Power Players

Passing the torch: Politics clashes with the Olympics, again

Power Players

The Olympics are supposed to be a time when the world comes together for athletic competition, politics is not supposed to be a part of any of it. But it doesn't always work out that way. Most recently of course there is the saga of Mitt Romney. During his trip to London, the presumptive nominee expressed concern about how prepared the city was to host the Olympics, prompting London Mayor Boris Johnson to use Romney's doubts as a rallying cry before a crowd gathered in Hyde Park.

"There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. He wants to know whether we're ready? Are we ready?" he bellowed. "Yes!" screamed the crowd.

Of course, a major part of Romney's biography is how he helped rescue the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, which had in 1998 and 1999 been sullied by allegations of corruption and reports that International Olympic Committee officials had accepted gifts for picking Salt Lake City. Romney swooped in, took control, and the games were ultimately a tremendous success.

To tarnish that shiny record, a Democratic super PAC run by former Obama White House officials, put up a web ad -- and were planning on a TV ad -- using the 2002 opening ceremony to show countries where Romney had invested money, or where he'd allegedly had a hand in outsourcing jobs.

The U.S. Olympic Committee objected to the super PAC's use of the footage, telling them not to air the TV version and to strip it off the web.

A victory for Romney? Not so fast. The committee also announced that no candidate could use Olympic footage, in ads positive or negative, and they would be contacting YouTube to have any such footage taken down.

As much as the International Olympic Committee tries to avoid it, politics often intrudes in the games one way or another, most often it is international politics. Sometimes horrifically, as with the murders of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972.

Domestic politics have also made an appearance. In the 1968 Mexico City games, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racial discrimination in the U.S. with black power salutes on the Olympic podium.

The last time the Olympics became a U.S. campaign issue was 1980. In December 1979 the Soviet Union began invading and occupying Afghanistan, a move the U.S. strongly protested.

"If the Soviets do not immediately withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, within a month, I would not support sending an American team to the [Moscow] Olympics," threatened President Carter in January of 1980.

The USSR did not pull out, and in April the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Don Miller, formally announced that the U.S. would not send a team to the summer games in Moscow.

It became a campaign issue.

Check out this week's Political Punch to watch the Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan hedge his bets on the Olympic boycott, and see more clashes of politics and the Olympics.

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