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YYY: Politics in the Ring - Dave Zirin on Olympics and resistance

Politics in the Ring - Dave Zirin on Olympics and resistance

 Megaphone (Canada) 20 May 2019

(Originally published: 01/2010) Named of the UTNE Reader's “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports for The Nation and EdgeOfSports.com. He is also the host of Edge of Sports Radio and has been called “the best sportswriter in the United States.” The award-winning sportswriter spoke earlier this month in Vancouver on the politics of sport in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Megaphone, Canada, interviewed the D.C.-based Zirin before his trip to ask him about writing from the edge, where “sports and politics collide.” (910 words) - By Kevin Hollett

Megaphone

Courtesy of Megaphone

Named of the UTNE Reader's "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World," Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports for The Nation and EdgeOfSports.com. He is also the host of Edge of Sports Radio and has been called "the best sportswriter in the United States." Zirin's latest book, A People's History of Sports in the United States, part of Howard Zinn's People's History series. He is also the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports and 'What's My Name, Fool?' Sports and Resistance in the United States. The award-winning sportswriter spoke earlier this month in Vancouver on the politics of sport in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Megaphone, Canada, interviewed the D.C.-based Zirin before his trip to ask him about writing from the edge, where "sports and politics collide."

Megaphone : American journalist Amy Goodman had a recent run-in with Canadian border authorities when she came to Vancouver for a talk, apparently out of a concern that she would be discussing the Olympics. Are you worried about what might happen when you come?

Dave Zirin : I'm not worried in the least. I'm a professional journalist writing an article for Sports Illustrated's website about the effects of the Olympic Games on Vancouver. I absolutely can't imagine that this would be a problem with customs.

MP: What do you feel are some of the major socio-political issues surrounding the Olympics in general and the Vancouver Games specifically?

DZ: There are always issues when the Games come to a host city-of graft, displacement and budget-busting that gets passed on to taxpayers. In Vancouver, specifically, there have been a series of high-profile movements and demonstrations to take these issues on. There is also a social democratic tradition in Vancouver that is strongly at odds with these kinds of priorities. I want to look at these conflicts.

MP: There have been a number of civil liberty concerns raised with the security for the 2010 Olympics, as well as limits to protests, speech and movement-concerns which have been realized in past Olympics. Why do governments and organizing committees feel compelled to limit rights during the Games?

DZ: At every Olympics you hear near identical rhetoric from government officials about making a host city "presentable" for the Games. "Presentable" becomes a euphemism for a city out of a Disney film: clean, quiet and little else. Anyone not toeing that line becomes collateral damage in the process.

MP: You've written about sports as a potential vehicle for resistance. Do you see that potential with the Olympics in Vancouver?

DZ: The potential is always there, but the individual country matters. In China, dissent was smashed, which many brave citizens who did protest expected. In Vancouver, there is more opportunity to organize openly. That makes a difference.

MP: There has been great debate over the cost of these Games. Some have argued that the cost will cripple the city much as the 1976 Games did Montréal; others claim that there will be a net financial benefit from the influx of tourism. Should it matter if Vancouver makes money from the Olympics?

DZ: It matters absolutely. It matters because that's how politicians sell the games to a host city. They are accountable for their own justifications.

MP: When Vancouver originally bid on the Games, the big selling point for a lot of people was the opportunity to generate money and political will to improve and build infrastructure. Now we're seeing the promise of affordable housing from the Athlete's Village threatened. Why do the best intentions with the Olympics seem to go awry?

DZ: Because they aren't promises grounded in reality. It's like asking a cat to bark. The [International Organizing Committee] is not a social welfare or civil liberties organization.

MP: There seems to be a growing dissatisfaction amongst the general public toward hosting the Olympics (as seen in public polling) but a continued hunger for the spectacle of the Olympics themselves persists (as evidenced by the huge viewerships the Olympics generate in North America and abroad). Why the seeming disparity?

DZ: I think it's nationalism conjoined with newer, fresher sports, which the sports media rarely displays except for Olympic time. [There are] more women in central roles, more diversity and often times vivid demonstrations of the artistry of sports. If only it could come á la carte.

MP: You've written extensively about issues of racism and sexism in sports. What are your thoughts about the IOC's exclusion of female ski jumpers from the Olympics despite the same event being held for men?

DZ: I wrote about this issue when it happened. It was disturbing that the rule of law in a country would be secondary to the rule of the IOC. Let them jump!

MP: You're clearly a fan of sports, but you've written in the past about our society's misaligned values, what with billions of public dollars financing professional sports in the U.S. and across the world. What is it about sport that makes you a fan despite this?

DZ: Because [sport] is exciting, fun and a breathtakingly human endeavor. At its best, it is art. The idea of giving up "play" because there are those who would exploit it for their own narrow purposes would be-in my view-an awful error. We should work to reclaim sports, not renounce them.

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