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Beijing Olympics brings back memories of 1936 game in Nazi Berlin

Written By | Feb 4, 2022
Owens, Berlin, 1936, China, Uyghers, Communists

Jesse Owens, a black man that won gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Holding the Winter Olympics in Communist China, at the very moment it is engaged in genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs and is oppressing the people of Hong Kong and threatening Taiwan——and imposing a totalitarian regime upon its own people—-is reminiscent of holding the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, which gave Hitler and Nazism a major boost. In both cases, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was completely indifferent to the denial of human rights in these host countries.

Zumretay Arkun, the program manager of the World Uyghur Congress, said the IOC had dismissed her concerns:

“When we met with the IOC, we asked them to listen to our voices but instead they completely dismissed our experiences and suffering…Our question is simple, does the IOC accept hosting the Olympic Games in a country that is actively committing genocide?

The answer we received was also simple, Yes, the IOC is willing to host genocidal Olympic Games.”

Frances Hu, a Hong Kong activist living in exile, met with the IOC:

“I talked about the fact that more than 10,000 protestors in Hong Kong were arrested and the fact that China is violating international human rights obligations. The first thing we heard from the IOC was, ‘It is a very complicated world.’ And I asked again, ‘How are you going to legitimize a Games in a country practicing genocide and murder?’ The IOC again replied to me, ‘It’s a complex world.’”

Noah Hoffman, a board member of Global Athlete who competed for the U.S. in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, points out that,

“Political neutrality is an excuse for the IOC and its U.S. sponsors to pursue power and profit at the expense of athletes…The IOC is colluding with one of the most repressive regimes on earth…In November Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai went missing and accused a high ranking party official of sexual assault. She was wiped off the Internet and removed from public life. Her disappearance fits a pattern of extralegal action taken against dissenters in China. The IOC’s actions represent abhorrent indifference to sexual assault of female athletes and to the rights of all athletes to speak up in the face of violence.”

A member of the Beijing organizing committee, controlled by the Chinese regime, said that any speech by athletes that “goes against the Chinese laws and regulations” will be “subject to certain punishment.”

Noah Hoffman notes,

“The IOC did not push back or defend athletes’ right to express themselves. The IOC itself promises to dole out punishment if athletes speak up on the field of play or the podium. The prohibited ‘speech’ includes silent gestures such as raising a fist or taking a knee and physical displays such as wearing an armband or a pin.”

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This is all reminiscent of the Olympics held in Nazi Germany in 1936.

The 1936 Olympics in Nazi Berlin, Germany,  promoted the legitimacy of Adolf Hitler and his government.

While there was opposition to holding the Olympics in Berlin, Avery Brundage, U.S. Olympic Committee president, was a major supporter of holding the games in Germany. Just as today’s IOC leaders declare, he said that “politics has no place in sports.”

German Jewish athletes could not attend the 1936 Olympics. Jewish athletes could not participate, including shot putter and discus thrower Lilli Henoch, a four-time world record holder. As well as ten-time German national champion Gretel Bergmann. Bergmann was suspended from the German team just days after she set a record of 1.60 meters in the high jump. Once the boycott movement failed. Germany and Nazism had a propaganda coup.

The 49 nations who sent teams to the games legitimized the Nazi regime both in the eyes of the world and of German domestic audiences.

Journalist Melissa Chan, who covers transnational issues often involving China’s influence beyond its borders, draws a clear analogy beteeen China and Nazi Germany:

“To right perceived wrongs, Xi has a clear revanchist agenda. Taiwan has become his Alsace-Lorraine. The Himalayan border with India his Polish Corridor, and Hong Kong his Sudetenland. With military or strong-arm tactics, he has made clear that moves to control these areas are not off the table. In addition, Beijing has reportedly moved into the Bhutanese territory. China also claims most of the South China Sea, where it has built military outposts marked by its own ‘nine-dash-line’ that, on a map, protrudes far beyond Chinese land borders in a Lebensraum-like expansion,”

Beyond this, notes Chan,

“Twenty-first century technology has provided the Chinese Communist Party surveillance capabilities that 20th century fascists could only dream of. Facial recognition cameras work to track 1.4 billion people, invading even public bathrooms to stop toilet paper theft. The state, with coordination from its technology giants, controls and tracks messages and content shared between smartphones…Against the Muslim Uyghurs, the state has sought to,prevent births, including by using extreme measures such as forced sterilization. Its treatment of Uyghurs has led to the establishment of re-education camps that experts say constitute the largest detention of ethnic and religious minorities since World war 11. The legislatures of several democracies have called what’s happening genocide.”

Sadly, the IOC, led by Thomas Bach, simply repeats Beijing’s claim that all is well, just as Olympic committee leaders in 1936 embraced Nazi Germany. And how many American business executives, who stand to gain from the Olympics and business with China, do the same? The corporate sponsors of the Olympics are apparently indifferent to genocide, just as those in 1936 were indifferent to Nazism.

It seems we have learned nothing from history. Unfortunately, this is likely to cost us dearly in the future.


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Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.