Friday, May 16, 2014

The Games of the New Emerging Forces

The ideal of the Olympics, however much it may be subverted or ignored, is that for the duration of the event, the world is supposed to leave politics at the door. However hated another country may be to us, however much we may abhor their collective ideologies, however much we may want to see their downfall, for two weeks, that is supposed to not matter. For two weeks, we are to set our differences aside, sit down and watch sports together. Whoever wins, whoever loses, it's not supposed to matter as much as the mere fact that winner and loser have fairly competed together. If that ideal can be held to for two weeks, perhaps it can be done for longer.

It usually can't be done for two weeks, but that's the idea. World peace may never be truly attainable, but you can always get a little bit closer.

The World Cup, meanwhile, is under no such mandate. It may be a gathering of nations, but it is first and foremost an explicit competition. People do not watch to bask in the glow of the world's various peoples and cultures. People watch to see if their people and culture is better at kicking a ball into a large net than the other guy's, and many will raise hell if it happens that they are not. Most of the world's nations are not actually in attendance, having been denied entry in the qualifiers. Politics are to a degree considered fair game. However, there are limits. A certain amount of peace is expected to be kept. Get excited, brag and taunt if you want; that's what fans do. When national pride is at stake, some amount of politically-based taunting is unavoidable. But you're expected to keep it within reason. There are lines you don't cross. After all, this is still only sports. Politics are not officially part of the agenda, and besides, FIFA, publicly at least- we'll leave their private actions aside- maintains that sports and politics don't mix.

But what if they did? What if an international sports organizing body explicitly, as a matter of central policy, invited the world to bring politics in to play a central role? It has, to be sure, been done countless times on a domestic scale, as various nations have used sports to puff themselves up, or as various local political issues have wormed themselves into the limelight to degrees both large and small. I've discussed that at length in this space. But on a global scale, in a central capacity, what would happen?

The Games of the New Emerging Forces would happen.

Our story begins in 1962, when Jakarta, Indonesia was exercising hosting duties for the Asian Games, the continent's Olympic equivalent. They were one of only two candidates to host that year, narrowly defeating Karachi, Pakistan by a vote of 22-20. While Pakistan would be more immediately recognizable as unstable, Indonesia wasn't much better. At the time, Indonesia was led by Sukarno, who had served as president since their independence in 1945 and had spent most of his tenure trying to hold together a wildly disparate and often antagonistic assortment of cultures. His policies, therefore, trended heavily autocratic, as he believed that Western-style democracy- which, being aligned with the Eastern Bloc, he distrusted- would never work among his people. His approach, among other things, drew heavy retaliation from the military, who along the way had seen their influence with Sukarno decline as in 1959, he voided the current constitution and replaced it with one giving him more control, and the following year, dissolved Parliament and replaced it with one where he appointed half the members himself. By 1962, Sukarno was dodging assassination attempts left and right.

He was also dodging pressure from the other participating nations. The Arab countries were against the idea of Israel competing, as it had in the two previous editions. China, which had not competed in any Asian Games to that point (or much of any international sporting competition for that matter), was against the idea of Taiwan competing. When a sporting event is essentially forced to choose between which of two sides of a dispute they'll be able to get to participate, generally, the decision will come down to which side is likely to perform better on the field, thereby giving the event more credibility and prestige. However, that was not the case here. Geopolitical influence was what drove Sukarno's decision, as China was a far more desirable ally than Taiwan, and better to court many Arab nations than just one Israel.

And so it was that when the brand-new Bung Karno Stadium opened its doors for the August 24th opening ceremony, Israel and Taiwan's flags flew, but no athlete was there to bear them. They had been denied entry visas, in violation of a promise made to supply them to all athletes regardless of diplomatic status.

The nations being courted were not there either. They had simply opted to sit out anyway. They wouldn't enter until 1974, when by agreement of the entire continent, China effectively replaced Taiwan, a decision in line with what the United Nations had done in 1971, eventually forcing Taiwan into the 'Chinese Taipei' designation they use in sports today. The Arab nations, meanwhile, simply waited for the Asian Games to be awarded to Tehran before showing up, with Bahrain and Kuwait participating... alongside Israel, who had by then found their footing in competition but who would be kicked out for good one Games later in Bangkok.

Not satisfied with mere exclusion, when Asian Games Federation vice-president G.D. Songhi of India wrote to the International Olympic Committee asking that the Games be stripped of official status, an angry mob trashed the Indian embassy in Jakarta, and a second mob tracked down the hotel that Songhi was staying at, searching for him room by room. Songhi wound up fleeing the country. India's soccer team, for which Jakarta was quite possibly their finest hour, was greeted with hostility by the spectators, and after defeating South Korea 2-1 for the gold medal, their national anthem was drowned out by boos.

The West, predictably, was outraged, but the IOC, led by the zealously idealistic Avery Brundage, was apoplectic. The Asian Games were but one of several different regional Olympics-style competitions that had been sprouting up around that time, and the IOC was uneasy about their presence, fearing that one of them may upstage the Olympics, or denigrate its image due to poor behavior. Poor behavior such as Sukarno's. As such, Brundage fully expected IOC members to uphold the IOC ideals of inclusion and apolitical competition in whatever sporting events they held. As Brundage would write, "it is perfectly obvious from the the proceedings at the IV Asian Games that Olympic principles are not being upheld in that country."

Indonesia was an IOC member. But they weren't for long, as in response to the expulsions of Israel and Taiwan from the Asian Games, Indonesia was, by a 5-1 vote of the IOC executive board on February 7, 1963, expelled- or officially, 'suspended indefinitely'. This unprecedented move would shut them out of the upcoming 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, an Olympics that, as the first Olympics in Asia and therefore a prime opportunity to win over that part of the world, needed to go off without a hitch. Brundage could not risk a troublemaker like Indonesia causing problems in Japan.

This was supposed to force Indonesia to submit to the far more wide-reaching IOC, which, after all, was hosting the far more prestigious event, and take some sort of corrective action in order to be allowed back in. What actually happened could not possibly have been less submissive. Instead of being frightened, Sukarno was freed. The IOC had shot their load. Having expelled Indonesia, there wasn't anything else they could do to them. While getting back into the IOC was a priority- and they immediately began protesting and lobbying to that effect- the Chinese and Arabs did not abandon Sukarno, with the Arab nations launching their own threats at the IOC, musing that they might boycott Tokyo. In the end, of the Arab nations that had competed in Rome four years prior, only Syria would not travel to Tokyo, but this ultimately mattered little.

Because Sukarno was going to beat the IOC to the punch.

Completely, perhaps even conveniently forgetting the actions against India that might have earned a suspension all on their own, Sukarno was outraged that India, whom he had previously viewed positively, would embarrass him like that. And he wanted revenge. If Indonesia couldn't be in the Olympics, he'd create his own, the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO), representing nations that, it was hoped, would overthrow the established order. They would be everything the Olympics were not. Politics would be welcome. The first edition would be held in 1963, one year before the Olympics. And of course, it would be held in Jakarta.

It helped that, on October 4, 1962, four months before Indonesia's ouster from the IOC, an editorial in the Chinese sports newspaper T'i Yu Pao lobbied for the creation of a competition that would fight the "forces of imperialism and sports organizations manipulated by imperialist countries." Perhaps China had come up with the idea themselves. They were certainly providing Sukarno with the funding to host GANEFO. They weren't recognized by the IOC in the first place, so there wasn't much that could be done to them, but for the blood to be on someone else's hands was always nice. Sukarno's Minister of Sport, Maladi, provided his own words for the occasion while opening the Indonesian Swimming Association in July 1963:

"The IOC has been shown to be just an imperialistic political tool! The Olympic Games have proved to be openly an imperialistic tool... It is better we state bluntly that sport could not be separated from politics. Indonesia proposes to mix sport with politics... Sport is a means to achieve the nation's ideal so that sport must be laid on the earth of politics."

Sukarno needed the help from China. Badly. Being who he was, his word was enough to get most things done in Indonesia, but hosting two international festivals of sport in consecutive years was rough on the wallet. Not only that, it was going to be a lot harder to get athletes this time around. GANEFO was considered by Brundage, quite rightly, to be such an affront to everything the IOC stood for that the law was laid down hard. Any athlete who participated in GANEFO, it was declared, would be banned from competing in the Olympics.

Many nations needed no such prodding. GANEFO would demonstrate just what happens when politics and sport become too intermingled: eventually, only those who agree with the politics that the sports have adopted will want to participate. In this case, headed by a nation that had gotten in with the Eastern Bloc, the Western Bloc stayed well clear, and GANEFO thus became a Second World playground. (This was partially by design; when defining what exactly a 'New Emerging Force' was and therefore who got invited, the organizers wrote the definition in such a way as to specifically disqualify Brundage's United States. Other than that, things were left ambiguous so that as many nations as possible could be construed as qualifying.)

However, many of those Eastern Bloc nations also wished to compete in the Olympics. How do you support GANEFO while still going to the Olympics? Simple. The sanction was that any athlete who competed in GANEFO was excluded. It didn't say anything about nations. The solution taken by the likes of, among others, the Soviet Union, was to send athletes who were not of Olympic quality, people who never would have qualified for Tokyo anyway.

A secondary, unintentional solution was for the athletes to fend for themselves. Roughly a third of the nations that were in attendance at GANEFO- who was who proves impossible to know for sure, not that the IOC didn't try to find out- were there in an unofficial capacity, which goes a long way towards explaining the presence of France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, among others. In all 51 nations found themselves represented in Jakarta, whether that was their aim or not.

India was not one of them. Japan was, though when questioned by the IOC, they denied any official involvement.

Some GANEFO attendees did end up sitting out in Tokyo. In addition to Indonesia, China and Syria, there was Albania, Guinea, Laos, North Korea, North Vietnam, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Guinea and Somalia were actually among the most worrying to Brundage. Among the nations competing in Rome 1960 was South Africa, who was increasingly under fire from the global community for its apartheid policies. Antidiscrimination was an IOC ideal, but Brundage felt that his jurisdiction on the matter extended only to the Olympics itself, and as long as South Africa sent a mixed team to that, there wasn't a problem. Few agreed with him, and it was only under pressure- chiefly from the Soviet Union, who had political designs on black Africa and was willing to take up their cause while the nations themselves were busy fighting off colonialism- that Brundage acquiesced. It wasn't so much Soviet power off the field but Soviet power on it that swung Brundage to expel South Africa from Tokyo, in effect, forcing him to play politics as well.

His reluctance to act had quite possibly cost him, and he knew it. His worry was that black Africa would remember who had fought for them, and obligingly drift into the arms of GANEFO, giving it enough credibility to be a true challenge to the Olympics.

But China posed the biggest threat, being a non-member of the IOC that was showing a significant amount of influence. Their threat was existential to Brundage: "If the Federations [IOC members] do not stand fast on matters of this kind, I mean both the visa and non-member problems, independently organized international sport is finished. The politicians will take over completely."

At some point, though, all Brundage could do was sit, wait, and hope GANEFO went poorly.

Approximately 100,000 people, many of whom were carrying fake tickets, packed Bung Karno Stadium on November 10, 1963 for GANEFO's opening ceremony. Perhaps intentionally, Belgium and Bolivia showed up in Jakarta too late to compete in anything. Everyone else watched as, when the Chinese contingent passed by the diplomatic box, Sukarno got up to shake hands with China's vice premier, Ho Lung. No other nation got that kind of welcome from Sukarno, though the Dutch, Indonesia's former colonial masters, got a rousing approval from the stands, perhaps due in part to the sheer contrast between Indonesia's 500-strong delegation and the Netherlands' tiny, token presence.

During the ceremony, strangely, God Bless America and Stars and Stripes Forever were among the songs played by the marching band. It wasn't any particular comment on Avery Brundage; they just liked the melody.

The actual games were a mess. China, knowing they weren't going to be in Tokyo anyway, had sent a full-strength team, which continually found itself pitted against athletes from the bottom of some nations' depth charts and, since there wasn't any sort of screening process, many people who were merely there to make a political statement and weren't really athletes at all. Some weren't even representing their nation so much as representing groups that wanted to overthrow that nation. There was only ever going to be one outcome: Chinese domination. Accounts don't seem to agree on who won what in Jakarta, but what's agreed upon is that China won somewhere between twice and three times the amount of gold medals as the second-best Soviets, and over twice the total medals of second-best Indonesia. Most of the rest of the medals were won by North Korea, who had also sent their first stringers, and Egypt (then known as the United Arab Republic). The exact results might not be recorded anywhere. Nobody had a system in place to keep track. After all, the sports were not the main attraction.

The individual performances were to a man well short of Olympic-level standards. Boxer Camara Mami of Guinea showed up drunk for his bout against the far larger Nurmahanov of Mongolia, a bout that ended in Mami being knocked out in 20 seconds. The final of the 100 meter dash saw Lin Chengfen of China win with a wind-aided time of 10.7 seconds, a time achieved only after he and Khum Khen from Cambodia jumped the gun, an action only the starter failed to notice. Left behind was Mohammed Sarengat of Indonesia, who had won the Asian Games the previous year by running a 10.5. (The world record at the time was 10.0.) Another sprinter, Jootje Oroh, got himself and the rest of the Indonesian track team into a brawl with security as he was leaving the stadium... a brawl that the track team won. Both medal-round matches in soccer were decided by a coin flip, with the gold medal match also ending in a fan-led riot on the field.

In the West, it was a laughingstock run so poorly that they almost wanted to watch just to see what could be mocked next. By the time it had ended, they were barely even mad anymore. Brundage was still wary, however. The first few Olympics hadn't been well-run either. The individual athletes who competed were still on the outs, having competed with political entities not approved by the IOC. But Brundage had a wingman, chancellor Otto Mayer of Switzerland, and not only had he already bent a little on Indonesia itself, he denied that the IOC had taken a position even past the point where they obviously had, and he was never as much of a hardliner as Brundage. It was under Mayer's advice, not Brundage's, that Indonesia, even before the Games officially started, had been permitted a path out of their suspension. All they had to do was agree to abide by IOC rules again and they were back in.

Brundage may not have been happy about Mayer's stance, but it did seem to work out in a sense. Even if the IOC was relaxing their stance, FINA, the organizing body for aquatic sports, and the IAAF, overseeing track and field, were willing to play the bad cop instead. As it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual sports' organizing bodies to set up their own events, FINA and the IAAF held the original line of barring GANEFO athletes from Tokyo. For most nations, this wasn't all that much of a problem, as it had been their non-Olympic athletes competing anyway. Indonesia and North Korea, though, had sent their best athletes, and were similarly unwilling to bend. They presented an ultimatum: either all of our athletes will compete, or none of them will.

The answer turned out to be none. North Korea was typically intransigent, and Indonesia was rather pleased with where they stood, as domestically, GANEFO was actually popular. It may have been a complete mess, but what a proud and lavish mess it was. Sukarno, having already declared politics within bounds, had milked it for every bit of propaganda value he could squeeze out of it, making sure as many Indonesians as possible had some skin in the game. Students were given time off class to serve as volunteers; the police and army had part of their salary earmarked for hosting costs; cars got requisitioned as athlete transport. And two days after the closing ceremony, hosting duties for the next GANEFO were handed to Cairo in an effort to ensure there would in fact be a next GANEFO, and Indonesia's glory given permanence in the same way Greece has enjoyed with the Olympics. In the process, awarding them to Africa would drive a further wedge between the IOC and the nations that had demanded South Africa's ouster.

There was one major problem with this: when you live by politics, you die by politics. The second GANEFO was set for 1967, but by then, what was now Egypt would be contesting the Six Day War against Israel... and losing the Sinai Peninsula in the process. But Egypt had already bowed out, citing financial difficulties. Beijing had been named as an alternative site, but the period following the first GANEFO had been spent building towards the Cultural Revolution, which would commence in May 1966. The Chinese could still compete, but hosting was completely out of the question.

As for Sukarno, he had been all but neutralized.

To this day, the events of what happened are still not quite fully known in Indonesia, and so the full account is still murky to a certain degree, especially the long-debated question of who set the events in motion and why. Newspapers from the area were heavily censored or blocked. But what we know is that in the early morning hours of October 1, 1965, a group calling itself the September 30 Movement launched into an operation with the intent of killing seven army generals. They succeeded in killing six; the seventh escaped. They claimed in a statement that this was done in order to head off a coup attempt aimed at removing Sukarno on October 5. The operation, however, backfired; within a few hours, Major General Suharto took control of the loyal forces and moved to shut down the coup, who had not thought far enough ahead to provide sufficient provisions, as well as a host of other tactical miscues. They paid dearly for them. By the end of the day, not only was Suharto in control of everything the September 30 Movement had taken, he was in control of the army as well.

By extension, he was also in control of Sukarno. Suharto was quck to blame the PKI- the Indonesian Communist Party, sympathetic to Sukarno- as the sole conspirators. Regardless of the accusation's validity, that's what was acted upon, and for the next month, a communist purge swept the nation and killed an amount of people that has been the subject of dozens of attempts at estimates ranging from nearly 80,000 to 3 million. Over the next year and a half, Sukarno would find his power slip increasingly from his hands to Suharto's, culminating in being formally stripped of his position on March 12, 1967. He would die three years later under house arrest while Suharto began a brutal regime that would last until 1998.

Suharto had far less interest in GANEFO than Sukarno did.

Ultimately, the second GANEFO fell into the hands of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. China paid for the stadium again, with Cambodia being utterly unable to host on their own dime. The stadium was originally intended for the 1963 Southeast Asian Games, but not even that was a feasible goal, and the Games had to be cancelled entirely without an alternative host. They have not hosted the Southeast Asian Games since, even after all other nations in the region save Timor-Leste have done so, a list that includes Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Laos. They are scheduled to finally try again in 2023.

In the process, GANEFO was limited to a merely Asian membership- and advertised as such- with the exception of Guinea, who didn't attend anyway after trying and failing to qualify their soccer team in a tournament in Pyongyang. 17 nations arrived in Phnom Penh, a long way down from the 51 in Jakarta. Brundage's African problem had essentially solved itself.

Even less documentation exists for Phnom Penh's event than exists for Jakarta's. Record-keeping was still an issue, but this time there were no gawking Westerners around to look for things to mock. The war in neighboring Vietnam had their attention instead. Any interest in Cambodia was limited to whether or not Viet Cong forces were hiding there. China once again dominated in both golds and total medals, with North Korea finishing second in both.

On December 9, three days after GANEFO II closed, the 1966 Asian Games began in Bangkok. This was deliberate on the part of the GANEFO organizers, an effort to draw contrast between them and the IOC, but in effect, all it did was make GANEFO look like the undercard. China, North Korea and Cambodia were absent from Bangkok, but among the nations in attendance were Israel, Taiwan... and Indonesia.

Indonesia won 32 medals, five of them gold. Taiwan won 19 medals, also with five gold. Israel won 11 medals, three of them gold.

The end was quiet, meek, and political to the end, with North Korea striking the finishing blows. The IAAF held fast with their lockout of any GANEFO athletes that just so happened to otherwise qualify for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and while Indonesia attended, North Korea once again stayed away partially as a result of that, but also partially due to indignation that the IOC would not refer to them as the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea'. The third GANEFO was allocated to Beijing, to be held in 1970. But with the Cultural Revolution still raging, China was still in no shape to host their own games.

The substitute host was Pyongyang. By that point, they were in no mood to host either, as they were busy threatening the next host of the Asian Games, which happened to be Seoul. Seoul begged off, fearful of a restart of the Korean War, but the Asian Games still went ahead due to Bangkok stepping in to host for the second consecutive time. GANEFO, however, did not go ahead. It never would again.

Sports and politics have a long relationship, sometimes ugly, sometimes inspiring, recurrently uneasy. Whatever the relationship, though, the place of power in that relationship is clear: the sports, ultimately, are to come first. The sports are the stage that must be constructed well enough that they can support the weight of the politics placed upon them. Whenever there is a fight for inclusion in sport, whatever the demographic, the competition must be important enough to be deemed worth that fight. When politics enter into the Olympics, or the World Cup, those who utilize that stage do so knowing that the events carry credibility. They mean something to people. They gather elite athletes at the top of their game.

The Olympics and World Cup have found, and ignored at their peril, that their competitions are best awarded to hosts that are, above all, capable of ably hosting them. The stadiums must be well constructed, the conditions suitable for play, and the personnel, be they athletes, coaches, officials or fans, able to set enough of their political differences aside so that they can play fairly, play their best, and most importantly, play together at all.

The Games of the New Emerging Forces failed and refused to learn that lesson. Instead of the best athletes, politically aligned athletes were sought, resulting in farces of competition. Instead of recording the event results, they focused on recording the opening ceremony. Instead of the most suitable host, politically agreeable hosts were sought, resulting in a high risk of those host nations proving too overwhelmed by those politics to safely hold a sporting event.

And when the politics overwhelmed the sports, the sports simply vanished.

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