blanche at the Games. They can pout and preen, cheat, throw bean balls,
file wild complaints, break promises that got them a host bid, whatever
they want. They can take turns slapping Rogge and his cronies around
like rag dolls as long as the dinner with a good wine list gets paid.

A single individual sprinter? Even if you don’t like his manner, that’s
whom Rogge deems it necessary to attack, to issue a worldwide condemnation?

“I understand the joy,” Rogge said. “He might have interpreted that in
another way, but the way it was perceived was ‘catch me if you can.’ You
don’t do that. But he’ll learn. He’s still a young man.”

Perceived by whom? Old fat cats making billions of Olympic dollars on
the backs of athletes like Bolt for a century now? They get to define
this? They get to lecture about learning?

Bolt is everything the Olympics are supposed to be about. He isn’t the
product of some rich country, some elaborate training program that
churns out gold medals by any means necessary.

He’s a breath of fresh air, a guy who came out of nowhere to enrapture
the world with his athletic performance and colorful personality. This
is no dead-eye product of some massive machine.

He was himself, and the world loved him for it.

On his own force of will, Bolt has become the break-out star of these
Games. He saved the post-Michael Phelps Olympics. It wasn’t so much his
world-record times, but the flair, the fun.

No one at the track had a problem with this guy; they understood he is
everything the sport needs to recover from an era of extreme doping. The
Lightning Bolt made people care about track again, something that seemed
impossible two weeks ago.

“I don’t feel like he’s being disrespectful,” American Shawn Crawford
told the Associated Press. “He deserves to dance.”

Apparently, Rogge would prefer 12-year-old gymnasts too frightened to
crack a smile.

It got better when, in the same press conference, he pretended to forget
all the lies China told him to get this bid, all the troubles, all the
challenges, and praised the host nation. Yes, these have been an
exceptionally well-run Games from a tactical standpoint, and the Chinese
people have displayed otherworldly kindness.

None of which denies the promises broken, the innocent jailed, the
freedoms denied — the kind of issues someone with Jacques Rogge’s
standing should be talking about.

He has no spine for that. Not for China. Not for any big country. He had
to criticize someone, he had to make headlines, he had to show he was a
tough guy. So who better than someone from somewhere that can’t ever
touch him back?

Yes, Usain Bolt is the problem of the Olympics. He’s the embarrassment.
He’s the one who needs to learn.

Sure, Jacques, sure.

Dan Wetzel is a Yahoo! Sports national columnist.


By Tamara Pearson

August 26, 2008, -- Something you wouldn’t see at the Olympics: teams of laughing and cheering teenagers and young adults throwing water-filled condoms at each other, catching them in towels held by one person on each corner, as rain drenches the condom covered ground.

This was one of the activities a Cuban sports instructor, working through Barrio Adentro Sport, organised for the youth at an National Institute of Youth (INJ) training camp.

No one bothered to keep score, and despite the rain, team after team (of both men and women) took the losing team’s place with excitement. If you wanted, you could have played ``spot the human values'': cooperation, comradeship, health, de-taboo-isation of condoms, enjoyment of company and of the environment, enjoyment for the sake of it.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, athletes who have been bought by rich countries from other parts of the world, then trained, scientifically sculptured and nutritioned into 100-metre sprint experts, compete during two of the most expensive weeks ever. They selfishly dedicate their lives to one small goal, one medal, one day or more of fame, under the guise of ``doing it for their country'', without actually improving any aspect of society except perhaps bringing back with them, as they pose for the gaggle of photographers at their airport, a tad of irrational nationalist pride.

And, you cannot see the glorious night sky, nor the ancient streets and bone-deep culture of Beijing for the advertising. ``Humanity'', as some people call the Olympics, is merchandised and sponsored out, with physical space in Beijing and time space on TV filled to the hilt with advertising, souvenirs, T-shirts, toys, and collectables, and everything else in life that is not creative or useful.

(This Olympics non-sponsor advertising was banned and $2.7 billion were spent on outdoor and billboard advertising. Development in preparation for the games cost China $40 billion in public money and 300,000 people their homes. I remember the Sydney Olympics, when homeless people were towed away for the period- and replaced by flowerpots to make Sydney pretty to the world.)

And there’s what most commercial channels decided to ignore- the residents who protested against their homes being demolished and were imprisoned and tortured. Some disappeared. There is the repression of dissent. During the 2000 Olympics the New South Wales Government increased the powers of the police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and for the first time the military were deployed against domestic unrest—mainly to prevent indigenous people from protesting.

George Orwell described the Olympics as ‘war minus the shooting’ (although there are actually 15 shooting events these days) and since when was war ever played on a level field? Roughly the same six or so countries lead the medal tally every time- the US, China, Russia, Germany, France, and Australia. It’s boring. It reminds me of rich kids buying their way into University, or big school bullies. Three cheers for powerful countries beating the little guys. And well, India has about as many people as China, but most of them are too worried about getting work and eating to be playing sport all day.

When you take out the pretty slogans the Olympics is a nationalist, money making fest that doesn’t even attempt to serve any social function in a world that has a long way to go towards being just.

\Having said all that, sports is one of those aspects of life, like love, or dancing, or the street, or music and art, which can either be totally commercialized and eliticized or that can be beneficial to society and human development, and beautiful.

Playing and moving about, at any age, is human. But under capitalism ‘play’ is turned into heavy, serious, profitable, ‘sport’. Just as culture is turned into DVDs and souvenirs, shared music and dancing is turned into painted, digitally edited superstars, and art is tucked away in museums and sold at inaccessible prices. We go from collective participation, to 99.9% passive spectators or audience, under capitalism.

Revolution and socialism, however, are about participation, and not competition. So how far has Venezuela come in revolutionizing sport, turning it instead, into an activity that brings people together, raises collective health, and helps us appreciate our environment?

Socialized sport has its place in the Bolivarian Revolution’s general aim of improving people’s economic, social, cultural and participatory life.

And whilst a lot of ‘developed’ countries are willing to spend enormous amounts of their tax revenues on creating elite athletes, Venezuela has been spending its money on social programs both within the country and across Latin America.

Just one of its social programs is making sport accessible and beneficial to people in all corners of the country, of all ages, genders, and physical capacity.

The Venezuelan government’s policy on sports comes from the constitution which says, in summary, that everyone has a right to sport and recreation as activities that benefit the quality of life of both the individual and the collective. Sport has a fundamental role in the formation of both children and teenagers. Its teaching is obligatory in all levels of public and private education.

This policy was elaborated on under the ‘National Bolivarian System of Sport’ in 2005 in which, through sports amongst other things, “a new profile of the Venezuelan will try to be obtained, with more discipline and responsibility, that values work, perseverance, credibility, conviction, analysis, and the sporting identity…with a focus on four main programs: performance sports, sports for all, sports installations, and sports in school.”

Money was distributed, and programs set up. For example, included in the sports in school program was a project with a budget of US$1.6 million to transform the curriculum for physical education.

Under sports for all, in 2006, a number of projects were started. US$7 million were assigned to supporting 360 decentralized sporting facilities. Almost US$5 million were assigned to a project of strengthening community and municipal schools sports programs.

The Latin American University of Sports and Physical Education was inaugurated in April 2006 in the state of Cojedes. It forms professionals in planning, training, methodology, management, technology, and recreation, and currently has 14 Cuban professionals and 84 Venezuelan teachers, with 1,500 students, 136 of which are from Central and Latin America.

And using sports as a tool to unite, Latin American Integration has been a priority in Venezuelan sports policy. One current proposal is that the first ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) games with the participation of teams across Latin America. Included in this would be native sports.

Another proposal was the formation of Latin America represented as a block on the International Olympic Committee and similar organizations, so that the interests of the continent may be better represented.

One of the things I love most about Venezuela (and indeed Cuba) is the liveliness of the grandparents. The average capitalist country likes to see older people as surplus waste to be chucked away in under-funded ‘nursing homes.’ Such people, undervalued by society, tend to hide in their homes only to come out on compulsory voting days (in Australia) or for necessary shopping. In contrast, life in socialist countries doesn’t end when you are no longer able to work. It’s just starting.

Sports, being in many ways the direct opposite to sloth-like passive leisure such as TV, has an important social role to play, in getting people up, outside, talking and working with other people, moving around and engaging. Team sports involve a lot of communicating, cooperation, and moral support.

Carlos Ugueto has always liked sports. Now he is 84 years old and he still walks for 40 minutes a day, guaranteeing that he’ll live for many more years.

He participates in Mission Barrio Adentro Sport, an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba that was born on July 31, 2004. It is available to all people, including to pregnant women, those with disabilities, and those recovering from illness who need physical exercise as part of the program. It also sees sports as an important part of preventative medicine, and now has the majority of Venezuelans involved in physical activity. (Barrio Adentro Sport had already gone from attending 1.7 million people (7.7% of the population) in 2003 to 9 million (34.6% of the population) in 2005.)

Thousands of trained Cubans bring sport into the community, into the streets, parks, schools, and ‘grandparent residentials’ – places for older people to socialize, eat healthy meals, and receive social services. Activities include sports, physical activity, dominoes, chess, dance therapy, clubs, physical preparation for pregnant women, and special days such as the ‘Day of Walking’.

“[There is] nothing better than physical exercise to prevent cardiovascular accidents…including for mental health, for the health of the family, good blood circulation which brings oxygen to the brain, for study, to complement the educational effort that we are doing…we need to live more and better every day,“ said Chavez at the mission’s inauguration.

There have been many amazing stories, such as that of Yolanda Ramirez de Arteaga, who one year ago presented with thrombosis in her left arm and today is almost recovered. She started her rehabilitation in the “grandparents club” in her local community, managing to recover the mobility of the arm.

In another community, Zoraida Cruz de Briceno is a member of a club “Happiness.” “I’m 62 years old and I want to participate in this sporting and musical event because I like to stay energetic,” she says.

“We do gym, we paint, we sing and we also go on long hikes, which I like so much.”

Globally, under capitalism, there is still a class divide in sports, where the sports that are played easily and cheaply are played by the masses and other sports like golf, tennis, horse riding, and car sports are limited to the upper class. Such a divide still heavily applies to Venezuela, which has not yet thrown off the market chains and is affected by global trends.

The elitist idea of the professional sportsperson, of high performance, competitive and marketable sport, still dominates.

75% of the budget, according to Pedro García Avendaño, coordinator of the Unit of Research of Human Performance-Sport and Health, is still spent on 1,000 high performance sportspeople. This amounts to approximately US$230 million per year.

Venezuela sent 109 people to compete in the Olympics, a record amount and more than double the 48 sent last time to Athens. Dalia Contreras won the only (bronze) medal for Venezuela, in Tae-kwon-do.

And although in the pub on Friday night, myself and a friend couldn’t help getting a bit excited as Brazil played the US in volleyball, there hasn’t been the kind of hype here around the Olympics that I am used to in Australia.

Coverage on the government channel has been very even, complementing any country or competitor who did well and not focusing only on Venezuela. And of course without any product advertising during the breaks (just a few ads encouraging people to register to vote, a few for government projects, and one about ‘gold in revolution’ by the Ministry of Sport).

On Alo Presidente on Sunday, Alexandra Benitez, who represented Venezuela in fencing in the Olympics, speaking on behalf of the other athletes, said, “We appreciate all the support that we’ve been given…for national sports I would suggest that the leadership really know sports, for the responsibility of directing sports should be in the hands of sports people and ex-sports people.”

It was only in 1935, that the Venezuelan Olympic Association was formed (now the Venezuelan Olympic Committee-VOC). “The main reason for its formation was that our sport adapt to the international requirements,” says Avendaño. Many national and local associations had to adjust their rules and regulations to meet these new requirements and in this way foreign interests continued their domination of Venezuelan sports and in what was called the initiation of “modern sports” by some.

In the same way that the English brought cricket to many of its colonies, using it as a tool of domination, various sports arrived in South and Central America from Europe and then the US, quickly replacing traditional culture. Venezuela’s entry into ‘international’ sports further cemented this.

“We are ready to break with this imposed model of domination and organize our sports independently, with decisions that respond to the national interest,” Avendaño added.

He argues, “It’s important to think about the contribution that (sports) has in the construction of the new person.”

“We want a sports that makes and reproduces healthy people who are useful for the country.”

One positive feeling one does get from watching the Olympics is that humans are capable of amazing strength, dedication to a cause, sustained, long term effort, and of beating adversity. And since individual humans can do that, who says we can’t collectively beat the greater global challenges and organize a better, more just, sustainable and humane world; the ultimate cause and achievement.  

Printed: August 28th 2008,

License: Published under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). See for more information.


There might be problems with the Olympics, but the aspirations of human achievement and the human will to overcome obstacles should not be overlooked. It think that is what the laudable goal of the Olymics is and always has been. I found a very inspiring article on the human will and how one woman triumphed over adversity to achieve Olympic success:


Lets put aside what the Olympics are supposed to be, and lets take time to consider this; Olympics when they first were started, were ment as a form of entertainment, a way to find and respect the best, and a way for people honer others for incredible accomplishments in physical activities/sports. But now all it has become is way for people to make money and countries to show off their wealth and try and change the way the world looks percieves them. when it should be trying to commend "Olympic" feats and accomplishments the Olympics has become nothing more than a way for countries to manage their reputation and a chance for them to show off..