- Racism and the Olympics by Robert G. Weisbord
Robert Weisbord packs a tremendous amount of information into seven chapters of his book Racism and the Olympics. As stated on the book jacket and within the narrative, “Race in sports cannot be disentangled from societal problems, nor can race or sports be fully understood separately. Racial conflict must be contextualized.” And so Weisbord provides the context. In fact, to a great extent, the book serves as a selective history of international racism, as much as a history of racism and the Olympics. Weisbord artfully demonstrates the brutality of humanity and how it flows into sport, specifically the Olympic Games.
Weisbord discusses Olympic athletes such as Tidye Pickett who faced “Jim Crow” segregation en route to and at the 1932 Los Angeles games, mirroring the discriminatory treatment of African Americans at the time. He delineates the racial and religious politics and potential boycott of the 1936 “Nazi” Olympics held in Berlin. Readers learn about the lives of Olympians after the games. For example, Mack Robinson could only attain a position as a street cleaner, yet wore his leather USA jacket proudly while working. [End Page 250]
Much of Weisbord’s chapter on the 1968 Olympics mirrors the Fists of Freedom documentary first aired on HBO in 1999. The author adds that two-hundred-meter medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, known for their “Black Power salute,” failed to receive commemorative rings. In addition, amid the assassinations of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at Munich in 1972, Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett, four-hundred-meter medalists, were both ousted from the Olympic village for their casual stance on the awards stand during the national anthem.
Referring to South Africa as “a truly multiracial nation” (103), Weisbord devotes nearly ten pages to a concise history of apartheid in South Africa, then delves into topics such as the 1960 Rugby Tour of New Zealand in South Africa, the organization of the South Africa Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC) led by Dennis Brutus, the apartheid policy under Prime Minister Vorster, and the IOC’s removal of South Africa from the Olympic Games.
The author lays the basis for the expulsion of Rhodesia from the Olympic movement through a ten-page history of Rhodesia and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in November 1965. With Rhodesian sporting facilities remaining segregated in the early 1970s, an IOC vote forced Rhodesia to withdraw from the 1972 Olympics. After seven years of war, a new country—Zimbabwe—emerged and entered the 1980 Moscow Games.
IOC President Avery Brundage receives ample coverage throughout much of the text. Frequently stating that “politics has no place in the Olympic Movement,” Brundage supported both Germany’s and Rhodesia’s segregationist policies (152). Weisbord concludes his well-written and extensively researched text with a sample of incidents involving the Olympics in the 1970s and 1980s, noting that “so long as racism exists, there will be racism and perceptions of racism in sports, and that includes the Olympics” (172). Weisbord’s work serves as an excellent source of information for those interested in the history of racism in sport, specifically the Olympic Games.