The Great Powers and the Olympics

With Russia beating up on Georgia at the very same time as the Olympics are underway in Beijing, it’s perhaps inevitable that the conversation has now turned to the propriety of Russia hosting the 2014 winter games while under the rule of a “bad actor” regime. This, combined with the boomlet earlier this year for the idea of boycotting the Beijing games, makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be better to adopt a policy of trying to award the Olympics only to unimportant countries.

Of course you couldn’t make an official “unimportant countries only” rule because some unimportant countries, Italy for example, probably would like to maintain that they are in fact important. But as a commonsense guideline, I think we know which countries the important ones are with our fancy nuclear arsenals and UN Security Council seats. A rule like “the United States gets to host Olympics but great power rivals whose governments we don’t approve of don’t” has a certain appeal from a U.S. point of view but it doesn’t seem likely to be adopted. But if the Olympics were always being held in someplace like Portugal or Argentina or the Netherlands it seems to me that folks could just enjoy the spectacle for what it is and be spared some of the endless controversy about boycotts and so forth.