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John Carlos is the real Olympic spirit

As the Olympic flame makes its way around the country amidst scenes of celebration and excitement, it is an appropriate moment to welcome to Britain one of the two African-American athletes who gave the black power salute from the winners’ podium at the 1968 Olympics.

John Carlos, speaking tonight (Monday 21 May) in London at a meeting organised by Unite Against Fascism, and Tommy Smith reached an agreement before their 200 metre event to defy the authorities if they made it to the podium.

Smith won gold and Carlos a bronze medal. During the awards ceremony, each man raised a fist clad in a black glove while the American national anthem was played. This revolutionary gesture was made in order to highlight the continuing oppression and racism endemic in the USA. For this stand they were victimised and vilified for years after their return.

They also wanted to make people aware of the degree of inequality generally and the struggles of ordinary working people trying to make a decent living in the richest country in the world. Of course, the racism that Carlos and Smith courageously drew the shocked spectators’ attention to, has still not been eradicated.

(The role of silver medallist Australian Peter Norman, has often been overlooked. Rather than being the unwitting innocent in the affair he has tended to be represented as, in fact supported their action and stood in solidarity with them. He opposed his country's White Australia policy.)

It is fitting that the corrupt Olympic movement and the increasingly overblown Games are finding numerous critics and drawing protests. From the dubious ethics of the main sponsors, Dow Chemicals among them, to the decidedly environmentally unfriendly, people have been speaking out and camping out to highlight the high handed behaviour of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

These actions included a last ditch attempt to prevent the building of a basketball facility over Leyton Marsh, now probably doomed to failure after eviction of the campers last month. That is apart from the £175 million being spent on staging the Security Olympics, complete with guided missiles, troops, warships and fighter planes. London will soon be a city under siege from the military-police complex.

The fact that the tradition of the Games and of the torch relay itself is meant apparently to demonstrate the coming together of the people of the world in a spirit of unity, peace and friendship, must have felt like a slap in the face to the Greek people when they handed the flame to London last week.

They are more or less being told to shape up, shut up and if they can't accept their orders to continue their downward slide into destitution, to get out of the eurozone altogether lest they contaminate the rest of us. No friendship or unity for them!

As well as intense commercialism the Games also frankly represent a poisonous nationalism and it is to the credit of Carlos that he has said as much in a recent interview to the BBC. Future international sporting fixtures should rid themselves of the politics of nationalism by abandoning national anthems in favour of, say, the Olympic anthem, he believes.

He has said also that the medallists should accept their medals at an individual rather than a national level – it would be the prowess of the athletes themselves that would be recognised and applauded, not their countries. That of course was how the ancient Games were organised.

The elimination of rampant nationalism and of politics, substituting in their stead some form of friendly rivalry, would surely not be beyond our capabilities to organise. A return to if not the “Austerity Olympics” of the post-war Games of 1948, then creating an event that people could genuinely be proud of.

While London 2012, on the other hand, is being faced with a mixture of dread, cynicism and unreflective flag-waving. It will be a bloated spectacle, more than slightly totalitarian event, which combined with the other huge spectacle of the Queen's Jubilee, will render us totally passive recipients of summer of massive distraction. A terrific present, surely, for our beleaguered rulers!

Fiona Harrington
21 May 2012

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