Painful ambivalence: the Olympic Games

Yesterday I watched the 77g weightlifting event at the Olympics. I watched in real time as Lu Haojie  , from China, badly injured his left elbow at the snatch. I saw him climbing down the platform in pain, his coach kneeling beside him as he cried holding his arm. He then proceeded to the clean and jerk before an awestruck public. He lifted 190kg, his face a mask of pain and determination and got a good lift. I cried as I saw his face and watched the difficult elbow extension he did. I believe thousands of people felt the same way.

As he climbed the podium to receive his heroically earned silver medal, I think a bunch of us cried again.

There is no doubt about it: the Olympics push important symbolic and emotional buttons inside each one of us. There is a powerful subtext about human excellence, solidarity, world peace and celebration of the most cherished values in our society: determination, sacrifice, honesty, fair play, accomplishment, among others.

But the Olympic games are not about that. As the media puts forward innocent athletes to become celebrated as future heroes or sacrificed and punished as futures villains, for the crime of not winning, we forget that the Olympic games are not about any of those values, because those values are attached to the least empowered players in this show: the athletes.

The Olympic games are about power. In the sports “field”, in a Bourdiean perspective, athletes are the underdogs. They have no say, no rights, no initiative. In the XXIst century, I find it hard to believe there is not enough academic production highlighting this issue. It is no wonder that the non-olympic sports have developed a number of different social and economic relations that render the athlete much more empowered. The most successful one is the corporate model, in which the sport is managed by a private owned corporation and athletes are either partners, service providers or clients. All rights and duties properly codified in contracts. If he or she is not happy, he or she can choose a different company – it’s simple as that.

The other model is the self-governed sports organizations. This format is apparently attractive, since the athletes’ interests are, by definition, directly considered. Unfortunately, the result has been similar to the protestant church phenomenon in the XVIIth century: once free from the authoritarian monolithic ruling of the Vatican, the movement has cracked up into a myriad of smaller and smaller churches.

This is what happened to powerlifting, my sport.

There is no easy answer to what the best model is. The monolithic authoritarian single federation Olympic model is definitely not the solution. Behind the curtains of glory and celebration of human achievement is a dark scene of violence and oppression, multiplied by the other power players such as the WADA (World Anti-doping Agency) and the media, which offers athletes in silver plates for the gruesome anthropophagic international orgy.

I am a firm opponent of the Olympic movement in powerlifting. It would be a great civilizatory step back. We, the athletes, don’t deserve that. Unfortunately, the violence behind the scene is opaque to the average athlete, to whom the “Olympic dream” is sold.


MARILIACOUTINHO.COM – idéias sobre treinamento de força, powerlifting, levantamento de peso, strongman, esportes de força, gênero e educação física. Ideas on strength training, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, strength sports, gender and physical education.

A vida é pentavalente: arranco, arremesso, agachamento, supino e levantamento terra. Life is a five valence unit: the snatch, the clean and jerk, the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.

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