The 2018 winter Olympics have been a wonderful display of athleticism and sportsmanship. It’s been an enjoyable break from the norm of football, baseball, basketball, etc.
One aspect of the Olympic Games that is always intriguing to me is how politics find their way into the coverage of the games, and it brings me to this question. What role does politics have in the Olympic Games?
Of course, international politics play a role in the Olympic Games, as we’ve seen the interesting display of the North Korean delegation that the media can’t seem to get enough of. My question is in reference to how domestic politics are displayed while our athletes are in a foreign country.
The display of contentious political commentary about domestic issues by Olympic athletes seems strange to me. I would expect the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to have certain standards and restrictions on the commentary that athletes make about U.S. leadership while on foreign soil. For example, soldiers have certain context based restrictions on their speech. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. 888 prohibits commissioned military officers from expressing contemptuous words against the president, Congress, etc.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying we should make it a crime for Olympic athletes to be political. But it does bring up questions of whether or not they should be allowed to participate if they make outright attacks on American political leadership. After all, the argument for restricting the speech of soldiers is based on the fact that they are on a team that needs to be cohesive in the face of adversaries abroad.
A similar argument could also be made about the U.S. Olympic team.
As representatives of our nation, while not in an official sense like a Foreign Diplomatic Dignitary, they do have the capacity to send messages that can significantly influence the political atmosphere in other countries. Simple restrictions on what athletes are allowed to engage in while at the games may be in order and should be addressed with the USOC.
That said, the point of the Olympics is to participate as a team on behalf of the nation, and criticizing the nation which has provided support and funding sends questionable signals as to the commitment one has to the team effort. The fact they are receiving tremendous financial assistance contributes to the authority that the USOC would have in placing restrictions on what athletes say about our nation’s political leadership.
Participating in the Olympics is not about being a pundit, it's about performance. If athletes want to make political statements after the games, that is appropriate. But making contentious political statements against one’s own home country while the games are taking place seems like not only an insult to our country’s political leadership but also to one’s teammates.
Richard S. Bernstein, CEO of Richard S. Bernstein & Associates, Inc., West Palm Beach, is an insurance advisor for high net worth business leaders, families, businesses, municipalities, and charitable organizations. An insurance advisor to many of America’s wealthiest families, he is a writer, trusted local and national media resource and expert speaker on estate planning and health insurance. Visit his website at www.rbernstein.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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