The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the biggest event conceived by mankind, is over.
Although subdued and muted, the opposition to Tokyo’s hosting obligations was in stark contrast to the celebration that erupted in 2013 when the city was awarded by the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the hosting rights for the 2020 Summer Games. The award, the city’s second since 1964, was preceded by a two-year study of the proposals of various city-bidders. Per Olympic practice, cities, not countries, bid for hosting rights. The National Olympic Committee (NOC), a private organization guaranteed autonomy and freedom from intervention by governments and states, works together with the city in preparing, submitting and defending the bid when the need arises.
It is clear, therefore, that the NOC of a country is assured of non-intervention by civilized states for basic acts like selecting the athletes to be sent to the Olympics and other international competitions under the IOC and its constituents, the international federations. These international federations have their own constituents too, the member federations or national sports associations (NSAs). All these organizations are part of the IOC structure and all are guaranteed autonomy. In practical terms and application, no government or government representative can dictate or compel an NSA to include an athlete a national team for whatever reason.
This principle highlights the fact that technically, it’s the NOC of a country that is represented in the Olympics and not the country presented by the flag that the delegation bears in the opening or closing ceremonies. The flag is used to identify the country of origin of the NOC as in the NOC of the Philippines.
The duty of the NOC is to facilitate the participation of the country in international events, help care for the athletes and officials, coordinate all administrative requirements of the delegation and, in general, to protect their interest of the NOC delegation. All these are big and complicated responsibilities, especially in the light of the restrictive Tokyo Olympics where the health of all participants was, rightfully, the primordial concern. The NOC does not interfere with the training strategies of NSAs and the actual competition strategies and tactics.
These distinctions become crucial since certain countries, particularly totalitarian and authoritarian states, view the Olympics as another propaganda tool to demonstrate the superiority of their system of government or their race, as in the case of Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler was enraged when the black American athlete, Jesse Owens handily beat his Nazi athletes.
The lack of logic in the argument, made in the name of healthy competition with the US and the West, is the fact that Hong Kong and Macau have their own NOCs and carry their own flags in international competitions. If China wanted to claim medals won by Hong Kong and Macau, it should have abolished the NOCs of those Chinese territories before the start of the games so that China can rightfully claim that the NOC of these territories is really the NOC of China. It is believed that this Chinese propaganda ploy was really beamed at its own population that expected China to beat the US in the gold medal standings. It is easy for this effort to succeed considering the Communist Party’s total control of media, schools and other institutions that help mold and condition people’s minds.
To further highlight the principles that NOCs represent a country in the Olympics, we now focus on Russia.
Russia was again banned from the Tokyo Olympics, this time for the more serious and egregious charge of manipulating doping test data. In the spirit of fair play, the IOC allowed the many other Russian athletes who did not participate in the doping skullduggery to eventually suit up for Tokyo. A handful of elite athletes even refused, at great danger to their lives and their families, to go along with Russia’s elaborate plan of using performance enhancing drugs. Intelligence reports say the plan was approved by the country’s highest authorities.
To allow Russia’s “clean” athletes to compete, the IOC allowed the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to field authorized neutral athletes (ANA). Some 300 such athletes competed in swimming, volleyball, and track and field, among other sports in Tokyo.
The appropriation by China of medals won by Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinese Taipei as its own and Russian doping travails, indicate that for certain parties, the joy of being competitive and winning is much, much more than the “joy of competing and the joy of effort.”
Competitiveness or being competitive is the goal of all businesses and human activity, whether it be a development social enterprise or one of hundreds of competing advocacies in a society. Simplistically, it means more sales, more members, a broader base, greater influence or more followers, in the case of movements.
In sports, it means the biggest bang for the buck one spends in preparing an athlete for the Olympics. Competition should, of course, bring out the best in people. But competition could also bring out the worst in people who are locked in deadly combat. It could lead to making false claims and putting people’s health and lives at risk for the sake of the state and sponsors.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.