Olympic Protests 101

Sunday, 9th February 2014 at 12:25 UTC Leave a comment

I thought seeing as everyone is getting into the Olympic Protest Spirit, I might do a quick history post. You’d almost think that Sochi was especially protested as Olympiad’s go. So here’s a run down of recent (and not so recent) Olympic Protests.

London 2012: 180 arrests before the games were officially declared open (3 times more than Sochi’s first 24hours). Issues include destruction of local homes and communities. At the Paralympics, many British athletes ‘tuck-in’ their ATOS lanyards and a crowd of 80,000 booed chancellor George Osborne during a medal award ceremony.

Vancouver 2010: First Nations Canadians protest the theft and desecration of their lands to build the mountain venues, as well as appropriation of cultural symbols. Four years before the games opened, 20 environmentalists were arrested, 2 later imprisoned, for opposing the building of a highway between mountain and city venues through wilderness. Protesters smashed windows of shops sponsoring the games. The government’s huge spending came under fire, and protests focused heavily on the relocating and criminalising of poorer residents of Vancouver.

Beijing 2008: Human rights protests across the globe, as the torch is attacked on several occasions. 300,000 residents were evicted for stadium building, and many were arrested for protesting against their fate. The International Labour Organisation also reported on very high numbers of undocumented workers labouring in very dangerous conditions without protections. The Japanese Government protested the crackdown on the independence movement in Tibet.

Torino 2006: A local Imam was expelled from Italy for hardline views shortly before the games, amidst growing fears of Islamist protests surrounding the ‘Danish Mohammed Cartoon’. Local protest organisers targeted Coca-Cola and other brands, whilst other opposed a new high-speed rail line between Torino and Lyon. A more general anti-corporate feeling was present, with protesters accusing the games of forcing locals to live in a militarised city.

Athens 2004: Apart from the defrocked Catholic priest from Ireland who disrupted the men’s marathon to warn of the end of the world, Athens protests focused around unsafe building practices and the killing of 10,000 stray dogs. Culls of stray animals prior to Olympiads seem quite common. with Sochi officials being accused of the same. Earlier in 2004, USATODAY reported a protest by 150 people unfurling banners reading “Bribes, Doping and Concrete: the Olympic Ideals”, and describing the Olympics as a plague.

Salt Lake City 2002: So many were the groups planning protests that, with 2 months to go, the organisers announced a designated “Free Speech Zone”, a pen to keep protesters happy but largely invisible. The NY Times lists the topics as “disabled, animal rights, gay rights, human rights, abortion, polygamy, homelessness, poverty, prison reform, sentencing guidelines, wilderness programs, various religions and a local incinerator.” Afterwards, it was the judging of various competitions, not least figure skating, that had caused the biggest protests.

Sydney 2000: Race and aboriginal rights came up, although contemporaneous reports say they didn’t get the expected turnout.

OK, so that’s a very recent list of protests and issues surrounding Olympic Games since 2000. I could keep going backwards. If I wanted to include issues from the perspective of The Right, I could include the Atlanta 1996 bombing – a protest against abortion. The Olympics has always come with a crack down on freedom of speech, to protect both the host nation and the brands that provide a large chunk of the funds in return for brand exposure.

In fact, the issue most people across the globe are championing isn’t even the most immediately pressing to many Russians, who are broadly supportive of Putin’s Section 28-style anti-LGBT legislation. Whatever you make of the Chechen independence claim, it remains the big issue and the one most likely to lead to bloodshed during these games. The Chechens aren’t the only independence movement with an axe to grind over these Olympics.

The City of Sochi itself is the site of mass graves from the ethnic cleansing of Circassians by advancing Russian forces exactly 150 years ago. Their descendants have kept a peaceful, if largely overlooked, campaign for justice whilst the Russian government has refused to accept their accounts of events in 1864. In fact, the name of the mountain area where the snowsports events will be contested is “Krasna Polyana”, or Red Glade, named for the blood shed by Russian invaders at the Circassian’s last big stand. Comparisons have been made to hosting a Gettysburg Olympics or, on the most extreme end, an Auschwitz Olympics. Putin wants this area to be Russia’s new must-visit holiday resort, and, like Chechnya, to remain resolutely Russian. And then there’s the oil, with Gazprom the big winners.

If these Olympics protests are being highlighted more than previous, what does it say about our commitment to indigenous rights, workers safety, poor communities in rich cities that are swept out to clean up the image of the host city? Have LGBT rights just become a toy of the efforts to undermine a resurgent Russia and maintain Western supremacy?


NB: I realise I’ve skipped out all sorts of interesting protest history from 20th Century Olympiads. I was writing a blog post, not a book! Missing links to sources are all from Wikipedia.


Entry filed under: Activism, History, Human Rights, Olympics, Russia, Sports.

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