The Olympic Cult Strangles Our Freedoms

Logo for Paris' failed 2012 Olympic bid on the Hotel de Ville, 2005. via Wikimedia Commons.

First published in Le Figaro. Translated by David Broder

If Baron Pierre de Coubertin dreamed of the Olympisation of the world, it is taking giant steps forward in reality. We see as much from Paris’s candidate dossier for its bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, and more recently in the "Olympic and Paralympic Act" and the "Host City contract." Already in France it has found its fans and even a few stooges, across almost the whole range of forces represented in Parliament. For their part, the French seem little interested in the Olympic Games, if not increasingly hostile when they are confronted with their real cost. This despite the Paris city hall’s attempts to subdue us in the run-up to the Games by constantly bludgeoning both our eyes and ears. This is propaganda worthy of the old Soviet buffer-zone countries; it is an authentic ideological crusade on the front of Olympism’s values, albeit one regularly demolished by reality.

Schematically, the Right look on the Olympic Games positively because they encourage its obsessions with order, create the illusion of a strong nation (thanks to the medals brought home by its athletes), and cultivate the belief that sport combined with physical exertion naturally contributes to the national effort (for example the fight against employment). On the Left, the Olympic Games represent or symbolise emancipation, solidarity, the people. For both Left and Right, the Olympic Games invent a new Humanity through the sporting exploits of its youth; they outline a new sporting body of health and happiness; they undergird and extend all of our freedom, by means of a competitive organisation of the élite. Indeed, the Olympic Games have given rise to a general consensus such as no other global phenomenon has been able to achieve, at such a mass level. Thanks to TV as well as the proliferation of screens lit up by the Internet, almost half the world’s inhabitants watch the Olympic contests live. Today we can say that the Olympic Games have become a whole media unto themselves.

A few voices have, however, both strongly and persistently opposed the very principle of the Olympic Games, as well as the organisation of the 2024 Paris Games in particular. Naturally, this opposition does point the finger at the disastrous financial, social, and political consequences of the Olympic plague, and so, too, the environmental and urban ones. But above all it seeks to analyse the Olympic Games and their real political nature (as opposed to the one that exists only in dreams and fantasies), and their political and ideological resources. In other words, this opposition seeks to understand in what sense the Olympic Games that claim to be a "party," a "truce," the site of "friendship among peoples" and so on are in fact nothing but the organisation of a vast competition with which all the political parties are fascinated, and which a large part of the population also ends up also supporting, before often regretting it once the Olympic Games have been and gone.

The question of civil liberties, of freedom as a conquest and a project for the future, is not much up for negotiation in France, and yet it is at the heart of the Olympic propaganda to which the city fathers have folded. For these latter are totally under the thumb of the orders and diktats emanating from the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and its French patsy, the CNOSF [French Olympic Committee].

Reading the documents that concern the hosting of the Olympics, we might ask whether our country’s sovereignty, the sovereignty of the French state, is not in fact going to be taken away for the IOC’s benefit. When the 2024 Olympics come, will it not in reality be the IOC which is directing France? For the Committee will be supplied with a specially-tailored legislation, implemented and delivered in due course by our own representatives. Lest we forget, the IOC is an international, non-profit NGO, of unlimited duration and operating under Swiss private law…

Since the January 2016 publication of the "Candidate’s Dossier for Paris 2024" we have warned that the official communications strategy, even long before the beginning of the contests, "will seek … to reduce any potential risk of a negative perception of the Games. It will strive only to gather the positive responses from the different communities, particularly during the planning phase and the construction work." The opposition does not exist, because they do not let it speak! Such a communications strategy surely makes up part of Olympism’s values…

After Paris’s magisterial, unopposed victory at the last IOC summit in Lima on 13 September, the "Host City Contract" signed between Mrs. Hidalgo [mayor of Paris] and the IOC president Mr. Bach stipulates that "no major event, conference, or other meeting which could have an impact on the successful planning, organising, financing and staging of the Games or their public and media exposure, shall take place in the Host City itself, its neighbourhood or in the cities hosting other competition sites or their neighbourhoods, either during the Games or during the preceding or following week, without the prior written approval of the IOC." There, once again, the IOC subjects civil liberties to its own sovereign decision. So there will be no opposition, because it is forbidden by the IOC! We might, then, expect a reaction. The response did come, in a certain sense, from Bernard Thibault, French representative to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The former CGT [largest French trade union confederation] leader told Libération (12 April 2017) that "if we look back over history there is little chance that any major strike will crop up during the Games in August 2024. The last strike movement recorded in France in the month of August dates back to 1944: and that was the railworkers’ uprising, to liberate the country. The French have demonstrated on numerous occasions and for many causes since then, but never against the Olympic Games. So when movements arose in 2005, at the same time as the IOC was visiting the sites that made up part of Paris’s bid for 2008 [sic – Thibault means Paris’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 games], we marched with banners in favour of the Olympics. In order to avoid any confusion over what the target was. … The French unions do not seek to oppose the Olympic Games, but rather to do enough work up front to make sure that they take place in the right conditions."

Doubtless there are fine prospects ahead for the kind of trade unionism that promises the IOC, seven years before the Games begin, that the unions — caps duly doffed, and forgiveness etched on the three stripes of their tracksuits — will not start any strike action during the Games… And the reasoning of [Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s] France Insoumise councillor Danielle Simonnet was not much different, insisting that she was not at all "anti-sport" or "anti-Olympics." She emphasised that "The magnificent thing about the Olympic Games is that you discover so many men and women who are so extremely impressive in their great courage, their prowess and their ability to push themselves to the limit" (Le Monde, 23 February 2017). Yet today, "pushing yourself to the limit" is totally bound up with mass doping.

The National Assembly is soon to vote on the bill for the "Olympic and Paralympic Act," pushed through in a sped-up process (without the usual parliamentary back-and-forth with the Senate). This bill now comes along as the main course, or rather as the order to submit to the IOC’s ukases. Even in the first lines of the bill we can note quite an error — what we might call an error of calculation. It was not, in fact, "forty years after Pierre de Coubertin proclaimed the re-establishment of the Olympic Games [in 1894]" that the second Parisian edition of the Games took place (in 1924), but rather thirty years later. … Should this lead us to expect other such "errors" of calculation to come?

Essentially, the articles in the bill are but an uninterrupted series of waivers and exemptions from existing French law, and simplifications of what it already stipulates. Not to mention the "procedures for extreme urgency," the "exceptions to procedural rules," the "procedures for expropriations," the "legal safeguarding measures," and the highly symbolic "authorisation" that comes from "the creation of reserved lanes for athletes and Olympic delegations’ vehicles." With a stroke of "Olympic language" and the pure invention of a non-existent "Olympic generation," the bill issues regulations, prohibitions, and authorisations throughout its text. But once again, all this is in spite of French law, and often even against it. Indeed, a true language police is put in place, with our own representatives’ agreement. It is forbidden to use the terms "Olympic Games," "Olympic," "Olympiad," "Olympism," "Olympian," the acronym "JO" [i.e. Jeux olympiques; Olympic Games] or even the name of the "vintage," i.e. "city + year." And similarly for the Paralympics. The French Olympic Committee becomes the owner of these words.

So we are going to see the main buildings of Paris draped in, indeed disappearing behind Olympic flags mingling with corporate banners.

What is, however, authorised is "advertising to the benefit of the marketing policy partners within a 500 metre perimeter of each site linked to the organisation and the staging of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games." So there is to be no advertising in the stadium but an open bar outside. In the same vein, The Olympic Partners’ advertising (i.e. for Coca-Cola, Alibaba, Visa, Omega, Samsung, Panasonic…) is authorised "on natural monuments and heritage sites; on premises with an aesthetic, historical or picturesque character; on listed premises or ones registered as historical monuments, that play host to the competitions." So we are going to see the main buildings of Paris draped in, indeed disappearing behind Olympic flags mingling with corporate banners. Paris is going to be colonised by the IOC.

We see it everywhere. With the blows dealt through injunctions, plans, and propaganda, sport must now infiltrate into every nook and cranny of civil society, and become individuals’ spontaneous, hegemonic relationship with society itself. The Paris Olympics seems too fine an opportunity to pass up, when it could be integrated into the vast "sportivisation" process that is currently at work in our societies. In parallel to the Olympics, a new plan titled "Sport 2024" will thus be unfurled in accordance with three objectives: "Every single French person in touch with sport," "All of us, citizens of sport," and "Sustainable growth for sport." Priority measures will be taken on the basis of a "national education programme in citizenship and the importance of health, living together, equality and social diversity, based on Olympic values"; a "national art and literature contest on the theme of Olympism" that is being planned for France’s schools; and finally a "national plan for promoting Olympic values" with yet more school competitions and the organisation of major sporting events…