*insert Holocaust joke here*
As we turn on the 2016 Olympic games and pretend to be experts on sports we forget about 3 out of 4 years, we will witness the passing of the Olympic torch to light the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony this Friday, August 5th in Rio. The traditional flame-lighting ceremony begins in Olympia, Greece, to symbolize to the Ancient Olympic games. It is transported to the various designated sites of the games and this year, it was passed from Greece to Brazil, then through over 300 cities and towns.
The passing of the Olympic torch is a beautiful symbol of unity and strength. It brings a sense of togetherness and partnership that echos throughout the world, an important image in times like these.
A tradition created by Adolf Hitler.
In 1931, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. After Germany’s defeat in WWI, giving Berlin the 1936 Summer Olympics was thought to be reentry to the world after years of isolation. Two years later, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and pounced on the country’s fragile democratic foundation and turned it into a Nazi dictatorship.
Much of the western world became concerned with the idea of supporting the Games being hosted by the a country that would keep athletes from participating depending on their class, creed, or race. In 1934, the president of the American Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, went to Germany to inspect the sport facilities and understand the atmosphere of Germany at that time.
And just like the first time your parents visited you at college, Hitler made sure everything seemed perfect and healthy in Germany. Avery’s visit was extremely well orchestrated, where Brundage was treated properly and told everything he needed to hear. When he returned, he stated that Jewish athletes would be treated fairly and no one should be concerned about the Games being put on in Germany.
And for the first time in history, the Olympics were used as a political statement and propaganda machine. They represented Nazi Germany as a fresh, strong, and united front that resurrected from defeat in WWI. For two weeks, Hitler completely buried the Nazi’s true agenda. They removed anti-semitic signs and ordered foreign visitors to not be subjected to anti-homosexuality laws. Moreover, just one month before, hundreds of Roma (gypsies) were rounded up, arrested, and force to do labor in a camp in the suburbs of Germany to keep them off the main streets of Berlin.
Shockingly, Hitler knew how to through a party. He had a famous composer announce his arrival and dozens of teams saluted him as they marched into the stadium.
Then came the first ever torch relay with 3,422 torch bearers running one kilometer each from Olympia to Berlin. Hitler modeled it after a relay that occurred in Athens in 80 B.C. This suited the Nazi propagandists who used torches often in rallies to attract Germans. The torch run was a hit around the world. Ironically, a dictatorship that wanted to wipe the entire world of its history and to replace it with their own, ended up creating a tradition that will last as long as the Olympic Games.