A short history of the Olympic Games and free speech

Sports historian Martin Polley traces the history of protest and the commercialisation of the Olympic Games with FSD team member Katie Engelhart.

According to sports historian Martin Polley, until the 1936 Berlin Olympics there had been a strong tradition of governments wanting to keep sport apolitical (30secs). However, in 1936, it became apparent that Nazi Germany was using the Olympics to promote an image of itself that deflected attention from its human rights abuses. The Olympics have since provided a stage for protests, which have at times turned violent. Polley cites the murder of 11 Israelis in the Olympic village in Munich in 1972 by a Palestinian splinter group as just once example (5mins 35secs). The commercialisation of the Games over the years has led to a greater clampdown on the right to protest. Although the Olympic Charter Rule 51 bars political, religious and racial propaganda, Polley says that this has almost become “a footnote to the protection of sponsors’ brands because they’re the ones paying” (7mins 55secs). He adds, however, that without sponsorship, the games wouldn’t happen: “That partnership has brought in about $3.5bn over the years” (12mins 28secs).

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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