Articles > Olympic Notebook, Part 8: On boycotts and human rights, then and now
The spectacular nature of the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games was something of a foregone conclusion, as China has obviously taken advantage of the opportunity for a massive PR campaign. To be sure, much beauty of Chinese culture was conveyed, and reports from the Olympics give one the impression that the Chinese people as a whole are out to be gracious hosts and enthusiastic fans.
Still, the specter of human rights issues is always in the background. The Chinese decision to refuse Olympic medalist Joey Cheeks, head of an international group of athletes who have created TeamDarfur.org to call attention to the atrocities that have been occurring there, is an affront to all people who value human life and human freedom.
Among those who made eloquent cases for some sort of boycott, not of the Games as a whole but at least of the opening ceremonies, Jerusalem Post columnist Jeremy Last urged his fellowman and President Shimon Peres to take this step as one way of going on record in protest of China’s policies in these matters.
In Ha’aretz, American University Professor Saul Newman wrote about his grandfather, Rabbi Louis Newman, an avid sports fan (he once brought Lou Gehrig to speak to the children at his shul) who took an active role in advocating for a general boycott of the 1936 Olympics, and drawing parallels to today’s Games.
In the Jewish Standard, Rafael Medoff, a professor of Holocaust studies, shared the story of a basketball team that stood up for the Jews. In the 1930s, before there was any professional basketball of note and well before the NBA had been created, leading college teams were challenging one another for the opportunity to represent the U.S. One team, however, took a stand against the Games to protests the Nazi’s open persecution of the Jews.
In a piece for National Public Radio, Carrie Kahn shared the story of her grandfather, Sam Balter, who ended up being the only Jew selected for the team that went, and his decision to be a part of that team and that trip.
Better known is the story of Marty Glickman , who would later become a much beloved sportscaster. In 1936, Glickman was selected to be on the U.S. track and field team, but a clearly anti-Semitic Avery Brundage, then head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, eager to avoid causing any embarrassment to Hitler, saw to it that Glickman and fellow Jewish teammate Sam Stoller were denied the chance to compete.
Though many were outraged, few were surprised when, nearly 30 years later, in the wake of the murder of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the same Avery Brundage, by then head of the International Olympic Committee, in a memorial attended by 3,000 athletes and 80,000 spectators the day after the murder, hardly made a reference to the murdered Israelis while praising the strength of the Olympic movement.
Perhaps the final word belongs to Russian Natalia Paterina, who took silver in the 10m air pistol competition, and Nino Salukvadze of Georgia, who took bronze in early round competition in Beijing. In the wake of hostilities that have broken out between their two countries in recent days, the two embraced on the winners' podium, and proclaimed words to the effect of “If the world would draw any lessons from us there wouldn’t be any wars.”
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