When the Modern Olympics were conceived in the 1890s by Pierre de Coubertin his dream was of “peaceful, courteous contests” that would “constitute the best form of internationalism”. Throughout its history, the Olympic movement has associated itself with a shifting series of ideals, not least a desire to rise above politics.
Yet since their inception in 1896, the modern Games have provided a stage on which the great political and social stories of the day have been played out – from debates about the participation of women in the early years of the twentieth century, through cold war diplomacy, the politics of race and freedom of speech, to today’s concern about human rights, regeneration, security and corporate influence.
This blog explores how political and commercial pressures have buffeted the ideals and values of the Olympic movement in the past, and how they continue to influence the Games today. It runs in parallel with an exhibition of the same name at the Free Word Centre in London, which opened in May 2012 and runs until the close of the Paralympic Games in September.
Learn more at www.freewordonline.com
The 1980 Moscow Olympics took place against the backdrop of the Solidarity movement in Poland as well as the American-led boycott.
In front of a hostile Russian crowd rooting for Soviet athlete Konstantin Volkov, the Polish pole-vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz set a new world record with a vault at 5.78m. After the jump he turned to the Moscow crowd and made a rude bras d’honneur salute, further provoking the Soviets. The salute became one of the most memorable images of the 1980 Games and immediately travelled around the world, except, ironically, to the Soviet Union and Poland. Signifying Polish resentment of Soviet influence, the gesture became immediately known as Kozakiewicz’s gesture (gest Kozakiewicza).
After the Olympics, the Soviet ambassador to Poland requested that Kozakiewicz should be stripped of his medal as he had “insulted the Soviet people”. The Polish government responded officially that the gesture was due to an involuntary muscle spasm caused by his physical exertion.
Image: Associated Press