Thessaloniki, Greece | With Iraq's tremendous Olympic run still going—they will play Italy for the bronze medal on Friday—there has been interesting spillover into the U.S. presidential campaign. Quoth the Yale-educated George W. Bush in a recent press conference: "I liked the—let's see—Iraqi soccer. I liked seeing the Afghan woman carrying the flag coming in. I loved our gymnasts. I have been watching the swimming. I have seen a lot." The bigger problem is the new Bush-Cheney advertisement, "Victory" (click for link to Bush-Cheney site and a media window with which to see the ad), which implies a cause-and-effect relationship between administration foreign policy and the clear outcome: women and men from Afghanistan and Iraq taking part in Olympic competition. "Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise," states the commercial, in part. "And this Olympics . . . there will be two more free nations. . . . And two fewer terrorist regimes." Mainstream media reaction—not to mention the reaction of Iraqi footballers (see Grant Wahl, "Unwilling Participants," SI.com, 19 August)—has been surprisingly strong. Some have raised the possibility of copyright infringement, as the Olympic name in the United States is a property held by the U.S. Olympic Committee. More significant, though, is the Bush administration's misrepresentation of its own achievements:
What should we think about President Bush trying to squeeze a little juice out of these Olympics by tying them to his wars? On the one hand I guess it's reasonable given that Iraqi athletes used to get tortured by Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday. On the other hand, it's one more area in which Bush is running for reelection based on things he himself personally did not actually do. The swift boat guys are knocking John Kerry on the issue of Vietnam (where Bush never set foot) and he has his own ad up wrapping himself in the Olympic spirit, not that he has swum a single stroke or turned a single somersault, or shown much regard for the IOC charter. (Sally Jenkins, "Let the Political Gamesmanship Begin," Washington Post)
In Athens, sewing anonymously for fair trade. (www.fairolympics.org)
More measured is Lawrence Donegan's assessment in The Guardian ("Bush's Games Hijack Leaves a Very Sour Taste"). He points out the role of the Iraq team's public-relations flunky, Mark Clark, who suggests—in infantilizing fashion— that the Iraqi players may have been naive in their answers or possibly mistranslated. For Sports Illustrated writer Wahl's part, he affirms his story and the accuracy of the quotes ("Setting the Record Straight"). "I want the violence and the war to go away from [Najaf]," Iraq midfielder Salih Sadir had told Wahl. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away." Our marginal note to all this back-and-forth is that "all is mediated": everyone involved, including Bush, speaks through another, so that the reality is ever watered down.
Women footballers, in another constant, have served as background figures to the Iraq team's achievement. Sweden and Brazil contested their semifinal before 1,500 in Patras; the United States and Germany drew 3,500 in Crete. Before the Games started, women's rights had drawn some attention with a "sew-in" on 9 August, featuring masked women at sewing machines. The women represented the laborers working in sweatshop conditions in developing countries, churning out sportswear (see photo, above). On the plus side, more women than ever are competing in Olympic events, with the addition in these Twenty-eighth Games of women's saber and wrestling. Writes Teri Tiso of Stony Brook University, a competitor in women's marathon in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, on the ARETE listserv for sports and literature:
[We] hope that the perception of females as athletes in every sense of the word will continue to be described with the words that are always used to depict our male counterparts—that is[,] strength, big, strong, grace, muscular, flexible, beauty, perfection, dominant, aggressive, magnificent, otherworldly, winner, leader, obsessed, hard worker, inspiration, role model. Now . . . we have to continue to support our female athletes in the Muslim and African countries where they are still prevented from competing in public, if at all.
On the football pitch, the team from the United States has drawn attention for the spectacular quintet of Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett. All but the first two players have announced their international retirements following these Games. Yet, we are always saddened that U.S. broadcasters—NBC in this case—regularly ignore the opposition in their coverage. This is a common theme at the Global Game. (An exception should be made for Telemundo, which, although part of the NBC arsenal, has televised women's games not involving the United States.) No question that the five women mentioned should have their own wing of any women's sports Hall of Fame, but what does the world think of them? Does Cristiane of the equally spectacular Brazil (see our report from the 2003 Women's World Cup) have praise for these women's pioneering efforts, given that the mayor of her town, Osasco in São Paulo, will splurge for two big-screen televisions to show the women's gold-medal match on the streets? Does the valiant women's side from Greece, with nine players from the United States, credit Chastain et al. for the fact that their team has come into existence? ("Our goal is for this team to really open the road so that women's soccer in Greece becomes accepted," said Greece coach Xanthi Konstandinidou. "That's the problem, that it is not socially accepted. Soccer in Greece is a man's sport" ["First Greek Women's Soccer Team Prepares for Olympics," Associated Press, 14 July].) We likely will never know the answers to these questions: the doors of much of our media, as with the doors of our leaders in Washington, are closed to the "outside world."
Note on sources: For more on women and the Olympic Games, see the website of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the online exhibit "The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games." Also see the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's "The Sporting Woman: The Female Athlete in American Culture."