As Gordon mentioned last week (and as my friend and Yale Law student Aaron Zelinsky pointed out), the International Olympic Committee has banned the Iraqi Olympic team from competing in the upcoming summer games in Beijing. The Committee took this action, ostensibly, under a section of its charter which permits punishment when “any governmental or other body causes the activity of the [National Olympic Committee] or the making or expression of its will to be hampered.” According to the IOC, the Iraqi government interfered with its own Olympic committee by allowing ethnic sectarianism to get in the way of sportsmanship.
Today in the Wall Street Journal , former United Nations official Michael Soussan joins Zelinsky in demanding that the Iraqis be permitted to play. That the IOC is substantiating its ban on the Iraqi government’s alleged meddling with the composition of its Olympic Committee due to tribal loyalties is “an interesting accusation — given that the previous chief of Iraq’s Olympic effort was Uday Hussein, the son of Iraq’s former dictator.” The IOC never had a problem with the Iraqi Olympic team when it was under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, why the sudden concern for internal Iraqi politics? While we’re at it, why is the IOC focusing on Iraq at all, given all of the other dictatorships which will be represented at the Games? Does the IOC really believe that political and tribal loyalties didn’t play a role in the composition of their teams?
Of course, the IOC is the last institution one ought trust with discerning countries’ human rights records. From 1980 until 2001, it was headed by a former high official in Francoist Spain, Juan Antonio Samaranch, under whose watch massive corruption occurred. This was but the most infamous example of a long string of base behavior exhibited by the IOC and its officials. The IOC’s decision to ban the Iraqi team from competing isn’t just a slap in the face to that country’s heroic athletes — but to the United States as well.