First of all, why would any city or country want this expensive, nightmarish boondoggle in the first place? In its last incarnation, the Chinese government spent an incredible $40 billion, although this also included innumerable upgrades on facilities. Let’s be more conservative and say it would “only” be $5 billion.
No American city could possibly afford that, and few taxpayers—expect perhaps the American athletes themselves—would countenance such profligate waste. Beyond whatever questionable political advantage would be gained by snaring the Olympics, the only winners would be those in the hospitality industry, and I promise you that this windfall would not trickle down to the actual workers.
To say that the history of the Olympics is checkered is to engage in gross understatement. Most people are well aware of the recent scandals, starting with the Munich massacre of 1972 and continuing on to bribery allegations and crooked judging, but not as many realize that controversy has dogged the Olympics since at least 1912. It was from these games that superb American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe was stripped of his gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, after it was learned that he had played professional minor league baseball three years earlier.
It is noted that many other “amateur” athletes, including most college players, also competed for such pro leagues in those days, but they were smart enough to use aliases. Moreover, the rulebook for the 1912 Olympics stated that protests had to be made within 30 days from the closing ceremonies of the games. Yet, the first newspaper reports of Thorpe’s misadventures did not appear until January 1913, about six months after the Stockholm Games had concluded.
There is little doubt that the entire affair was motivated by racism, especially when one considers the kid gloves approach the International Olympic Committee took with Berlin in 1936—exploited by the Nazis as their great showcase. In 1936, Ernest Lee Jahncke, son of a German immigrant and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Herbert Hoover, was kicked off the IOC for promoting a boycott of the Hitler games, in which only Aryan German athletes could compete for their country.
Such a boycott was also supported by Jeremiah Mahoney, president of the Amateur Athletic Union, and was picked up by several news outlets. Mahoney noted correctly that racial discrimination was a violation of Olympic rules, and that participation in the Games was tantamount to support for the Third Reich. Al Smith, governor of New York, and James Curley, governor of Massachusetts, also opposed sending a team to Berlin. In the end, Ireland was the only country to boycott the 1936 Olympics.
Germany was to do well in the medals department that year, but there was plenty of home cooking. One example is the cycling match sprint final, in which German Toni Merkens fouled Dutchman Arie van Vliet. Instead of disqualification, though, Merkens was fined 100 Reichsmarks and kept the gold medal.
Jahncke was replaced on the IOC by notorious miscreant, former athlete, and Nazi supporter Avery Brundage, who became president of the International Olympic Committee in 1952. No history of the Olympic movement can omit a discussion of this man, although there was precious little media criticism of him for most of his career.
Brundage is known for being against female competitors; being opposed to restoring Thorpe’s medals, and was the one who reported the matter to the IOC; excluding Jewish track athletes from competing in the 400 meter relay in 1936 as a favor to his buddy Hitler; fathering two children out of wedlock and then trying to cover it up at the time of his elevation to president of the IOC; winning the contract to construct the German embassy right after the 1936 Olympics; and being staunchly opposed to professionalism, except when done by Eastern bloc countries.
As late as 1971, Brundage would remark, “The Berlin Games were the finest in modern history…I will accept no dispute over that fact.” Apparently, all this was cool with the IOC, since Brundage maintained his leadership position for 20 years. He died in 1975 at age 87, two years after marrying a 36-year-old German woman. He is is buried in Chicago, which seems fitting somehow.
It would not be until 1983 that the Committee would finally restore Thorpe’s medals, but even then, they were inexplicably awarded as co-gold medals with the would-be second place finishers Hugo Wieslande and Ferdinand Bie. 71 years after the fact the IOC still could not get it right! This was nearly 30 years after Thorpe’s death, and no doubt had to wait for Brundage to be cold enough in the ground. Thorpe was to acquire numerous honors after death, but he surely could have used some of them while he was alive.
Why the US continues to support this corrupt institution is a mystery, but then so is our support of the UN. Bear in mind that there are world class competitions in all sports now, and the redundancy of the Olympics is not needed.
Not that Chicago had any chance at getting the 2016 games, given rampant anti-American feelings, but the ham-handed efforts of Obama were to drive in the final nail. That this man and his advisers were so tone-deaf to not realize that his appearance could only hurt (Michelle going alone would have been just fine) unfortunately speaks volumes about this amateur presidential administration.
Avery Brundage would have been proud.