Tag Archives: Olympics

Sports in the Cold War Race

During the Cold War era it was all about, as Charlie Sheen likes to say, winning!  But, winning in this context was as much about public perception as it was about controlling territory and people.  The perception of the success of one way of life versus another was just as important as the various other races the USA and USSR were running.

The fact that so many of the political moves were described as competitions and races is telling in itself.  During the Cold War there were a series of relays with very specific goals: the arms race (nuclear bombs, bombers, submarines, etc.) and the space race.  Key goals that had to be won by being reached before the other country.

So much of the achievement in these goals was based not on reality, but on the perception created for the public.  More than any other war this was one based on propaganda and its achievement marked in public morale.  Sporting competition and its terminology provided concrete victories in lieu of battles and hot warfare.

Basketball. USSR vs. USA

What follows are some perspectives on this phenomenon.  The first is from the PBS series, Secrets of the Dead, which covers the doping program in the GDR, including its devastating effects for the youth involved–especially the girls.  The latter three are from this year’s American Historical Association Annual Conference in Boston and take on the sporting scene during the Cold War.

Doping for Gold ~ The Cold War Sporting Front | Secrets of the Dead | PBS.

Click on the link, above, to go to PBS and watch Doping for Gold.  Nothing was above board in international sporting competitions during the Cold War.  Athletics was an important tool in demonstrating the superiority of a country’s way of life, thus differing slightly from its significance during the Nazi Olympics which was intended to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.  In order to accomplish this, the Communist nations trained their athletes as much in psychological warfare as they did in their given field–chess players, for example, were groomed to create minor “legal” disturbances in competitions, such as tapping a chess piece while a competitor studied the board in pressure situations.

It was particularly in team sports that dominance was considered vital for Communist nations.  They flouted Olympic rules demanding the participation of amateurs only, by enlisting all of their athletes into the military and then listing them as military personnel, while training them full time in their sports.  They also used doping to gain an edge.  This was especially true of the East Germans who saw women’s sports as the wave of the future and leaped at the opportunity to dominate during the German Olympics in Munich.  The women famously spoke with absurdly deep voices and gave every appearance of masculinity.  The site that you can follow with the link above provides a summary of some of these means for subversive competition.

Cold War Sport in Global Context

Winning the Cold War in East Asia: Sport and Regionalism, Sandra Collins, California Sate University at Chico

Home and Away: East Germany and the 1972 Olympics in the Age of Ostpolitik, Christopher Young, University of Cambridge

The Soviet-Canadian Rivalry and a Japanese Battleground: Canadian HockeyProfessionals Meet the Soviets, 1970-77, John A. Soares, Jr., University of Notre Dame

This workshop was based on the premise that sports during the Cold War were not merely symbolic but deliberate tools in diplomacy, control and, as Soares described it, clearly identifiable victories and losses.  Collins evaluated the IOC’s political maneuvering in Asia and the clear absence of its supposed political neutrality in its regard and treatment of emerging Communist countries.  Young looked at the GDR and its involvement in the 1972 Olympic Games (although I confess one of the most interesting features was the poll of GDR youth in evaluating national vs German success in the Games).  Soares presented on the intentional use of ice hockey by the Candians in the Cold War diplomacy and international competition.

Collins (author of the book, The Missing Olympics) discussed the IOC’s lack of neutrality in Asia during the 1960s, banning certain countries from participation.  This prompted the founding of the Games of the Newly Emerging Forces (GNEFO) by Indonesia.  These games were aimed at those countries in Asia and Central/South America who were blacklisted by the IOC precisely for political reasons.  Whereas the Olympic Games were heading to Japan in 1964, GNEFO was being held in defiance in 1962–the IOC banned any country that participated in the ’62 GNEFO from the ’64 Japanese games.  South Korea withdrew from GNEFO although Japan, in seeming defiance, sent a B-squad.  (It was suggested that this might have been a determined effort by Japan to distance itself from its internationally enforced relationship with Taiwan.)  Clearly, this active involvement in international politics on the part of the IOC.  (Inspired by this talk I found this 1963 Sports Illustrated article covering GNEFO.)

Young is co-author of The 1972 Munich Olympics and the making of modern Germany.  For the purposes of this brief post, I choose to focus on two points from his larger presentation–one from his paper and one from the comments and questions afterwards.  One of the aspects I found most interesting from this discussion was his summary of the opinion polls that the GDR took from their youth–the category of youth who were not on board with the government were categorized as those “not yet disposed” to support the government.  In these polls, a hypothetical handball tournament was suggested among the USSR, East Germany, West Germany and Denmark and the youth were asked which teams they would support.  Whereas East Germany won by a landslide and the USSR came in second, the West came in at a very close third.  Polls also revealed a great deal of animosity for the individual GDR athletes, despite the universal support for the GDR teams.  Citizens of the GDR reveled in the success of West Germany during the Olympics, as well.  Young concluded that the support for athletic representation was not necessarily support for the regime.

In response to a the commentator and a query from the audience,Young also discussed gender during the Olympics and the preparation for those Olympics.  The GDR recognized the rise of female participation in the Olympics and deliberately sought to dominate in this arena.  Of course, this policy led to the tainted metals won by the steroid-juiced athletes in 1972 and subsequent competitions.

During the Cold War, the competition to demonstrate the superiority of these opposed ways of life and governance spawned many “cultural exchanges” that were intended to out-do and create dissension among the various populations.  Soares demonstrates the deliberate use of ice hockey by the Canadians to fight these cultural wars.  Ice hockey, in particular, is uniquely appropriate for this discussion, Soares explained, because all the relevant powers played it, it was a team sport and the diplomats considered it one of their weapons.  There was deliberate discussion about utilizing ice hockey instead of ballets and symphonies to win the war for the people’s sympathies.

The Canadians boycotted the Olympics for many years, offended by the farcical claim of communist and socialist countries that they were sending teams of amateurs in compliance with the rules.  Ice hockey was also an important link between Canada and Japan in their attempts to build diplomatic ties independently of the U.S.A.

 

These examples highlight the importance of sports in the Cold War and help to provide a terminology for a war that is being fought in symbolism and achievement (for the most part) as opposed to hot battles.  It is particularly the case for life hidden behind the Iron Curtain, but in the war of words and symbols, the USA was not far behind the USSR and the GDR.  For example, the Kennedy staff, having campaigned on the hawkish need to build missile reserves, was shocked to learn that the USA  had already out-paced the Soviets according to the intel, when it was briefed coming into office.

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Reflections on the American Historical Association Annual Meeting, 2

I loves sports!  I am a huge football and ice hockey fan!!  So, I was thrilled to attend the following workshop in preparation for my Sports in America special topics history class at The Community College of Baltimore County.

The Hynes Convention Center where the AHA 2011 conference was held (and where an exceptionally irritating fire alarm interrupted the session I am describing in this post)!

Cold War Sport in Global Context

Winning the Cold War in East Asia: Sport and Regionalism, Sandra Collins, California Sate University at Chico

Home and Away: East Germany and the 1972 Olympics in the Age of Ostpolitik, Christopher Young, University of Cambridge

The Soviet-Canadian Rivalry and a Japanese Battleground: Canadian Hockey Professionals Meet the Soviets, 1970-77, John A. Soares, Jr., University of Notre Dame

This was a fantastic workshop based on the premise that sports during the Cold War were not merely symbolic but deliberate tools in diplomacy, control and, as Soares described it, clearly identifiable victories and losses.  Collins evaluated the IOC’s political maneuvering in Asia and the clear absence of its supposed political neutrality.  Young looked at the GDR and its involvement in the 1972 Olympic Games (although I confess one of the most interesting features was the poll of GDR youth in evaluating national vs German success in the Games).  Soares presented (through fire alarms, believe it or not . . . poor Bobby Hall . . . being disrespected in Boston!) on the intentional use of ice hockey by the Candians in the Cold War diplomacy and international competition.

Collins (author of the book, The Missing Olympics) discussed the IOC’s lack of neutrality in Asia during the 1960s, banning certain countries from participation.  This prompted the founding of the Games of the Newly Emerging Forces (GNEFO) out of Indonesia.  These games were aimed at those countries in Asia and Central/South America who were blacklisted by the IOC precisely for political reasons.  Whereas the Olympic Games were heading to Japan in 1964, GNEFO was being held in defiance in 1962–the IOC banned any country that participated in the ’62 GNEFO from the ’64 Japanese games.  South Korea withdrew from GNEFO and Japan, in seeming defiance, sent a B-squad.  (It was suggested that this might have been a determined effort to distance Japan from its internationally enforced relationship with Taiwan.)  Clearly, this active involvement in international politics on the part of the IOC.  (Inspired by this talk I found this 1963 Sports Illustrated article covering GNEFO.)

Young is a scholar after my own heart (although much more accomplished and knowledgeable) who is actually a medievalist, doing sports history for the joy of it!  For the purposes of my brief post, I choose to focus on two points from his larger presentation–one from his paper and one from the comments and questions afterwards.  One of the most interesting aspects from this discussion was his summary of the opinion polls that the GDR took from their youth–the category of youth who were not on board with the government were categorized as those “not yet disposed” to support the government!  In these polls, a hypothetical handball tournament was suggested among the USSR, East Germany, West Germany and Denmark and the youth were asked which teams they would support.  Whereas East Germany won by a landslide and the USSR came in second, the West came in at a very close third.  Polls also revealed a great deal of animosity for the individual GDR athletes, despite the universal support for the GDR teams.  Citizens of the GDR reveled in the success of West Germany during the Olympics, as well.  Young concluded that the support for athletic representation was not necessarily support for the regime.  In response to a the commentator and a query from the audience, Young also discussed gender during the Olympics and the preparation for those Olympics.  The GDR recognized the rise of female participation in the Olympics and deliberately sought to dominate in this arena.  Of course, this policy led to the tainted metals won by the steroid-juiced athletes in 1972.

During the Cold War, the competition to demonstrate the superiority of these opposed ways of life and governance spawned many “cultural exchanges” that were intended to out-do and create dissension among the various populations.  Soares demonstrates the deliberate use of ice hockey by the Canadians to fight these cultural wars.  Ice hockey, in particular, is uniquely appropriate for this discussion, Soares explained, because all the relevant powers played it, it was a team sport and the diplomats considered it one of their weapons.  There was deliberate discussion about utilizing ice hockey instead of ballets and symphonies to win the war for the people’s sympathies.  The Canadians boycotted the Olympics for many years, offended by the farcical claim of communist and socialist countries that they were sending teams of amateurs in compliance with the rules.  Ice hockey was also an important link between Canada and Japan in their attempts to build diplomatic ties independently of the U.S.

Of course, this is a brief summary of larger discussions and contexts, but it shows not just the legitimacy of considering sports in the Cold War, but the actual necessity of it!

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And for the World Cup . . . QATAR???

And, in 2022, the winner is Qatar!

A World Cup to make HISTORY!!

In 2018, the World Cup will not be held in Spain/Portugal, nor England, nor Netherlands/Belgium.  It will be held in Russia–there we will see, no doubt, all sorts of inspiring video-anecdotes about the country and its people–but, maybe not its government.  (Wonder what they’re thinking in Georgia . . .)

In 2022, the World Cup will not be held in Australia, nor Japan, nor Korea, nor the USA.  It will be held in Qatar (pronounced “cutter”).  Qatar is a US ally, sorta.  Troops go on leave there when they are deployed and get laid-over there during their transports to and from theater.  Most of us don’t know much more other than it’s rolling in oil, so it is a wealthy place, but that’s about it.

So, let me provide you with some random fast-facts about the country that beat the US out for a second go at hosting the World Cup.

Location, location, location!

Qatar–Saudi Arabia’s shoe lace

If you are looking for Qatar, first pull up a map of the Middle East.  Find the “boot” of the Arabian peninsula and look for the shoe lace that’s sticking up into the Persian Gulf in the direction of Iran.  Qatar, all 11,586 sq km–so, for those of you who speak miles, slightly smaller than CONNECTICUT–is the first Middle Eastern country to ever host the World Cup.  According to the “Soccerphile” website, FIFA has ranked Qatar the no. 1 soccer country in the Persian Gulf!  Apparently, they are soccer-crazy and have been playing longer than they have had their independence (from Britain, Sept. 3, 1971).  The national team has succeeded in winning both the Gulf Cup and the Asian Games.  The Asian Games were especially interesting–they hosted and beat Iran in the semi-finals and Iraq in the championship match.  Of course, that very fact highlights some of the unique realities that come with holding a major international tournament in a hot region of the globe, both literally and figuratively.  It raises some interesting questions.  Personally, the one I want to see answered the most is what happens if Iran goes fully nuclear by then?  (The U.S. gets the World Cup if Qatar fails to muster . . . now, where is that Magic 8 Ball hiding these days . . .)

Climate Control

The other major issue with Qatar’s location is the climate in that region.  If the World Cup was played in the winter, Qatar would be your go-to destination, but it is not.  When it is not winter, according to the CIA Factbook, Qatar has “very hot, humid summers”.  The Weather Channel website suffered a brain melt-down the moment I submitted Qatar to its search engine, however, according to the Weather Underground website  (wunderground.com), summer highs average over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not to worry, though, because they are crazy rich and have a great plan to beat the summer heat!  Air conditioned stadiums!!!  I have no idea how!!  But, it is an impressive plan to build the stadiums as carbon-free, solar-powered entities–guess we don’t have those in the US.  They are some pretty sweet looking stadiums…

Kill’em with Kindness

One of the really intriguing features of the Qatari bid was that their stadiums will be built in such a way that they can take down portions and use them somewhere else–specifically targeting developing countries.  So, in this one bid we have (1) the first Middle East country ever to host, and (2) a host country that is looking to share its wealth and further expand the game–a longtime commitment of Mr. Sepp Blatter’s otherwise controversial reign as the head ref at FIFA.

Plus, they want to make it a green party!  How this carbon output is effected by the new public transportation and infrastructure that is going to be added for the event, has yet to be assessed.  I do know you cannot deliver all of the world’s soccer hooligans to stadiums by water taxi.  Speaking of hooligans, Qatar assured the world that there will be places to drink alcohol somewhere in the country–the one that’s the size of Connecticut.  Travel, at least, will be reduced from stadium to stadium–unlike, say in Russia!

Roiling Controversy

 

OMG!! RUSSIA AND QATAR!?!?!

So, the next question on the minds of many for this World Cup bid-showdown is simple: did money exchange hands?  Does this stink of a gas for football scandal?  The world is shocked!  Russia beat England–with David Beckham!!  Ask yourself this: Are you drawn by Beckham or Putin?  Stable democracy and economy or mob-run state?  Just a few things I wonder about.  As far as selecting Qatar over the US (or Australia, for that matter–a country that has hosted several international sporting events, not least the Olympics, has an enviable climate, great infrastructure and was represented by Nicole Kidman!), the climate, the region and the unbuilt infrastructure–although, again, it’s not like their Russian-size–are all major questions that the US did not have to worry about in its bid.  (Oh, and we had Morgan Freeman representing us!)

The Week took a quick look at the controversy, providing a glance at three opinions–two crying foul, one concluding that there was no offsides on the play.  Below, are a couple more opinionated reports or blogs regarding FIFA’s 2012 decision.

While the FIFA bids are on the long side–and, not always in English–they also have shorter ads and summaries of each bid’s main points.  If you would like to see them follow this link: http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/bidders/live/index.html.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT:

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Soccer and World History?

 

Ancient Athenian playing a soccer-like game. (National Museum of Archaeology, Athens, Greece)

 

In preparation for my sports history class next semester at the Community College of Baltimore County, I have been preparing a unit on soccer–the game the world plays . . . even if the U.S. does not.  It is also the sport over which the most ink has been spent.  Because of its penetration into the societies that really play it, it is something that has garnered the attention of political scientists, economists and sociologists, but not so much by historians.

 

The Ball is Round, A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt

 

It is with that in mind that I have started to develop the reading list, both my preparatory list and my students’, and have started reading David Goldblatt’s 974-page tome, The Ball is Round, A global history of Soccer.  Goldblatt’s argument is simply that soccer must be part of modern historical writing, “Whether the historians like it or not, football [soccer] cannot be taken out of the history of the modern world and the history of the modern world is unevenly, erratically but indisputably etched into the history of football,” (xvii, Goldblatt).  I have argued that sports and other hobbies and interests open windows onto exquisite views of our human past, but I cannot think of a single modern history that has included soccer.  In my mind, sports potentially provides a spark of interest for people who may not know why they should care about history.  Goldblatt argues that it should be considered not as a gimmick to get attention, but as a genuine contributor to history.  I have thought its value is the connection to the culture.  Goldblatt agrees, but thinks it is still more than that, contributing to the culture’s history.

 

A recent tribute to Kurt Landauer, club president of FC Bayern Munchen until the Nazi regime forced the club to expel its Jewish members--the only club not to do so voluntarily before such laws.

 

I wonder if Goldblatt is to be taken seriously.  Certainly, his latter point about history etching itself on the sport has to be accurate, but on considering whether it is the case that soccer can be included versus must be included . . . I am not yet sure.  I will say this: the Cold War should not be covered without a look at the international competitions as a way to demonstrate the apparent success of two conflicting ways of life–regardless of how accurate that presentation actually was.

 

The Miracle on Ice: The US is victorious over the USSR at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games in New York--incredible win considering the state of the nation and the Cold War

 

Come to think of it,  is it is not easy to think of the Nazi regime’s insistence on the physical prowess of the mythical Aryan race without thinking about the Olympics preceding World War II.  For that matter, I can seldom think of baseball without thinking of Cuban refugees and a certain Venezuelan dictator’s failed attempt to make the Big Leagues (poor Hugo Chavez).  Perhaps Goldblatt really has it right and I have undersold my own attempt to bridge sports and history.  Maybe we as historians do ourselves and our scholarship a real injustice by ignoring sports in the final analysis of [modern] world history.

 

A stamp for the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany--an affair that violated virtually all of the idealistic purposes of the Olympic Games, but also frustrated Hitler with the success of American Jesse Owens.

 

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Music, Sports, Games, Food — The things people like . . .

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There are several popular things that I really enjoy: music, food, sports, games.

These also happen to be things that most students really enjoy.  And, they are things that are often particularly unique to the cultures that create or adopt them.  Looking at any one of these features opens a window into another culture and, thus, into what makes it strange or familiar.  Later this winter I would like to run I a week devoted to each of these fine and wonderful contributions to society.  For now, however, I would like to make a case for making greater use of these cultural institutions in teaching.

Feasting!

Arguably something we don’t do enough these days, feasting has had an important function in pretty much every culture.  It is also something that can be duplicated with a certain amount of ease.  A feast is a fantastic way to bring together students, families and the greater school community at large.  What’s more, it is also applicable for virtually any unit in your social studies and history classes.

It doesn’t have to be an exhibition on the glamor of exotic or foreign culinary delights, though.  Sometimes what is most powerful is the sense of deprivation.  Thanksgiving on the western frontier is a very different experience from Thanksgiving in Boston.  The food culture of a region depends on resources, climate, environment and access.  Within that culture there are often variations that exist based on wealth.  All of these are teaching points and all of these are often accessible in primary sources.  Food traditions also often represent points of fusion and connection with other cultures and regions, making a certain emphasis on food a great way to experience cultural change through contact.

Sporting!

Spectator and participatory sporting activities have a long history in our human story.  On the one hand, this is something that is easily recognizable and offers a familiar face to a foreign culture.  On the other hand, the purpose these served for ancient cultures is often rather alien.  Most students would be able to grasp the technical similarities that exist between the ball game of Central America with soccer, but most students will not immediately take hold of the idea that losers will be sacrificed on an altar and have their hearts removed.  By starting with the ball game, you lead to other avenues, such as religion, ritual and beliefs.

Even with more recent sports, social issues, such as eminent domain and segregation, are put into a particularly accessible format for students.  Certain international realities are also made plain when looking at international competitions such as World Cup and the Olympics.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 film series is based to an extant on this notion.

Gaming!

There are a combination of factors that contribute to the relevance of games.  Chess, backgammon, cards, dice . . these are games with a lot of history and there is the opportunity to put a student in the same shoes as a child, soldier, king from centuries beforehand and tell him this is the same way they past their time.

Some games are ones of strategy and others are of chance.  Strategy itself has a history as chess enthusiasts will tell you.  But, apart from that, there is also the appearance of games that are adapted to new cultures, such as with chess and its introduction of feudal symbols into the game.  This can quite frankly be brought into the present when you consider modern video games and their increasing ability to create online communities around the games.

Singing!

Music is often difficult to reproduce the further back you go and yet musical historians have made hypothetical reproductions of ancient music and instruments.  The study of particular pieces and styles of music is extremely telling about a culture.  Monks chanting the daily antiphon to each other morning, day and night speaks of the round the clock prayer that accompanied monastic life.  Listening to the Blues speaks of the economic hardship in Jim Crow America.  The triumphant tonal qualities of western national anthems speaks to the nationalistic fervor of the 19th century.  The melding and blending of musical qualities in today’s modern music speaks to increasing contact and interaction through the internet, travel and trade.

Music is also something that can be [re-]produced by students who may be more in their element with singing and their instruments than with history–a point that is valid for all of the above categories as well, though maybe music and sports most.

Below is Stile Antico performing a 16th century piece.  The piece is in Latin, religious and written to be sung by many voices.

Below is Benny More; largely considered to be one of the greatest Cuban singers, he fronted Cuba’s leading big band and was known to be gifted at both the fast rhythms and the slower ones.

Finally, Dylan.  Well, ok, not Dylan–it’s a Dylan cover, because that’s what people do with Dylan songs.  This is gratuitous, perhaps, but as such I need provide little introduction.  In this case, I will only say that the cover is by Ani DiFranco, who is someone akin to Dylan in a post-sixties way.

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