When the IOC formed a team of refugee athletes to compete at the Rio Olympics, to highlight the plight of stateless people globally, it was an act for which the IOC was rightfully praised. Through its existence, the modern-day Olympics have symbolized and strived to model tolerance and inclusion.
In recent history, countries that have enforced state-sponsored discrimination have been banned from participating in the Olympic Games. South Africa was banned from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics due to its apartheid laws, and was not allowed back until apartheid ended, re-entering the Games at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Indonesia was suspended from the IOC, prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The Asian Games were hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1962, and then-president Sukarno refused entry of athletes from Israel and Taiwan. IOC president Avery Brundage insisted that the Olympics were an opportunity to bring all nations’ athletes together, not split them apart, and so suspended Indonesia from the IOC.
Sukarno responded by creating an alternative sports tournament called The Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO), which of course, did not include athletes from Israel and Taiwan. The IOC then banned any athletes who competed at the GANEFO games from participating at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Unwilling to pull their GANEFO athletes, both Indonesia and North Korea boycotted the Games.
As we have heard recently, President Donald Trump has made entry to America off limits to citizens from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – Muslim countries all. The American government is stating that protecting its borders is vitally important to its security, and inferring that anyone who is a Muslim, particularly from those seven countries, are potential terrorists.
To me, this executive order runs contrary to the spirit of the Olympics. And while this may be a low rung on the totem pole of priorities related to immigration and national security, I wonder if the Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Olympics is at risk. Will President Trump’s ban, and his rhetoric of America first put a damper on IOC members’ enthusiasm for an Olympics in a country where tolerance and inclusion become lesser values?
I think that is a possibility.