U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel once said the Olympic movement is "about sport, not politics." But every four years, the torch, rings, and medals somehow get tied up in some political movement of the moment.
Here is my list of the top five most politicized games in Olympic history:
5) 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi*
In August of 2008, Georgia’s government called for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in 2014, scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia. At issue for Georgia is Russia’s participation in the 2008 South Ossetia war. Sochi is almost 20 miles of Abkhazia, a disputed territory claimed by Georgia. However, the International Olympic Committee has responded to concerns about the status of the 2014 games by stating that it is “premature to make judgments about how events happening today might sit with an event taking place six years from now.”
*Side note: Winter Olympics have tended to have far fewer scandals than the summer games.
4) 1980 Summer Olympics, Moscow
Jimmy Carter issued a boycott of the Moscow games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many other countries “joined the boycott” as well. But the exact number of nations boycotting is hard to determine because a total of 62 eligible countries failed to participate, but some were due to financial hardships. Only 80 countries participated in the Moscow games, which is the second- lowest number of participants in the history of the modern Olympics. (Also interesting is Polish pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz's giving the world the bras d’honneur and causing an international scandal.)
3) 1936 Summer Olympics, Berlin
Held in the heart of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler decided to use these games as a chance to show off his reconstructed Germany to the world. Germany had not been invited to any of the games after they had lost World War I. This was the moment that he unveiled the rebooted Germany to the world. A number of politicians and organizations requested a boycott of the Berlin Olympics, but only Spain boycotted and hosted their own labor and socialist-friendly “People’s Olympiad” alternative for athletes to compete. The USA decided to participate, and African-American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals and was a thorn in the side of Aryan propaganda. However, the only two Jewish athletes on the American team, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, were pulled the day of their relay event, which led to accusations of anti-Semitism on the part of the United States Olympic Committee.
2) 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta
Atlanta’s games were marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombings. Two people died and 111 were injured in this pipe bombing terrorist attack. Eric Rudolph planted the bomb with the intent to “confound, anger, and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand. The plan was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empathy the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested.”
1) 1972 Summer Olympics, Munich
These games were shadowed by the Munich massacre. Members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by the Palestinian group Black September. The kidnappers killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer. The kidnappers called for the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails and for the release of all the imprisoned German Red Army Faction. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers in a failed rescue attempt. Israel responded to the murders with Operation Spring of Youth and Operation Wrath of God, during which Palestinians suspected of involvement in the massacre were systemically tracked and killed by Israeli intelligence and Special Forces.