GOVT INTERVENTION IN SPORTS INESCAPABLE
 

MANILA, AUGUST 13, 2011 (STAR) SPORTS FOR ALL By Philip Ella Juico (photo) So much has been said about the ideal situation of government not intervening in sports. The principle of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that participation in the Olympics of nations must be independent of government has also often been invoked by sports officials.

Perhaps some facts and the experience of the United States, one of the world’s sports powers, can be instructive: it can provide some insights into this “prudent rule (which is) so easy to state and so difficult to enforce (and which) had at its objective the prevention of nationalism”, according to James Michener in his book “Sports in America”. It was also pointed out that World War I had resulted in so much destruction and loss of life because of “ultra nationalistic” feelings among peoples of the world and there was therefore a need to unify countries in some common activity on a regular and organized basis. Thus, was born the modern Olympics, so they say.

Michener states that there is one area (especially) in amateur sports in which governmental intrusion may be inescapable and even desirable.

Prior to the Olympics opening itself up to the participation of professionals in certain sports (among them, basketball and tennis), the US was prevented from sending to the Olympics, or other international competitions, its best teams. Michener says, to comprehend the majestic silliness which thwarts us, the reader must be able to decipher four sets of initials: IOC, AAU, USOC and NCAA. And to do this, some appreciation of history is required.

In 1889, the French government became aware that Frenchmen were lagging behind Germans and Czechs, then a part of Austria, in physical well-being. It appointed an amateur, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, to study the matter, and belatedly in 1892, he proposed a plan guaranteed to catch the imagination of young people. The Olympic Games, which had flourished in Greece from 776 B.C. until A.D. 394 when Roman corruption made them (unhealthy), would be revived.

Michener adds that Baron de Coubertin and his counselors from various nations instituted what would become the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and early in its existence it stipulated that in each nation which wanted to participate in the Olympics, the selection of participants and the organization of the supporting effort must rest in the hands of one committee independent of government.

But who in the US should be accredited to the IOC as its legal, non-governmental committee? In 1888, a group of amateur sportsmen, increasingly concerned about the intrusions of unbridled professionalism, organized the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and gradually assumed control over the conduct of some 16 or 17 individual sports as different as basketball and bobsledding. Almost inevitably, Michener says, it became the American authority for the first Olympic Games held in Greece in 1896 and has never relinquished that authority. It is the only committee recognized by the IOC, and without its approval there could be no American participation in the Olympics.

It was when Michener visited a communist country, where the cadre rules everything (even the weight of a loaf of bread) that it was clear that “freedom from government control” (of sport) was really a fantasy. The Olympic committee of the communist country assured him that “we are completely free of any governmental domination and they showed me a paper to prove it. The dictator had proclaimed, ‘You are free from governmental domination’ and the IOC must accept this affirmation.”

On the other hand, as Michener points out, if the United States (or the Philippine) Congress or executive or judicial branches put order into the country’s Olympic affairs (or mess, as Michener calls it), such democratic countries have to be careful. Why? Because these democratic countries (including the Philippines) conduct their affairs in all transparency and openly, the communist or authoritarian governments of these IOC-member countries could well decide that any congressional, executive or judicial action, for example, constitutes government interference and kick out the Philippines from Olympic competition.

As Michener points out, the IOC concerns itself only with the Olympics (summer, winter, and, most recently the Youth Olympics), and thus operates only once every four years. But each individual sport has its own international federation, and these have acquired considerable power in determining how sports will be conducted. For example, in track and field, control rests with the International Amateur Athletic Federation, and any American (or other) organization seeking to participate internationally in track and field had better keep in its good graces.

For a while, the AAU-IOC link worked well. In 1950 however, the US congress, with the best intentions, says Michener, created by law the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which proceeded to identify those American organizations entitled to accredit athletes. Such a move tended to muddle the situation.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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