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    Thursday, July 28, 2016

    No Holds Barred: Jules Boykoff on "Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics" 

    On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with former pro soccer player, current politics professor at Pacific University in Oregon, and author Jules Boykoff.

    His latest book is Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics.

    We spoke with him by phone Wednesday.

    "I really wanted to raise a number of themes that I felt haven't been illuminated that much in the histories that have been written about the Olympics," he said.

    One was class privilege.

    "Class privilege was a big part of the Olympics even from the beginning, when it started by a French aristocrat named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who basically got together a bunch of his dukes and counts and princes to start the International Olympic Committee (IOC). That kind of class privilege has threaded all the way through today," he said.

    Another was the long history of "athlete activists, who had either taken a political stand or they stood for something transformative." And there is the "activism that's outside of the Olympics," including indigenous people, environmentalists, taxpayers, and others who have fought against all sorts of abuses done in the name of the Olympics. Still another goal was to help people learn about how capitalism works through the various predatory, unfair, and discriminatory practices of the IOC.

    All this was discussed with the opening of the Rio Olympics almost upon us, on August 5. We discussed the mass displacement of people from their homes and especially the favelas, how like other Olympics this one is being used as a way for real estate interests to grab enormous profits, the environmental disasters facing the Rio Olympics, the phony promises made by politicians, and the mass movement and activities against the Olympics going on right now in Rio.

    The book also reviews the history of several attempts at creating alternative games, including the Women's Games and Workers' Olympiads, which took place before World War II. We discussed those and why alternative games are not as strong today as they once were.

    With many cities from Boston to Krakow to Toronto and others declining to bid on hosting Olympic Games, and the seemingly endless doping and embezzlement scandals facing both the IOC and numerous international federations, we discussed the prospects for reform of this Olympic monster.

    With all these scandals and this growing opposition to the Olympics, he argued that the Olympic movement was "weaker" now than it had been in a long time, meaning conditions were ripe for fighting for basic changes right now. Fighting to reduce the size of the Olympics, demanding that resources be used for the people such as creating social housing out of Olympic facilities, and advocating an open voting process in the IOC were just some of the reforms discussed. But we also considered whether it is possible to reform the kind of huge money-making machine which the IOC has become.

    And we discussed more on the Russian state-sponsored doping program, the dangers facing Los Angeles should that city be chosen to host the 2024 Olympics, the need for intellectuals and progressives to support sports programs for the people, and much, much more.

    Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics is an entertaining and informative read, and is highly recommended in order to understand the historical and social roots of the growing crisis in the Olympic movement, and how to move forward.

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