For Olympics, dictators get out their feather dusters

imagesA good host always tidies up the house before the guests arrive. But some hosts have more to shove into the closet than others.

For the 1936 Olympics, Hitler got busy sweeping the more blatant horrors of his regime under the rug. He even went so far as to remove official anti-Jewish signs from Berlin streets for as long as the Summer Olympics lasted. He dearly wanted to ban Jews and Blacks from participating in the games so as to prove the Aryan superiority, as made clear by his official filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the games, Olympia. And though a potential international boycott kept him from an actual ban, the US Olympic committee graciously acceded to his wishes by not allowing their Jewish runners to participate. Luckily, Jesse Owens’s gold medals did quite enough to disprove any notion of Aryan racial superiority.

Shades of the past….These past few weeks, Putin has been busy whitewashing repression in Russia: arresting environmentalists, shooting stray dogs, and granting amnesty to imprisoned punk singers. He’s hoping the world will forget his harsh anti-gay laws, his dismal human rights record, his channeling huge sums of money better spent on Russia’s crumbling infrastructure into a PR show to dazzle the world. As one of his aides smugly commented, “Victors are not judged.”

And so the show will go on, packaged in a glorious kumbaya of good fellowship. The beautiful spirit of healthy international competition will drown in a sea of commercialism and political grandstanding.

Those ski jumps will be more dramatic than ever, thanks to modern skis that are lighter than in 1936. But somehow one feels that we’ve seen it all before.

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