Editor’s Note: Death of the Press Box welcomes back columnist Kyle Magin to kick off our coverage of the Sochi games with an Olympic-sized takedown/showcase of the five rings of evil that have put their indelible brand of defiance and dictatorship on the games.
You might hear a yarn or two in the next few weeks about how Vlad Putin is a bad guy. While the Russian president smiles (maybe shirtless. Sun’s out, guns out, Comrade) for the cameras, we’ll hear about his $51 billion games birthed by a Kleptocracy and sustained by the blood of Mother Nature herself.
But where does he rank in the all-time list of bad-guy monsters to trot their brand of reactionary politics and personal neuroses under cover of the five rings and a torch (Non-Gandalf category)? I took a look at some of the great a-holes in Olympic history and have your answer.
5. “Count” Jacques Rogge
Affiliation: Former IOC President, oversaw Games in Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino, Beijing, Vancouver and London.
Offense(s): Many. Specifically:
• His refusal to allow a moment of silence for the 1972 Israeli team massacre on the incident’s 40th anniversary at the 2012 Opening Ceremonies in London (1972 will be a recurring theme);
• Being a Goddamn Count (‘yeh fookin’ count!’);
• Allowing the Chinese to restrict internet access for journalists at the Beijing Games after specifically stating access to the internet would not be restricted at the Beijing Games;
• Removing softball and baseball from the summer games lineup.
1) Rogge, in a proud tradition laid out by other out-of-touch bureaucrats before him (See Brundage, Avery), refused to allow a potentially poignant moment of silence to be observed during London’s 2012 Opening Ceremonies in remembrance of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered 40 years earlier at the 1972 Munich Games. Said Rogge: “We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.” Yes, heaven forbid you harsh the collective mellows of McDonalds, Visa, P&G, an old woman calling herself Paul McCartney and Daniel Craig’s desperate attempt to make us all forget Quantum of Solace happened by pausing an intensely choreographed TV spectacular to remind us of a very human moment and maybe educate a new generation on the horrors of political violence.
That would’ve been the real tragedy.
2) Seriously, this jackass is a Count in Belgium and must be referred to as such. He didn’t get that way by teaching young children math wearing vampire teeth on Sesame Street, or sucking some dame’s blood out of her neck. Nope, Rogge successfully parlayed a middling rugby career into a successful yachting career, hung out with the right people and ensured the Olympics continued to skew Europe’s way in terms of host cities, events and sponsorships.
3) The Chinese were not going to restrict internet access for journalists covering the 2008 Beijing games. In a country where just getting to tiana— on a Google search pre-emptively bounces back a 404 error message, that was a Big Deal™. Rogge recognized this and held a press conference stating as much. Weeks later, journalists outed his lieutenants after they agreed to a deal restricting internet access during the games, despite Rogge’s specific promises. Rogge didn’t hold a press conference to clarify, instead leaving the duty to his minions while slobbering all over the “New China” to any journalist lucky enough to be graced by his Weekend at Bernie’s-esque presence anniversary at the 2012 Opening Ceremonies in London.
4) Leading up to the London Games, Rogge dropped baseball and softball from the Olympic lineup under pressure from his buddies in Europe. It’s almost not offensive that baseball got bumped because the UK would’ve had to field some embarrassment of a team. It’s almost not offensive that baseball got bumped because six Western European nations despise the sport with a passion while the most populous country in the world, all of Eastern Asia and damn near the entire Western Hemisphere plays it. It’s certainly not offensive that baseball got bumped because MLB wouldn’t alter its schedule to allow for an Olympic break. It’s entirely offensive that Rogge tossed softball out with the bathwater. A sport with medal winners from three continents in a single games, a sport that differs from baseball in fundamental ways as to be a different game altogether, a sport that had massive potential to challenge gymnastics for popularity in the women’s sports universe (Whatup sponsors!) got dumped by a bunch of stuffy, stiff-collared counts, dukes and little lords because it offended their inbred sensibilities and looked like its male counterpart. Boys worldwide will always have baseball. Girls of a certain age will have memories of Jenny Finch. That there will be no more like her in 2016 and possibly beyond is a tragedy.
4. R. William Jones
Affiliation: Secretary General of FIBA (Interational Federation of Basketball) 1932-1976
Offense: Used his illegitimate authority punitively against the 1972 U.S. Men’s Basketball team to cause them to lose the gold medal game against the USSR. (Blatant bias alert.)
Jones’s actions, if not his name, are dirt to Americans who remember the 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal final. Ask your dad about the game and you’re likely to get one of three answers; an animated “We got screwed!” outburst; a more subdued mumbling of obscenities; or a totally forlorn look into the distance, a lack of appetite for dinner and a potentially powerful urge for a potent potable and a good cry. Long story short, the Italian-born Jones presided and personally intervened in a series of events allowing the USSR team THREE tries to inbounds the ball with :03 seconds left after the U.S. stormed back to take a one point lead, 50-49, on the strength of two Doug Collins free throws. (You may remember Doug Collins from such coaching stints as the teal late-’90s Pistons, or the Floor Jordan version of His Airness with the early-’00s Washington Wizards.) At one point, Jones ordered the scorekeeper to put time back on the clock after an inconsequential malfunction. Later he admitted he had no authority to issue such an order, but said “The Americans have to learn how to lose, even when they think they are right.” On the third iteration of Jones’s Operation Comrade Christmas, the Soviets scored a buzzer-beating bucket, handing the U.S. their first loss in 64 Olympic contests and breaking a streak of seven straight gold medals. R. William Jones is the first person you meet in Hell.
3. Vladimirovich Putin
Affiliation: President of Russia, Tsar of the 2014 Winter Games
Offense(s): Many. Specifically:
• Presided over the bulldozing and redevelopment of a sensitive coastal-and-mountain ecosystem in and around Sochi, Russia, for a vanity Olympics while his people froze to death for lack of affordable energy;
• Instituted harsh anti-gay laws and then invited the world over for the biggest party of every four years;
• Did all this in a violent political climate he helped to exacerbate through his brutal policies.
1) Sochi was a pastoral, Soviet-era sanatorium locale and vacation getaway, a subtropical home to some of the most sensitive ecology and geological features in all of Russia. Putin and his Olympics-crazed goons built the coastal-cluster athletic facilities (rinks, stadiums), in the center of town, scattering its residents, trampling nesting grounds and pulling in thousands of underpaid laborers to help with the work without doing anything to ensure they’d have housing. In the nearby Caucus Mountains, where the downhill and outdoor events will be held, Putin re-routed ancient rivers and streams, flattened mountain meadows for five-star hotels and built on a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2) In 2013, Russia passed a regressive series of laws, lauded by Putin and intended by the president to ban gay propaganda. Beyond banning media depictions of homosexuality, it also threatened jail time for anyone “promoting homosexuality” because won’t someone think of the children. Essentially the law outlaws public displays of homosexuality—affection between two members of the same sex, openly protesting or otherwise agitating for gay rights and other displays. These ideas may be gaining traction with your iceberg lettuce-eating, FoxNation commenting (Fire It UP!), hateful elderly family members.
3) Putin has some security problems in the Black Sea/Western Asia region surrounding Sochi. Namely, it’s the home to Russia’s version of Al Qaeda, he made war with Georgia there just more than 5 years ago and the native Islamic people in the region hate his guts for his involvement in the nearby Chechen Wars—fought to preserve Russia’s unloved autonomy over an energy-rich region. Putin’s ruled the region with a literal iron fist—murdering opposition leaders in their homes, rigging elections and generally just doing him. Just last week, reports dropped that a suicide bomber already slipped Putin’s security net. Hosting an Olympics there is the geopoliticalequivalent of having your unstable ex cater your wedding—someone’s getting their fish spat in.
2. Adolf Hitler
Affiliation: Chancellor and Fuhrer, chief architect of the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games and failed painter
Offenses: (Note: Olympic offenses-only. I really, really can’t stress this enough.) Many. Specifically:
• Perverted use of the Olympic Games to promote Reich and Aryan ideals of political and ethic superiority;
• Out-racisting Kennesaw Mountain Landis in sports and disallowing Jews from the games altogether, through outright force, cajoling and obfuscation.
1) Hitler intended his games as a showcase of Germany’s — and his own—rising power in the mid-1930s. He knew he couldn’t outright ban Jews from the games without upsetting the world so instead his minions plastered the swastika across Olympic venues with all the subtlety of the Aflac duck and an active case of shingles.
2) Fully covered on radio and in a nascent—the very first to reach a mass audience—TV broadcast, Hitler conveyed his ideals of the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Aryan warrior to the world. His elaborate dog-and-pony show goes straight to the core of corruption that has made the Olympics tragedy so worthy of taking place only twice a decade. The high jumper Gretel Bergmann was the token Jew allowed on the team ahead of the Olympics to placate foreign calls for boycott of the games. Once safely inside two weeks until the opening ceremonies, Bergmann was summarily suspended from the team.
3) Well before that Bergmann, in 1934, Hitler allowed a showcase of some Jewish German athletes to a group of Americans (including then-USOC president Avery Brundage, more on him in a moment), in order to convince them Jews would not be disallowed from competition. Hitler’s stony reaction to Jesse Owens’ phenomenal four gold medal performance remains the most pleasurable up-yours moment in history.
1. Avery Brundage
Affiliation: USOC President 1928-1952, IOC President 1952-1972
Offenses: Innumerable; Chiefly:
• Aided and abetted Adolf Hitler in pulling off his showcase Berlin games;
• Aiding and abetting South African Apartheid Leaders;
• Aiding and abetting the Mexican government in pulling off a games after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre;
• Ejecting Medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympics following their peaceful protest;
• Conflating the exclusion of Rhodesia from the 1972 Olympic games with the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at their own memorial service.
(Note: I’m not saying Brundage is a fundamentally more evil person than Hitler or Putin, but in the context of the Olympics the man did more under the ringed flag to tarnish the games and world in his lifetime than either of the others even approached.)
1) Hitler couldn’t pull off his lily white games all by himself. He needed a willing participant — someone to trumpet his cause in the international Olympic community. For that he turned to Brundage — a Chicago businessman who once bragged to his Nazi hosts that Jews weren’t even allowed in his Windy City-area country club. Amid growing concerns that Nazis were unfairly and dangerously persecuting Jews, Brundage visited Germany in 1934. He returned to the States singing Hitler’s praises and assuring anyone who would listen that Jews wouldn’t be disallowed from competition. As it became clear Hitler was full of shit and very much intended to bar German Jews from competition, Brundage advanced an argument that only 12 Jews had ever represented Germany in Olympic competition, so it’d be cool if no Jews represented Germany in ’36. Brundage watched as German athletes offered the Nazi salute in the Olympic stadium and even held two U.S. Jewish athletes out of the 4×100 relay so as not to offend his host, who was already smarting from Owens’ triumphs.
2) Avery Brundage was either an incredibly trusting man or a total asshole. In 1960, amidst increasing violence in Apartheid South Africa, a growing chorus of nations called for South Africa’s exclusion from the Rome games. Brundage politely asked the South African government if all athletes would be allowed to participate on their team and was assured everybody would get to play. When it became clear that no, brown people weren’t going to represent South Africa, old Avery surmised it must be because non-whites simply weren’t good enough and allowed a segregated team to attend. Brundage continued to push for South Africa’s inclusion despite being overruled in every subsequent Olympic Games he oversaw.
3) Mexico’s government in 1968 was in the business of crushing unions and beating the hell out of students. They were essentially a Brundage family picnic with legislating abilities. Ten days before the games, students held a massive protest for increased worker’s rights in a prominent city square. The government came in heavy—Tianamen-style—killing dozens and injuring north of 1,000. Brundage got cozy with those same officials a few days later at the opening ceremonies.
4) Brundage — the same guy who 32 years earlier smiled as Nazi athletes flashed their infamous salute — didn’t take very kindly to U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fists on the 1968 200 meter gold medal stand in solidarity with African American struggles. “The nasty demonstration against the American flag by negroes,” Brundage termed the action. To be clear, American blacks didn’t round up and kill an entire race of people to advance their cause. Maybe that would’ve generated more sympathy from old Avery. The protest so irked Brundage that he sent the two sprinters packing for home.
5) Following the attempted hijacking of a plane and murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 games, Brundage suspended action for a day and called a memorial service for the next day. In front of the world, Brundage eulogized the dead athletes and declared that the games must go on, but not before orating this interesting tidbit: “The Games of the 20th Olympiad have been subjected to two savage attacks. We lost the Rhodesian battle against naked political blackmail.” To be clear, Brundage was referring to the rest of Africa threatening to boycott the games if Rhodesia — white-minority dominated, militaristically-segregated Rhodesia—were allowed to participate. He conflated the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes—dragged, screaming, from their rooms in the Munich Olympic Village to a nearby airport and executed by their captors during a botched rescue attempt—to the plight of a nation voted by such a forward and liberal body as the IOC as being too goddamn racist to participate. In a memorial service for those athletes. Avery Brundage is the worst Olympic-affiliated person ever, managing to out-evil HITLER.