The Long History of Olympic Boycotts, Protests and Demonstrations

Geopolitics have always been associated with the Olympics, and this year will be no exception.



The Winter Olympic games beginning next week are sure to be a site of protests and demonstrations, thanks to myriad issues with human rights, especially Russia's controversial anti-LGBT propaganda law. While most countries have decided not to fully boycott the games, several national leaders, like President Obama and U.K. prime minister David Cameron, have said they will not attend. Meanwhile, a protest zone has been set up for demonstrators several miles from the actual sites of competitition. But as we can see with this look back at previous years, the Sochi games will not be the first Olympiad to meet controversy.


1908: The tradition for the opening ceremonies has been that as countries' athletes pass the host country's dignitaries at the Olympic stadium, they dip their flag as a sign of respect. But at the London Games in 1908, American flagbearer and shotputter Ralph Rose (pictured above) refused to dip the Stars and Stripes for King Edward VIII. He reportedly said to teammate Martin Sheridan, "This flag dips for no earthly king." Since then, the U.S. has not dipped the American flag during the opening ceremony.

Also at that games, the Irish decided to boycott the London Games, as England had still not granted the neighboring land its independence.


1936: The Berlin games were already pretty controversial by the time 1936 rolled around. Growing anger over Hitler's rising power caused a number of Jewish athletes to boycott the games. The United States did participate, despite calls for a boycott, but the crowning achievement during the 1936 Olympics belonged to African-American sprinter Jesse Owens (pictured above, right, at the Berlin games), whose four gold medals took a swipe at Hitler's whole superior race theory. Incidentally, Owens was not extended the same congratulations from President Franklin Roosevelt upon his return that other athletes experienced.