The Olympics: a reflection of society under capitalism

The Olympics: a reflection of society under capitalism

The Olympic games are here again and while it’s sold to us a demonstration of peace and solidarity and the finest humans have to offer, it is often anything but that. In fact, in many ways, it is a reflection of the very worst of society under capitalism.

The modern Olympics were established with the highest ideals, and a desire to foster peace. Instead they have become little more than a display of nationalistic pride and flag waving by nations who co-opt the efforts of the athletes to further their own schemes. From the very first games this has been demonstrated when the 1896 games in Athens led to a surge in Greek nationalism, and an eventual war with Turkey in 1897.

The rich countries of the West also get the chance to reinforce their perceived superiority over the rest as the Games are heavily weighted in their favour. From the very beginning the Games were set up by European elites and built on western sports. Many non-western countries have long histories of indigenous sports and games that were ignored and continue to be. In response to this, Brazil saw the hosting of the first World Indigenous Games in 2015 where over 2,000 participating indigenous athletes from 30 countries, including 43 Māori athletes, competed in a variety of sporting events. These ranged from a few Western-style competitions (football, athletics) to many indigenous traditional games, such as xikunahity, a football-style game in which the ball is controlled only with the head.

Added to the disadvantage for the poorer nations is that most athletes, if they are to be successful on the global stage, require a fair amount of social and financial support for training, facilities and travel. This means that better off countries usually do better. For the Olympic games to be genuinely open and fair there would need to be vast improvements in health care and education for participants from low-income nations.

Not only is the Olympics an excuse for chest-thumping, but it also represents the worst kind of gross commercialisation and exploitation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) collects massive wealth from its product but, like all such multi-national corporate institutions, the workers, in this case the athletes, get very little of the wealth they generate, while the executives at the top reap huge rewards.

The IOC stands to earn more than ever from this year’s Olympics as they take their share of the revenues, which are expected to be upwards of a record US$ 9billion. Although the IOC states that they plough ninety per cent of revenues back into supporting athletes, many say the crumbs that eventually fall from the top table are not enough. A recent study showed that just 6 per cent of the money generated by the Olympics goes back to athletes as salaries. The reality for the average US athlete is a salary of $16,533 according to figures collected by The Washington Post. Those from many other countries receive less. In 2014 Canada found that the country’s elite athletes spent $13,900 per year more than they earn, while in New Zealand, there are probably just five New Zealand athletes who could make enough money from the sport to class themselves as professionals, according to Athletics NZ Sport Manager Brett Addison, while other athletes don’t receive nearly enough to live on.

The reality is that while the billions flooding in may make Rio 2016 the richest Olympics ever, away from the elite athletes, who admittedly do well as they reap their rewards in endorsements from companies desperate to be linked with their celebrity status, most of the athletes will see almost none of the wealth they generate. At the top of the IOC chain it is a different matter. The “volunteer” president, Thomas Bach, gets an annual “allowance” of $251,000 and lives rent-free in a five-star hotel and spa in Switzerland, which recently priced its cheapest suite at $1,068 per night. Other IOC members, a distinguished group that includes various members of Europe’s royal houses, also enjoy generous perks. When on IOC business, members fly first-class, stay in luxury hotels, and also get cash for expenses at the rate of $450 per day for regular IOC members, and $900 per day for the IOC’s executive committee. These rates also apply to the Games themselves, which means in Rio some IOC members will get paid more to watch the Olympics than many athletes will get paid to compete in the Olympics.

In addition to the athletes being exploited the poor of Rio de Janeiro have also been bearing the brunt of the games. Since Rio was chosen to host the Olympics at least 22,059 families, a total of 77,206 people, have been displaced due to the infrastructure projects required for the Olympic games. These evictions have affected mostly Rio’s per such as those living in Vila Autódromo, a favela that had been home to some 900 families, and was almost entirely demolished to make room for Barra Olympic Park, a cluster of nine sporting arenas where much of the action is taking place.

In return for their money given to the Olympic movement, the official sponsors get to exclusively bombard the spectators with messages and images about their products. Of course we won’t see images from official sponsors of those who make their products and profits, like the highly exploited workers toiling in poor conditions at low pay to make sports gear. Nor will Coca Cola and McDonalds sponsorship be questioned by those taking their money, despite their products being of dubious nutritional value and a contributor to the obesity epidemic affecting much of the world – the very antithesis of what the Olympics is supposed to be about.

In fact the IOC’s official charter forbids the expression of anti-Olympic dissent, stating in Rule 51, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Yet the whole charade is based around the promotion and reinforcement of values that suit capitalism. While we sit there consuming sports such as the Olympics we are also taking in the assumptions that life is a competition, that most of the rewards go to the winners, and that losers have only themselves to blame in that they weren’t good enough, or never worked hard enough.

So what’s an anarchist to do during the Olympic spectacle? We could just ignore them, which can actually cause some consternation among those who suddenly discover an appetite for athletics and other sports once every four years; better still we could actively oppose the Games, by writing articles like this one, circulating leaflets, holding protests, and boycotting sponsors among other things.

Or, to show that we are not killjoys, maybe an even better option would be to support the previously mentioned World Indigenous Games; or even promote our own alternative games, and there is a precedent for this. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were a number “workers’ games” which avoided much of the nationalism of the Olympics. These included Workers’ Olympics in Frankfurt (1925), in Vienna (1931) and Antwerp (1937). There were also four alternative Women’s Olympics held in Paris (1922), Gothenburg (1926), Prague (1930), and London (1934). A People’s Olympiad was also planned for Barcelona in 1936 after the decision by the Spanish republic to boycott the Berlin games as they correctly sensed they would be a platform to the glorification of Nazism. Unfortunately these never went ahead as the country was plunged into civil war shortly before they were due to start.

So here’s to the Anarchist Olympic games to be held in 2020. I’m not sure what events there would be (that’s another discussion) but they would be a games that will surely highlight mutual aid over competition, solidarity over nationalism, and equality over crass commercialisation.

Posted By

Aug 16 2016 22:58


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Aug 18 2016 01:59
In fact the IOC’s official charter forbids the expression of anti-Olympic dissent, stating in Rule 51, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Yet the whole charade is based around the promotion and reinforcement of values that suit capitalism. While we sit there consuming sports such as the Olympics we are also taking in the assumptions that life is a competition, that most of the rewards go to the winners, and that losers have only themselves to blame in that they weren’t good enough, or never worked hard enough.

The truth at last.

Aug 23 2016 22:32

Good article. And the Olympics doesn't just disproportionately reward athletes from the richer countries, but also athletes from wealthier backgrounds. As for lots of the sports you need to be wealthy to do them in the first place, or to be able to be supported by family while you do them for little or no pay. Just under a third of the U.K.'s medal winners went to private school, whereas only about 7% of the population go to private school:

Aug 29 2016 11:42

The so-called "Worker's Olympics" certainly did not "highlight mutual aid over competition". First of all, the 1925 Frankfurt Games were organised by the SPD, and none of the people actually involved in the organisation of the Games had a "track record" of opposition to WW1, for example (isn't that interesting). In second place, the Games were organised fundamentally because Germany hadn't been invited to the previous edition of the Olympics (Antwerp, if my memory serves me right), not because, as the organisers said, they were all about internationalism and opposing the nasty nationalism promoted by the IOC.

But the biggest thing missing here is a refection on how sport doesn't need to be crassly commercialised, politically manipulated, etc., in order to be a fundamental manifestation of capitalism from a wealth of points of view, something which the scumbag Coubertin understood perfectly well (the future fellow traveler of the Nazis was wholeheartedly favourable to "workers's sport").

A great deal more could be said about all this, but I'll leave it at: take your "worker's sport" and your Anarchist Olympic Games and shove them up your libertarian and workerist bums...

Serge Forward
Aug 28 2016 10:33
take your "worker's sport" and your Anarchist Olympic Games and shove them up your libertarian and workerist bums...

Welcome to Libcom, nization. You make some interesting points. Now how about you drop the more insulting bits for your second post?

Serge Forward
Aug 28 2016 10:34


Aug 28 2016 17:59

Hello Serge,

I completely agree and even apologize for the insulting bits post-festum. They had much more to do with expediency than with the intent to be personally offensive. I must say, however, that the love for all things "worker" and in particular for something as radically capitalistic (meaning at the root) as sport by UK radicals never ceases to amaze me...

Without getting into more detail here and apologising in advance for any poor analogies, may I suggest that further reflection on sport (supposedly "worker's" or not, as if that truly made a difference) take into account what Marx had to say about cotton, potatoes and spirits?:

"Why are cotton, potatoes and spirits the pivots of bourgeois society? Because the least amount of labor is needed to produce them, and, consequently, they have the lowest price. Why does the minimum price determine the maximum consumption? Is it by any chance because of the absolute utility of these objects, their intrinsic utility, their utility insomuch as they correspond, in the most useful manner, in the needs of the worker as a man, and not to the man as a worker? No, it is because in a society founded on poverty the poorest products have the fatal prerogative of being used by the greatest number."

(Will someone now come forth and make a defence of "proletarian" cotton, "proletarian" potatoes and "proletarian" spirits? Heaven help us if that lot gets in!)

Aug 28 2016 17:56

A considerable body of work on the critique of sports has been elaborated since the late 60's in France in particular, but not exclusively. It seems to me, though, that the vast majority of writing on this subject in the Anglosphere revolves on "saving" sport from capital, and even redeeming it for the working class, i. e., on making capital(ism) safe (and ideologically cool) for the working class...

Therefore, though open to debate (if time allows), I must reiterate that, ultimately, I'm way more inclined to side with those who say FUCK THE PROLETARIAT! than with those who wish to pretend that there are such things as "working class communities" with a "culture" to be preserved by all means...

Aug 30 2016 09:03

Better still, now that you've got me started, allow me to quote from a translated fragment of a lengthy book written originally in Spanish that may also, hopefully, get you involved in a debate I may have little time for (unfortunately, I'm inordinately busy for the time being). Voilà:

[pp. 115-127]

Towards the end of the 19th century, an entire positivistic and bourgeois philosophy of sport had already been set forth and embraced by all manner of statesmen, politicians and ideologues, all of whom emphasized the pedagogic role sport could play as a form of symbolic competition and unanimously considered it an excellent way of integrating social tensions. The leading promoter of this ideology was the French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937). Whereas England was the birthplace of competitive and performance-oriented sport, and Germany fostered a gymnastics which revolved around normative-aesthetic discipline, the specific contribution of France to the genesis of modern sport was to surround it with an ideological halo making of it the embodiment of democratic values, ambassador of universal harmony, and herald of peace among nations.
Up until that point, the prevailing notion of physical education in France had been based on gymnastics, and was hostile to English sport. According to Coubertin, these gymnastic methods were “too rigid”, and had to be displaced by sport in order to “liberate the energy that France needs to become a conqueror” [International Pierre de Coubertin Committee 1969: 3]. The Baron declared war on the motto mens sana in corpore sano, which he regarded as “simply a hygienic instruction, which is based, like all other similar instructions, on the adoration of measure, restraint, the golden mean…” [L. Simonović 2004], and also categorically denied that the fundamental aim of sport was the cultivation of physical and mental health. This is the canonical definition of sport offered by Coubertin in his Pédagogie Sportive:

Sport is a voluntary and regular cult of intensive muscular exercises motivated by a desire for progress and which is not afraid of risk. So, five concepts: initiative, persistence, intensity, pursuit of perfection, acceptance of possible risks. These five concepts are crucial and basic. [P. Coubertin 1934: 7]

From a general standpoint, Coubertin considered the spread of sports as part of a universal propagandistic endeavour aiming to inculcate all of humanity with a liberal and positivistic worldview; as a more immediate and pressing objective, however, the Baron had in mind the physical regeneration of France’s bourgeois youth (whose education he felt had been abandoned to “intellectualism”) in order to turn out the leaders that the French Third Republic needed in order to embark upon a successful campaign of imperialistic expansionism.
Upon learning about the sports pedagogy developed by Deacon Thomas Arnold of Rugby School, which he visited in 1883, Coubertin believed he had found the model of educational reform he was looking for. However, despite the great esteem in which he held the “ethical framework” of English sportsmanship, this appreciation paled in comparison to the utter enthrallment that the power of the British Empire held for him. The Baron was convinced that the key to Britain’s supremacy lay in the sporting education bestowed upon its elite, which he deemed responsible for the production of attitudes, individuals and leaders unlike those of the rest of the civilized world. In his opinion, the Duke of Wellington’s observation according to which the victory of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton reflected the fact that the British were capable of working together for the achievement of common goals due to a “team spirit” lacking in other nations at the time.
Indeed, all the evidence at hand seems to suggest that the roots of Coubertin’s sporting passion lay in anything but “philanthropic and altruistic motivations”. We know for a fact that when still a child, the Baron was traumatized both by France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and by its immediate consequence: the proclamation of the Commune by the Parisian proletariat, and the ensuing panic that the burning of the city caused among his elders, an event which he “witnessed as a terrified spectator from the windows of the castle of Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse” [Y-P. Boulongne 1998: 5] . (“The communist insurrection broke out in Paris and as a result our misfortunes reached their limit. Despite the attempts to ascribe to this movement a socialist and humanitarian character it never had, time, which mitigates so many things, has done nothing to diminish the horror of the sombre memories of 1871. The murders of Leconte and Clement Thomas, the second siege of Paris, the orgies and the buffooneries of the Commune, all swept through France like a nightmare.” [P. de Coubertin, L’Evolution française sous la Troisième République,]. Throughout his entire life, Pierre de Coubertin was not only a liberal reformer, an advocate of colonialism and a devoted positivist, but also an outspoken and militant opponent of socialism and libertarianism. According to Jean-Marie Brohm, one of the pioneers of the radical critique of sport, Coubertin “is one of the most consistent bourgeois thinkers, for whom all means are permissible to imbue the proletariat with a sense of order, submission and discipline” [Betancor MA Leon, AS Almeida Aguiar 2002: 3].
The Baron never conceived the “restored” Olympic Games strictly as a “ceremony devoted to peace”, but as a “sacred truce” among the “civilized” nations, during which these would temporarily put aside their struggle for world supremacy in order to pay homage to the conquering spirit that he believed ruled the world. Indeed, the modern Olympic movement did not emerge from the fraternal and well-meaning confluence of hypothetical «progressive» and «humanist» forces eager to promote understanding and goodwill among peoples, but as a project for the spiritual integration of the aristocratic, capitalist and military elites of the major powers of the West, powers sharing the will to tap new sources of raw materials, exploit reserves of cheap labour and acquire new markets. In other words, “what enabled Coubertin’s Olympic idea to become a global spiritual power was the fact that it appeared as an ideological crest of imperialism” [L. Simonović 2004]. In fact, the “great humanist” was unabashedly racist (and cynical) in this respect:

To claim that no one is entitled to Europeanize other peoples, that ethnic religions have the same value as Christianity, that the members of the black or yellow races differ from the white man, but are of equal value as men… all of that is endearing sophistry, the validity of which is defended in smoking lounges. But it completely lacks any worth or effectiveness: it represents a paradox associated with decline, and even if it may bring a faint smile to our faces, it must never be adopted as the basis of a standard of conduct [Y-P. Boulongne 1998:125].

In his quest to enthrone sport and thoughtless agonistic activism as a strategic bulwark for the defence and reinforcement of modern bourgeois society, one has to admit that the “Divine Baron” displayed great versatility in adapting himself to the specific political constellation of the moment. At the beginning of his “epic journey”, Coubertin sought above all to use the Olympics as a means to militarize the European bourgeoisie (especially the French) and exhort it to conquer Asia and Africa by fire and sword. However, he was subsequently forced to accept that this ambition was rather unrealistic, and in light of the British colonial experience (particularly in India), decided to advocate sport as an “intelligent and effective means” to make peoples subjugated by the West renounce the struggle against their colonizers, and internalize the social order imposed on them. Indeed, the Baron firmly believed that, unlike the traditional games of African and Asian peoples, only Western sports were civilizing endeavours. Hence, in principle, he was in favour of spreading the “benefits of athletic civilization” among the colonies as an integral aspect of the civilizing mission of the European West.
Nonetheless, in the event that sport might prove an involuntary means of dispelling the myth of the superiority of the white race, Coubertin called for caution. He did not champion the promotion of sport among the “lower races” at all costs, but only in those cases in which it could be used to strengthen the control of the “master race”. Therefore, he recommended colonial authorities to allow “natives” to take part only in those sports less likely to inflame nationalist sentiment.
In any case, the Baron envisaged defeat on the sports field as a lesser evil, a tactical setback that could in fact be decisive in order to attain the strategic goal: to divert the aspirations of the “lower races” towards emancipation, so as to ensure that these remained integrated within the global colonial order. The sporting rivalry between the colonized and the colonizers could serve the purpose of compensating the former for giving up the struggle to shake off the yoke of the latter. Therefore, Coubertin was in no way averse to opening the doors of his république sportive to the oppressed, particularly at a critical crossroads for the established order:

What makes inequality unbearable for those who suffer it, is above all its tendency to perpetuate injustice; and men rise up against it because it is both permanent and unjustified. If it were temporary and justified, it would have no enemies. Now, let us observe that if in other fields it is almost impossible to establish such conditions, in the sports republic they impose themselves on their own. [P. Coubertin “Ce que nous pouvons demander au sport”, lecture delivered on February 24, 1918 at the Association of Liberal Hellenics of Lausanne]

The most trivial and fleeting consequence of Coubertin’s contact with British sport was his adoption of the aristocratic-bourgeois notion of amateurism, which he attempted to spread all over the world since the Athens Olympics of 1896. (“Sport produces an elite with a greater inclination toward the hierarchical values of the aristocracy”, he would write in Pédagogie sportive). However, many years later, in an interview with the French sports daily L’Auto, shortly after the 1936 Olympics, he dissociated himself from this notion and stated somewhat cryptically that he had never been an advocate of amateurism, which he called a “stupid English conception […] applicable only to a few millionaires”, but solely of the “sporting spirit”. [W. J. Murray 1998: 53]
From the very beginning of the development of the discourse of amateurism, the ruling classes adopted the notion of fair play as an ideological buttress. Coubertin wished to associate this moral code, which sublimates the alleged values and virtues of the aristocracy, with the spirit of the Olympic truce of Antiquity. That was his great innovation: to turn fair play into a prudish fig-leaf for the capitalist jungle. Thus, according to the ideology of Olympism, “fair play” represents a form of understanding and loyalty in competition which paves the way to amity, coexistence and cooperation between peoples, whereas the truth of the matter is that the fetish of “fair play” is an essential element for the internalization of rules and decisions issued by abstract and alien bodies inside and outside the playing field. Fair play is a synonym for “social peace”:

We see that sporting inequality is based on justice, because the individual owes his success to his natural qualities, enhanced by his voluntary effort. […] These are all interesting data for democracy. […] Sporting authority is necessarily the result of recognized and accepted merit. To choose the captain of a football team or a rowboat for any other reason than his technical prowess would compromise the team’s success. On the other hand, if a miscalculated pressure weighs on every member of the team and completely restricts individual liberty, its disastrous effects will be immediately felt. So the conscious lesson, the need for command, control, unity, is reaffirmed in the eyes of the athlete, while the very nature of the camaraderie surrounding him forces him to see in his teammates both collaborators and rivals at the same time, which, from a philosophical point of view, is the ideal principle of any democratic society.

If to all this we add that sport creates an atmosphere of absolute sincerity for the simple reason that it is impossible to falsify its results, which can be scored to a greater or lesser degree and whose control by everyone gives them their only value (the athlete will reap no profit from cheating himself), we must conclude that the little sports republic is a sort of a miniature of the ideal democratic State. [P. Coubertin, “Ce que nous pouvons demander au sport”, lecture delivered on February 24, 1918 at the Association of Liberal Hellenics of Lausanne]

Another of the many ideological distortions perpetrated by Coubertin and which no doubt would have shocked the ancient Greeks, whose goal was always to win and stand out from all others, and who recognized only one winner, was the adoption of the motto: “the important thing in life is not victory but struggle, the essential is not to have won but to have fought well”, which was allegedly pronounced by the Bishop of Pennsylvania in St. Paul’s Cathedral during a Mass dedicated to the London Olympics in 1908 and which Coubertin subsequently adopted.
Nonetheless, the motto “what matters is not winning but taking part” was well suited to the requirements of the age of imperialism. At a time when the rules of free trade were giving way to a relentless struggle to wipe out competitors by any means possible rather than politely inviting them to “participate” in the pillaging of the colonies (whose inhabitants, for that matter, were not invited to participate in any way, shape or form) it was imperative that the imperialist bourgeoisie of each nation symbolically associate “its” working class to the imperial mission. In addition to getting used to being the first ones to soak up the “art of losing” regarding their own class interests, workers were to learn to consider the victories of their exploiters as “theirs”. Thus the ideology of Olympism merged the bonding aspects and rituals of the Greek Olympics with the main feature of Roman gladiatorial spectacles, i.e., reducing the “masses” to passivity.
Coubertin was thus perfectly aware that he was developing an ideology intended not only to facilitate the exercise of power by the elite but also to pacify and lull the exploited populations of the metropolis and the colonies. At the same time, he aspired for Olympism not only to become the supreme “spiritual” power of the modern age, but to wipe out or push all other ideological or religious manifestations into the background as well. Coubertin’s project, much more ambitious than Anglo-Saxon “muscular Christianity”, made no provisions for the existence of any hypothetical worlds “beyond” the established order, which therefore became the embodiment of the only ideal world it was legitimate to aspire to. Far from promoting Christian religiosity among middle class youth, the supreme goal of Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy”, as well as the foundation of his religio athletae, was to uproot it and replace it with a fanatical positivism. It was no coincidence that Coubertin reiterated time and time again that he considered his Olympic creed first and foremost to be a “cult of the existing world”. In this new faith, attendance to church would be replaced by attendance to stadiums, and the place of prayers and ascetic life would be taken by physical exercise and sports competitions. Indeed, the Baron insisted on the superiority of Christianity over other religions only because he hoped to establish a strategic alliance between the Olympic Movement and the Catholic Church for a joint crusade against the cultural heritage of “coloured peoples”.
Thus, in the “sports republic” the criterion of social integration does not lie in the explicit adoption of specific principles and views, but in a belligerent, automatic and “spontaneous” physical activism, guided by a “knowledge” of the world which is limited to the experience of the struggle for “victory” and by relationships among human beings governed by the principle of bellum omnium contra omnes.
Since, according to Coubertin, human societies are ruled by the law of the survival of the fittest, the crucible in which the character of a “model citizen” (which must be provided with the relevant forms of physical expression) was to be forged could be none other than the “war of all against all”. And given that the mainstay of his “utilitarian pedagogy” was an elitist and individualistic bourgeois male, he always held individual sports to be superior to team sports, although it could be that his contempt for the latter stemmed from the fact that records (one of the fundamental sacraments of his religio athletae) played no role at all in them. In any case, this predilection reveals the aristocratic-reactionary slant of Coubertin’s conception of sport, because during that same time period the English bourgeoisie was already placing the accent on team sports and prejudices against women’s participation in sports were beginning to recede.
Regarding the latter issue, it must be said that Coubertin fanatically opposed equal rights among men and women as well as their presence in the public sphere throughout his entire life. In 1912, while defining the essence of Olympism as “a solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism with internationalism as a base, loyalty as a means, arts for its setting, and female applause as reward”, the IOC formally banned female participation in the Olympics. During the 17th Session of the IOC, held in 1914, the Australian and South African delegates proposed that women be allowed to take part in tennis, swimming, skating and fencing events. Coubertin, furious at the growing power of the sports federations, which threatened to spoil “his” Games, threatened to resign if the voting results should leave him in the minority, and also proposed that the Australian delegate chair the session and even the IOC, if that were agreed upon by those present.
Many years later, the IOC continued to oppose female athletics tooth and nail, with the exception of a handful of “appropriate” events to be held outside of the official programme. Precisely in connection with a controversy concerning team sports, which he continued to insist on considering of “secondary” importance, Coubertin reluctantly admitted the possibility of holding women’s events alongside team sports if there was no alternative:

It follows from what I have said that the true Olympic hero is in my view the adult male individual. Must team sports therefore be excluded? […] I personally do not approve of the participation of women in public competitions, which is not to say they must abstain from practising a great number of sports, provided that they do not make a public spectacle of themselves. In the Olympics games, as in the contests of former times, their primary role should be to crown the victors. [Y-P. Boulongne 2000: 24]

However, just as the liberal-democratic doctrine excluded the working class and women for a long time but eventually proved capable of overcoming this limitation while remaining essentially unchanged, despite the objections of its founder, the Olympic doctrine eventually attracted not only the working class and “coloured peoples” to its spiritual orbit, but women as well.
In short and upon closer examination, in Coubertin’s conception sport had already emerged as the vehicle par excellence for the spectacular harmonization of the contradiction between equality of opportunity and social inequality. Where political, legal and economic mystification was bound to fail, sport could and would succeed. Thus, sport and the democratic discourse were to converge in the fulfilment of a crucial universal ideological mission: the diversion and containment of the social tensions provoked by capitalist modernity. However, it would be perfectly legitimate to reverse this perspective and consider that the ultimate goal of the modern democratic discourse is none other than the permanent sportification of social conflict.

Aug 29 2016 22:45

A very good and most interesting article. Personally I happen to feel the same way as Prof.Chomsky when it comes to sport, with what he says in this clip from the Manufacturing Consent documentary:

Aug 30 2016 08:50

Hi Potrokin,

You seem to have forgot to post the link... (or are you trying to find it?)

Aug 30 2016 09:15

This seems to be the one:

Not bad, but any "instrumental" view of sport is both old hat and fundamentally mistaken, and tends to lead up, in the best of cases, to statements such as "sport is fascist", instead of looking at how fascism was deeply "sporting" in itself... or in the worst, to ridiculous vindications of "worker's sport...

Aug 30 2016 09:22

Essentially, while consent may be "manufactured" (what is not? It's a commodity too, isn't it?), it sprouts very "spontaneously" from the soil of capitalist social relations...

Aug 30 2016 12:09
nization wrote:
I must say, however, that the love for all things "worker" and in particular for something as radically capitalistic (meaning at the root) as sport by UK radicals never ceases to amaze me...

Just on this particular point, it is factually inaccurate as most of the sports in the Olympics predate the existence of capitalism, and therefore cannot be inherently capitalistic

Aug 30 2016 15:28

I understand the argument about professional sport as spectacle and that the Olympics is hyper-capitalistic, corrupt and nationalistic, but some people enjoy participating in sport. To condemn all sport as inherently fascistic or capitalistic is a bit sweeping.

Aug 30 2016 20:18

Actually, Steven, the "factual innacuracy" of that point would depend very much on one's definition of "sport". Let me quote again:

Far from shedding light on the links between past and present, the vast majority of sports historians peruse plentiful sources on popular festivities, which they then combine with others that deal with pastimes of the nobility, such as hunting and military training, to which they finally add a few children’s games as an extra morsel, thus consecrating a mythological entity christened with the monstrous denomination of “primitive sport”. In lieu of a history of popular festivities, aristocratic leisure or children’s games, sports historians discover in many traditional games the elementary embryos that would necessarily develop into modern sports, as if the latter were but the “natural” extension of traditional games and popular pastimes. It is they who are truly primitive. When the only criterion that a game or an athletic endeavour has to satisfy in order to be classified as a “sport” is to be a “competitive” bodily endeavour that is formally oriented towards the achievement of a “result”, casting the dark shadow of contemporary sporting prehistory onto the entire ludic and festive history of humanity becomes an easy task. [...]

Despite the fact that most modern sports define themselves as games and constantly claim to descend from them, everything surrounding them conspires to remove them further and further away from them.

Where play is involved, since “material results” are not the pivot around which everything turns, the respective “sides” may be unequal and accidentally formed, and it may also be the case that one person or group of people challenges all others. The point of departure of play is a fundamental imbalance, and this is not a deficiency, but represents its very essence. Sports, however, always involve two formally “equal” sides struggling to reach a “fair” outcome, as well as rules aiming to establish and ensure an equilibrium leading to such a fair result.

In a nutshell, your argument (no offense) is a bit reminiscent of the arguments of the ideologues of capital that either say that capital has always existed (or at least since the dawn of mankind, I guess the Primitivists would be with you on this one) or actually is a mere invention of the foes of democracy and the free market. I think if you research the matter more in depth, you will see things differently. In any case, I hope so.

As to Fleur's objection, clearly no one (not me anyway) is "condemning" sport a la moraliste as capitalistic, let alone "fascistic". Quite the contrary. Literally. Though perhaps you might enlighten us all as to why the ideologues of Italian fascism were so sports-mad (indeed, they were). A mere coincidence? Methinks not.

Leaving aside the Fascist and Stalinist passion for sports for the time being (and I could bring to bear a great deal more "damning" evidence), just consider the inception of British parliamentarism and its many similiarities with a sporting competition... I'm afraid the fact that "some people" (now, now, don't be so modest... plenty of people do, at least as spectators) enjoy participating in sport proves nothing in itself, of course, ("some people" enjoy junk food, do they not?) and says more about "some people's" need to condemn capitalism urbi et orbe than about sport's intrinsic relation to capital...

Aug 30 2016 21:14

Some people enjoy junk food, so best to condemn eating all together. Best do away with it all together, after all Il Duce did enjoy his spaghetti.

What you are saying can equally be applied to music, art, films, or just about anything else that lots of people enjoy. I get it, you don't like sport, personally I find watching it bores the shit out of me, but baby and bathwater....

Aug 30 2016 22:42

Really? "Some people enjoy junk food, so best to condemn eating all together." An astounding conclusion, but hey, those are your words, not mine. Definitely your logic as well... (Life is subsumed by capital, so let's "condemn" life... I wonder how Marx never came up with that one...)

Indeed, what I'm saying about sport can be applied to about anything else people enjoy in this society, including the music, art, films, etc. -perish the thought!- that I enjoy myself. Woe is me! Which may even include, on occasion... dare I say it?... sports! (Ok, really few and far between, and mainly combat sports. And honestly, these can bore me as well. So I fully sympathise with your plight, though definitely no "baby and the bathwater" metaphor applies. Next thing you know, you'll be talking about the "good" and "bad" sides of sport, just as Proudhon spoke of the "good" and "bad" sides of capital).

But since I don't have a crypto-religious (i.e. non-dialectical) attitude to society, I no more have a need to "condemn" all these things (like and dislikes are good enough for daily life, thank you very much) than to "absolve" any of them on the grounds that I (or anyone else) enjoy(s) them.. A bit egocentrical, for starters... don't you think? (even if you purport to speak -selflessly, of course- on behalf of millions of other unknown but potentially outraged egos...)

Aug 30 2016 22:55

Hey, Fleur, I'm going to render one of your sentences "factually accurate" as regards myself (except for the "baby and the bathwater" bit, which I can't abide) by the substitution of a single word:

"I get it, you don't like DEMOCRACY, personally I find watching it bores the shit out of me, but baby and bathwater....

"I get it, you don't like CAPITALISM, personally I find watching it bores the shit out of me, but baby and bathwater....

That is, in effect, what you are saying... And you know what? I have to come clean and admit that not even watching those two hideous spectres in action ALWAYS bores the shit out of me. Nonetheless, I rarely find it enjoyable...

Aug 30 2016 23:32

oh, for fuck's sake.

And Proudhon was an ass.

Aug 31 2016 03:29

Aye, he was. But there's been a full-blown epidemic of Proudhonism running through 99% of the so-called critique of sports and Olympism for a very long time. And that in itself raises a lot of questions, in particular about the historical workers's movement itself and the ideological fraud that was "worker's sport", a fraud that some seem bent on perpetuating o reviving in the present (not a chance in hell, though, so stop dreaming/fooling yourselves and others...

Serge Forward
Aug 31 2016 07:16

Is this going to be a variation on that discussion we had after Prince died?

If so, I've sorted the awards presentation already.

Aug 31 2016 09:20

Well, at least that's humorous and ironic... Mind you, it wouldn't be the first time I've deserted an awards presentation just to show the judges and organisers my contempt for the entire sporting concept, no matter how light-hearted they try to make it...

Aug 31 2016 18:47


Aug 31 2016 21:37
nization wrote:
Actually, Steven, the "factual innacuracy" of that point would depend very much on one's definition of "sport". Let me quote again:…

That was an excessively long quote which doesn't really have anything to do with my point. I have no interest in a semantic debate about the definition of "sport". Everyone knows what "sport" is.

For example, discus throwing is a sport. People did discus throwing over 2000 years before capitalism existed. So discus throwing is clearly not "radically capitalistic"

In a nutshell, your argument (no offense) is a bit reminiscent of the arguments of the ideologues of capital that either say that capital has always existed (or at least since the dawn of mankind, I guess the Primitivists would be with you on this one) or actually is a mere invention of the foes of democracy and the free market. I think if you research the matter more in depth, you will see things differently. In any case, I hope so.

what a load of nonsense. Sport and "capital" are not comparable entities. And I don't need to do any additional research to discover that sports existed before the 1800s and capitalism becoming the predominant mode of production across the globe.

Though perhaps you might enlighten us all as to why the ideologues of Italian fascism were so sports-mad (indeed, they were). A mere coincidence? Methinks not.

This is perhaps the most ridiculous point of all. Italian fascists also liked pasta. You reckon cannelloni is also "radically capitalistic"?

Aug 31 2016 23:44

Nization should learn what logical fallacies are.

Sep 1 2016 12:49
The very idea of a ‘play discipline’ would have seemed absurd... yet this is what a growing band of bourgeois idealists advocated during the second half of the century. Sports were to play
a major part alongside the provision of parks, museums, libraries and baths in the creation of
a healthy, moral workforce... Fear of urban radicalism, above all, was what galvanised the rich into thinking about the poor and gave weight to the wider programme of moral reform and education that was proposed by a vigorous minority of evangelicals and idealistic political economists

Richard Holt, Sport and the British

(Highly recommended reading for the happy few amongst you who don't know it all...)

Oh, dear. So everyone knows what sport is and you don't need to do any additional research to discover that sports existed before the 1800s, huh?... Darn it! Woe is me again! Oh, and you're not interested in a semantic debate about sport because, of course, you already know what sport is. In fact, you don't need to check anything because you already know it all beforehand.... Sigh... [Mental note: don't engage in online debates with libertarians: they know everything, have no need to document themselves and are extremely hard to get through to...]

As far as the semantic debate is concerned, the term itself, though earlier and of continental origins, began to be used in XVth century England as a synonym for pastimes, entertainment, recreation, etc., and soon came to refer to the riding, hunting and fishing pursuits of the English aristocracy. (There's your nominalist "proof" that sports existed before the 1800s, though you could, of course, go one better, and pretend that the "thing in itself" already existed since Greek Antiquity, and indeed, since the dawn of mankind, since "essentially", sports and games are the same thing. But are they?)

[Steven, you don't have the slightest clue as to the difference between Greek athletic events and modern sports if all you can come up with is the ridiculous "a discus is a discus is a discus". Yeah, and a commodity is a commodity... it only becomes an 'elementary cell' of capital under specific historical conditions...]

In fact, though, sport as we now know it, has its origins in the domesticacion of popular pastimes carried out by the English gentry and aristocracy during the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries. Not to mention the fact (hey, this looks like a "primitive accumulation" fallacy, Khawaga!) that a hundred years before, under Cromwell, all kinds of popular entertainment, games, etc., were viciously persecuted by the Puritans (none of which, of course, bears the slightest relation to the birth of capitalism, right?)

According to Norbert Elias, there was a clear parallellism between the "parliamentarization" of the British ruling class and the "sportification" of its pastimes: however great the temptation, it was understood that in parliamentary disputes, gentlemen were never to resort to violence among equals, and the same etiquette came to be considered de rigueur in properly sporting pursuits.

The transfornation of traditional games into sports took place in XVIIIth century England at the same time as the parliamentary "rules of play" were consolidated, thus putting an end to almost a century of violent and bloody conflict between the two great fractions of the British ruling class. At last they could dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the passion of commerce...

But in order to do so, they had to find ways to impose on workers and artisans a mechanical discipline that would subject them to the productive rhythm of the clock and to increasingly meaningless forms of labour. Intimately linked to this, of course, was the need to repress and do away with all customs, festivities and behaviours of the poor that might disturb economic activities or generate states of consciousness incompatible with a "labourable" disposition... (This was a long and protracted process, which I'll spare you, since you know everything already and it has nothing to do with the birth of capitalism...) Suffice it to say that between the last decade of the XVIIIth century and the first half of the XIXth century, traditional games were first domesticated ("tamed") and subsequently replaced by more sedentary and less counterproductive habits as far as capitalists were concerned (Public schools were, in fact, the laboratory of this process). During the decade of 1840, popular pastimes (including the drinking of the lower orders and any kind of playing in the streets, of course) were submitted to an offensive unleashed by a formidable coalition integrated by landowners, the bourgeoisie, the Methodist church, the recently created police and, last but not least, a recently organised tradeunionism...

And thus the stage was set for the birth of modern sports...

Sep 1 2016 06:50

nization Sep 1 07:33

I find your posts interesting, though your accusation of Steven being a ‘know-all’ is funny, as you feel the need to lace your posts with sarcasm and condescension. Why do you bother to engage when everyone else is so contemptable?

Sep 1 2016 07:32

Sorry, I think in this case it is fair to say that Steven initiated the "rudeness" ("what a load of nonsense", "the most ridiculous point of all"), though even that's debatable I suppose... (who cares at this stage?)

It's true that I've laced my posts with sarcasm, because I have very little patience for the (excuse me again, it's more about haste and expediency than intent to offend) piss-poor arguments flung my way. I started off way too vehemently, as I admitted several posts ago. Mea culpa. However, I don't think "everyone else is contemptible", though their arguments may well be. Too bad if they are. (Besides, I can't make such decisions about people before having met them in person smile)

I also think that by now it shouldn't be too difficult for all of us to shift the tone of the debate and get down to the real issues at hand if so desired (The psychoanalytical term "resistance" does come to mind though, doesn't it?). If not, I think I've said enough, if not to rest my case, at least to prompt anyone interested to do their own research on the subject...

Sep 1 2016 08:37

And now, a musical interlude brought to you by one of our sponsors...

Even if it is an unspeakable concession to capital and commodity fetishism...

Sep 1 2016 17:50

I'm not going to participate any further in this discussion as it's clear that nization has no intention of actually engaging in anyone else's points, preferring to patronisingly copy and paste long quotes or prattle on about the 1800s, when the Olympic Games - which is what this article and discussion is about - began in 776 BC, and included many of the sports which continue today like running, boxing, wrestling, long jump, javelin, etc.