More Spies Than Athletes at the Olympics

I’m not sure what the count was at the first Olympics, but I don’t think there were more spies than athletes.

According to historical records, the first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 BC. They were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia. They continued for nearly 12 centuries, until Emperor Theodosius decreed in 393 A.D. that all such “pagan cults” be banned. I don’t believe there were more spies than athletes at any of the early games.

The Olympics would have a resurgence. However the focus would move from athleticism to politics. From most accounts, politicizing the Olympics began at the 1936 Olympic games.

The 1936 Olympic Games were intentionally awarded to Germany so the German republic could show that it had regained its status among European countries. With the Nazis in power, however, Adolf Hitler used the event as a platform to prove his theory of racial superiority. His attempt failed as African-American Jesse Owens became the hero of the Games winning four gold medals.

The Helsinki Games in 1952 marked the beginning of Cold war tensions.

West Germany participated for the first time, and the USSR returned to the Olympics after a 40-year absence. The USSR initially planned to house its athletes in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and fly them into Finland each day. In the end, separate housing facilities for Eastern bloc athletes were set aside.

Three separate protests affected the Melbourne Games of 1956. China withdrew after the International Olympic Commission recognised Taiwan, and would not return to the Olympics before 1980. Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon sat out to protest at Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, while Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands boycotted over the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

The Rome Games marked the end of South African participation in the Olympic Games. Its racist apartheid regime meant the country was excluded until the 1992 Barcelona Games. At the 1960 Olympics, marathon-runner Abebe Bikila, running barefoot, became the first black African Olympic champion. Free of other major political disruptions, the Rome Games became a showcase for Italy, attracting a record 5348 athletes from 83 countries.

1968 was a year of universal unrest.

Europe was rocked by student protests, the Vietnam war raged on, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile at the Olympics, East Germany competed separately for the first time. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished first and third in the 200 metres, gave the Black Power salute during the national anthem as a protest against racism in the US.

The largest Games yet staged, the 1972 Olympics were supposed to represent peace. But the Munich Games are most often remembered for the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes. With five days of the Games to go, 8 Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, killing two Israelis and taking nine others hostage. The Palestinians demanded the release of 200 prisoners from Israel. In an ensuing battle, all nine Israeli hostages were killed, as were five of the terrorists and one policeman. IOC president Avery Arundage took the decision to continue the Games after a 34-hour suspension.

You can see the rest of the politicization of sport here.

And here we are today.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team is comprised of 554 athletes (262 men, 292 women). The roster may be adjusted due to injury, illness or exceptional circumstances up to the technical meetings for each sport. However, these are the numbers.

It may surprise you to learn that U.S. intelligence has assigned more than 1,000 spies to Olympic security as part of a highly classified effort to protect the Rio 2016 Summer Games and American athletes and staff. That means there are almost twice the number of spies as athletes.

Hundreds of analysts, law enforcement and special operations personnel are on the ground in Rio de Janeiro.

This certainly provides a good idea of how the world works. What began as purely sport, now has more government than athletes. The cost of the War on Terror?  When you have more spies than athletes, it’s difficult to call this a sporting event. The Olympics is more like a spying event with a lot of athletes.


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