When The Olympics & Politics Mix: #3 – The 1968 ‘Black Power’ Games

The Olympics have always been more than just about sport; and are now fully  intwined with world events and politics. So, in honour of the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic games, the politics section of Wessex Scene are giving a countdown of the top 5 most politicized Olympics. Enjoy.

 

Whilst political interference and involvement in the Olympics truly began from the word go – and reached steam in the 1950s – it wasn’t until the 60s when countries (and people) began to understand how important the Olympics could be to send out a message on a truly global scale. Boycotts were no longer the fashion, but protests.

In the 1960 Rome Games, Taiwan protested against having to drop the name ‘Republic of China’; in 1964, in a truly symbolic move, Japan chose 19-year old Yoshinori Sakai to light the Olympic flame at Tokyo – chosen as he was born the day after the atomic bomb struck Hiroshima. He was a symbol of Japan’s postwar reconstruction, prosperity and peace.

Yet, these was nothing compared to what would come four years later at the 1968 games -  number three of our countdown with the most famous and symbolic Olympic protest ever. At the time, the world was in a time of political unrest and ‘people power’. Europe had experienced many student protests, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, whilst the Cold War rumbled on with the US still in Vietnam and the USSR invading Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring.

The 1968 games were an Olympics steeped in controversy even before they began. With Mexico City chosen as the host, the world’s attention turned towards Latin American  for the continent’s first Olympic games. Mexico was also in some political turmoil with many student protests over the preceding summer, particularly over the invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic by the US as well as dissatisfaction with the ruling PRI regime; and want of democracy. The protesters saw the Olympics as a unique opportunity to air their grief and problems on the world stage.

Mexican President Diaz Ortaz, concerned over the image of the country with the world watching, tried to crack down on these protests with step up of army and police presence. Such action only increased the protests in size and support with trade unions joining in, as well as infamous occupation of University campuses.

10 days before the Olympics began, this tension boiled over. On October 2nd, over 10,000 university students gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas for a peaceful rally. Despite its benign nature, increased police and military presence surrounded the area as they tried to arrest some of the movement’s leaders. After shots were fired, the army began to shoot into the crowd as well as holding protestors at gunpoint. For many years, who was to blame was questioned; recent documents show that the government employed snipers to fire on fellow troops, thus provoking them to open fire on the students and other protestors. The Tlatelolco Massacre, as it would be named, killed over 44 people, with estimates ranging from 30 to around 300. The Olympics, in response, were only postponed for 36 hours.

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