During the medals ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, U.S. track stars Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) unexpectedly give the Black Power salute. (Associated Press)

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Just before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach implored nations at odds with Russia to leave their political differences at the door.

“Sport can only contribute to development and peace if it’s not used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in … political contests,” he said, echoing a rule in the Olympic charter eschewing political demonstrations. “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”

But as might be expected at any major gathering of representatives from widely diverse nations, sometimes at odds with each other, political tensions inevitably creep into the fold. In fact, the Olympics have long been used as an arena for political posturing and a stage to voice dissent.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games , which kick off Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are not likely to be an exception. Already, fears of a Zika outbreak, amid Brazil’s social unrest and political upheaval, coupled with a long simmering controversy over disqualified Russian athletes suspected of state-sponsored illegal doping have tainted the proceedings, raising tensions and diverting international focus from the actual events.

Political Tension at the Olympics: A History [Interactive Timeline] 8 August,2016Matthew Green

  • Ben Dexheimer

    I don’t think that bringing political issues to the olympics is necessary because it is a big distraction to the olympians on top of the big stage they are already on. The athletes should be there to represent their countries. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

    • Charles Omodt

      That’s a very moving response!!!! I love it 🙂

  • Matthew Spanhake

    I don’t thing that the olympics should be an excuse to bring up political issues; it was created as a means of peace. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Tommy Hardie

    I think that bringing political issues to the Olympics should be the athletes choice and allowed as long as it doesn’t become the sole focus of the Olympics. If a countries isn’t listinging or the problem is kept in the dark this would become a great way to expose it. #DoNowOlimpics #vvmsgov

    • Nick Pederson

      I like your reasoning. I like how you said “kept in the dark”

    • Nick Pederson


  • Emily Ford

    I think that everyone should enter in the Olympics if they feel that they should. I don’t believe that someone shouldn’t be in the Olympics for their skin color. If they want to represent their country then they should, I don’t understand why someone would want to stop them from doing so. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Caarlos Maldonado

    I don’t think they should do that because it is a time where everybody share and have peace and politics tension will bring conflict.

  • Nick Pederson

    I don’t think politics should be allowed to be brought into the Olympics because, it just causes distractions to the viewers and athletes. You drag attention to yourself because some people will agree with you and some won’t. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Kate Karlen

    I think that it should be ok bring up political issues into the olympics, if athletes want to express their thoughts about a issues in a non-violent way, then who are you to stop them #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Tatum Olson

    I don’t think political issues should be brought to the Olympics because it is a very big distraction to all the Olympians. Also I think it will bring lots of politics tension which will bring conflict. #DoNowOlympics

  • Lydia Durrett

    Political issues should not be brought to the Olympics because the games are a time of peace and unity, political issues only drive countries apart #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Becca H

    I don’t think that political issues should be part of the Olympics because athletes are there to compete, they are not there to worry about anything besides what they are at the Olympics to do. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov

  • Maxwell B

    The Olympics is a place to bring countries together and compete, not to bring a political statement to the stage.

  • Abdi M

    I think bringing politics into sports is not very necessary. The Olympics is for you to play the sports you love not to bring political ideas to it. #DoNowOlympics #vvmsgov

  • coco

    I don’t think that politics should be included in the Olympics. The Olympics is for one reason: fun. #VVMSgov #DoNowOlympics

    • coco


      • coco

        hey what’s up?

        • coco

          Nothing much! How are you, haven’t seen you in a while

          • coco

            Yeah let’s hang soon, I’m good btw, hbu?

          • coco

            Yasssssssss totes

          • coco

            Wait your name is my name! I forgot!

          • coco

            Me too!

          • coco

            Haha jk everyone I’m talking to myself rn

          • coco

            k bye

          • coco


  • Shaylynn

    Political issues should not be brought into the Olympics. The Olympics are a place for the world to come together and compete peacefully. To bring out the best in each of us and to represent the unity of the world together.

  • Emily B

    I think that politics shouldn’t be involved in the Olympics because the Olympics are just for people who want to compete in sports or have fun watching it. Bringing politics into the Olympics could also lead to lots of tension and violence. #DoNowOlympics #vvmsgov

    • coco

      U R in my class

  • Ryan Gallaher

    I believe that bringing politics to the Olympics is not a good idea. It would only create more issues among the athletes and the people. #DoNowOlympics #VVMSgov



Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown