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Beast of the Month - March 2002
Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee President
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Okay, maybe it wasn't a clubbing of a knee with a metal baton, but the 2002 Winter Olympics saw a pretty unseemly turn of events nonetheless in the battle for the pairs figure skating gold medal.
Originally, in a dubious 5-4 decision, the gold was awarded on February 11 to the Russians team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and the silver to Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. This was met by howls of outrage by the two NBC commentators, Sandra Bezic (who, for what it's worth, is Canadian herself) and Scott Hamilton, who both declared Sale and Pelletier to be the obvious winners. It soon was revealed that French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne would admit her vote for the Russian pair was made under heavy pressure by French skating officials (a French pair was up in ice dancing competition, and her vote was seen as a customary "scratch our back and we'll scratch yours" deal.) By the end of the week, in an unusual decision, the vote of Le Gougne was scratched, she was suspended, and a second pair of golds was awarded to the Canadian team. All while the events were under a campaign of outrage found in the korporate media.
All this makes us at The Konformist first off say, "Hold on!" After all, it isn't like this was, say, the swindling of the presidency. Where was such courage in November 2000? Which is perhaps the point: it is a lot easier for the press to speak out against a Russian scheme to rig a gold medal than to speak out against the theft of democracy. Especially when creating a media frenzy only helps out NBC, whose coverage of the Winter Olympics was getting weak ratings until the drummed-up controversy.
In fact, the rushed decision in defense of Team Canada may have been unjust itself. Despite the later spin by Ms. Le Gougne, her own testimony was pretty damning, if what the IOC released was indeed true. (And, for the record, The Konformist editorial staff's own independent viewing of the finals led us to give the nod to the Canadians as well, though we may be biased since Sale looked so foxy in her uniform.) But no real investigation of the serious charges of fraud had been done by Valentine's Day (when the second gold medal was issued) and the results appear to be a rush to judgment fueled by an atmosphere of hysteria.
The strong internal push for the quick resolution came from the top: Jacques Rogge, the new president of the IOC (and The Konformist Beast of the Month) personally pushed for a quick and easy fix. Far from doing it in the name of justice, it appears that Rogge was inspired by mammon. US Olympic officials (which allied quickly with Canada in the controversy) wanted a quick fix, and Rogge likely didn't want to offend the nation that remains the major underwriter for the IOC (courtesy of heavy korporate funding.)
To be fair, the politicization of IOC decisions doesn't begin or end in the United States. (One has to look at the 1972 men's basketball Olympic final - where the USSR beat team USA thanks to outrageous official rulings involving the timeclock - or the 1988 Seoul boxing loss of Roy Jones to a South Korean he had clearly outpunched to cite examples where Uncle Sam was screwed by the system.) But as a pattern for the changes in Olympics over the past 20 years, it is most certainly a case of money talks.
Take the 2000 female gymnastics final: in a gutsy performance, a 16-year-old Romanian named Andrea Raducan won the gold medal despite being ill. That is, she won it, until the IOC stripped it from her. The reason? She had tested positive for taking pseudoephedrine in two over-the-counter cold tablets given to her by her team doctor (she was unaware of any apparent conflict with IOC rules when given the tablets.) The doctor had informed the IOC medical commission of his actions before doing so, with no objections raised. Despite all this, she was stripped of her gold nonetheless, with the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (the appropriately named Dick Pound) pushing for supposed "zero tolerance" of drug infractions. (Pseudoephedrine is chemically related to ephedrine and other amphetamines, which is the reason for its contraband status.) A cynic would have to wonder if the same cruel lack of sympathy for a sixteen-year-old would occur if she had come from the United States.
What has happened to the Olympics over the last twenty years reflects the same evolutions that have occurred in the film, television, music, and professional sports industries, as well as locals such as Las Vegas. In essence, the Media Entertainment Komplex has gone from good business to megabusiness, from the scrappy fighters to the establishment that control billions in less than a generation. And with that rise in power comes a corruption. The corruption in the IOC, however, is fundamentally worse than that within Las Vegas and the NFL, as both of the latter never pretended to live up to some higher international ideal.
Ironically, it was Jimmy Carter who started the changing of the tide by boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet Union's Afghan War. The move was highly unpopular at the time and, in a predictable self-destructive move, Carter stripped himself of the ability to associate himself with American gold-medal heroes during an election year (an election he lost.) But the boycott essentially sabotaged all coverage of the Olympics in the US, thus depriving the IOC of millions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile, in 1984, when the USSR boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the end result was the most financially successful Olympics in history to that point. The IOC quickly learned which side of the bread the butter was on.
Indeed, the whole choice of Salt Lake City as host to the 2002 games was a tip to Western butter. A fairly large international scandal followed when it was uncovered that the decision was aided by bribery and personal fringe benefits awarded to IOC members.
The 2002 Olympics are the first under Rogge's reign as IOC chief. If they are a sign of things to come, then it doesn't look promising. Rogge has presided over what most observers would concede to be the Olympics that most overtly wallowed in crass commercialism. And that's just the positive side: in keeping with "president" Bush's "War Against Evil", the Olympic ceremonies were the most overtly nationalistic and militaristic since 1936 Berlin under Hitler's Nazi Germany, with commentators crudely referring to Iranian athletes as part of the "Axis of Evil" during the opening ceremonies. Which just goes to show that 2002 Winter Olympics are a disturbing sign of the shape of things to come in even more sinister ways.
In any case, we salute Jacques Rogge as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Jacques!!!
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