Live Interview: How the ‘Pandemic Games’ Expose the Neoliberal Scam of Global Sporting Events

Citations Needed | July 28, 2021 | Transcript

The group Okotowari Olympics 2020 protests at the Japan Sport Olympic Square in Tokyo. (Dave Zirin / The Nation)

[Music]

Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today for another virtual live show. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your help through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. We are joined live tonight by many of our amazing Patrons and supporters and we are so thrilled to have you with us.

Adam: Yes and when you become a supporter, you’ll also get access to over 100 patron-only News Briefs, extensive show notes for every episode, our newsletter, and much more fun stuff like these live shows which we are now doing with increased frequency and we really appreciate everyone coming out. We’re very excited about this topic, especially the timing, which is quite good, and we have two excellent, exquisite guests who are definitely overqualified to be here.

Nima: (Laughs.) That’s right.

Adam: We are very excited to talk to them today.

Nima: Lucky to have them. We’re recording this on the eve of the opening ceremonies for what is still being called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Others however calling it something else, not only the 2021, maybe but the COVID Games or the Pandemic Olympics, and as Adam said, later on the show, we are going to be joined by two amazing guests. They are Shireen Ahmed, writer, public speaker, and award-winning sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports, as well as the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is the co-creator and co-host of Burn It All Down — an intersectional feminist sports podcast. We’re also going to be joined by Jules Boykoff, author of four books on the Olympic Games, most recently NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Beyond, as well as Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. Now previously, Jules was a professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Soccer Team in international competition. He also currently teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon. They will be with us in just a little bit.

Adam: I’m excited because we’ve been talking for years about doing something on the Olympics. We touched on the Olympics in one episode we had. We actually had someone from the Olympics LA, come on, I think, what, two and a half years ago?

Nima: It was a while, probably more.

Adam: And we’ve wanted to sort of talk about this, and then it seems more urgent than ever, and that all the criticisms we had are becoming more mainstream, are now at the forefront. So we’re actually a little behind the curve on this one, because of the X-factor of COVID. So today, we’re going to talk about the contemporary issues, but then we’re going to go back and talk about some of the history that led us to this point and that this is a manifestation of, or a climaxing, if you will, of all the criticisms that activists have been making, housing activists, advocates for the poor, human rights, what have you, have been making for decades now, and so here we are on the eve of the Japanese Olympics, and the overwhelming public of the host country thinks it’s completely unhealthy and batshit to have them, and the discourse has certainly changed.

Nima: Yeah, totally. So we should point out that a May 2021 poll actually found that 83 percent of people living in Japan didn’t want Tokyo to hold the Olympics this year. According to Japanese outlet Asahi Shimbun: “43 percent in the nationwide survey conducted by phone on May 15 and 16 said the Olympics should be ‘canceled,’ up from 35 percent in April, while 40 percent said the event should be ‘postponed again,’ an increase from 34 percent.” So you put those together, that is 83 percent of people living in Japan being like, ‘We shouldn’t do this.’

Adam: Those are Jeffrey Dahmer numbers. That’s not good.

Nima: Yeah, that’s like, you know, Egyptian president numbers. As one of our guests on tonight’s show, Jules Boykoff, recounts in a new article published just today when we’re recording this, July 22, 2021, in the LA Times, quote:

In May, as public opinion against the Tokyo Olympics surged along with COVID-19 cases in Japan International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Adams uttered what could be the nine most terrifying words in the Olympic lexicon: ‘We listen but won’t be guided by public opinion.’

Adam: Ah, democracy at its finest.

Nima: (Laughs.) Yeah.

Adam: Well, I think they were doing the sort of pseudo science, ‘I don’t take polls when I know with my gut,’ that people are a bunch of foaming masses, which a lot of elites think but it’s always nice when they say it.

Nima: It’s nice when it’s out front.

Adam: I actually prefer that to the smarmy ‘I have my pre-existing position and I’m going to launder it through some populist,’ ‘The people really want me to run for Congress,’ you know, ‘The people want me to oppose Trump.’

Nima: The people want this to happen.

Adam: It’s like just say you believe it, don’t try and act like you’re sorry.

Nima: Yeah, be like, ‘We get it,’ but we’re going to do it anyway.

Adam: I think we need more officials and lawmakers just having utter gross contempt for the people and just being like, ‘They are a bunch of idiots. They’re a bunch of foaming dipshits.’

Nima: I like the idea of more public officials acting like the IOC.

Adam: Well remember when Macron said he was going to rule Jupiter from up top, remember that? He said, I want to be Jupiter.

Nima: And you know, he actually said it. So in response to this wave of public opinion in Japan against holding the Olympics this year, the Japanese Prime Minister Suga admitted he was subservient to the whim and will of the International Olympic Committee, regardless of what the Japanese people wanted, and he said this, quote: “The IOC has the authority to decide, and the IOC has already decided to hold the Tokyo Olympics.”

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (left) and Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga. (Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP / Getty Images)

Adam: Well, yeah, so that and much more, I feel like I want our guests to chime in because they’re experts. You and I are experts in nothing.

Nima: It’s true.

Adam: Except for bullshit.

Nima: It’s the truth.

Adam: So let’s bring them on.

Nima: I think that is great, let us without further ado, introduce our guests. They again are Shireen Ahmed, writer, public speaker, and award-winning sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports, as well as the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is the co-creator and co-host of Burn It All Down, an intersectional feminist sports podcast. Shireen, great to have you with us today on Citations Needed.

Shireen Ahmed: Thanks for having me, happy to be here.

Nima: And we are also joined by Jules Boykoff, author of four books on the Olympic Games, most recently NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Beyond as well as Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. Previously, a professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Soccer Team in international competition and currently teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon. Jules, joining us from Los Angeles today, welcome to Citations Needed, great to have you here.

Jules Boykoff: Thank you. So happy to be here, thanks.

Adam: Yeah, I guess we’re going to get started here. There’s just so much to discuss, and I feel it’s a little bit overwhelming. So we’re going to start off with a very kind of broad question just to get our listeners up to speed that I’m going to ask both of you to chime in on, if you don’t mind, which is a little bit of a table setting question, which is what we like to do on the show — a cliche I’ve used probably way too many times — I want to sort of get us up to speed here. The Olympics are now on, they’re a few hours away, they are happening, can we start off with just sort of a recap of the last few weeks for those who are not initiated, I know that people who have been following the news have been kind of overwhelmed with the constant back and forth, so I want both you to chime in on this, just sort of recapping the stakes, what the current state of play is, and then I want to sort of pivot into the historical criticisms of the Olympics because one thing we really want to stress on this episode is that this is not a COVID-only criticism. That this is indeed, Nima and I were talking about it offline, much like COVID exposed so many social wrongs — housing inequity, poverty, racism, global inequities, global racism — it exposed the fundamental lack of democracy and lack of transparency and all this sort of horrible stuff about the Olympics. I want to start off by talking about how this kind of supercharged, COVID-charged shit show in Japan: what’s going on?

Shireen Ahmed: I have so much to say I’m so excited to literally burn all this down.

Adam: Let’s do it.

Shireen Ahmed

Shireen Ahmed: Do you want to take one quick second? I don’t know if it was introduced that I’m actually in Mississauga, Canada — and I want to take two seconds just to acknowledge the treaty lands and territories of the Mississaugas, which is land of the Anishinabek, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa, land of the Métis, territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who are direct descendants of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and I do this because I’m a settler of immigrant experience, but we are on stolen land.

So to that question, to that point, Adam, one of the things that I think I wanted to add to that laundry list and when you have laundry you need to air it out —

Adam: Indeed.

Shireen Ahmed: Is misogyny, misogynoir, transphobia, we see so many things, absolutely, and I’m so happy you said that because COVID is one of the biggest stories of these games and Jules will tell you, you know, it’s so layered and this has been happening for a very long time. So one of the things that I also am going to chime in on this, is a way that the stories are reported, and my gripe with this entire system is also the way in which, who was reporting these stories? How are they reported? Are they taking geopolitical issues into context, health issues, displacement, militarization? Or are people who are reporting, and I am part of this industry, and I hold myself to account as well, this is another thing that we need to talk about is basically what I’m saying, how is media? What is media doing? Are they complicit in this? Are they just sort of going to gift wrap everything or are they really going to get to the crux of the issue? And social media has been extremely helpful the last couple years, and I think that that’s something, dissemination of information has changed drastically in the last five years, via even digital communication, being able to do this program on Zoom, where we wouldn’t have necessarily done a couple years ago. So there’s a way to do this, and I think that it’s become very accessible and athletes sharing their own truths, which is very much something that we will talk about in this program as well.

Jules Boykoff

Jules Boykoff: I like starting the talk about Tokyo 2020 on the double lie that was the foundation for these Olympics, and what I mean by that is when Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan, stood in front of the International Olympic Committee in 2013, he was asked about the triple whammy earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that happened in Fukushima in March of 2011, and would that affect the Tokyo Olympics and Abe said at the time, oh, no, no, don’t worry, things are quote-unquote “under control.” Well, any self respecting scientist in the Fukushima Prefecture would tell you that things were absolutely not under control. So that was lie number one. The second one was that they pivoted toward this slogan called the “Recovery Games,” the idea being that hosting the Olympics would help Fukushima recover. Well, I traveled to Fukushima in July 2019, with the great sports writer, Dave Zirin, and we were covering what was happening there for The Nation magazine, and we found that everybody we talked to, whether it was a journalist, whether it was an elected official, whether it was a person on the street, they were livid about this idea that things were under control, and second, they told us that actually hosting the Olympics diverted precious resources from the recovery to the Olympics to get ready for the games. So that’s what I mean when it was a double lie, and I tell you what, these Olympics despite the fact that the President of the IOC at the time, Jacques Rogge, a yachtsman and surgeon from Belgium, and also a count by the way which is important to note.

Adam: Ah, counts, I love when counts run things, it always seems so democratic, but go ahead.

Jules Boykoff: Right. Absolutely. And the IOC is very known for its count-factor, very high count quotient, but when he gave —

Nima: Count count is high.

Adam: So are my friends, I have a lot of count friends, but go ahead.

Jules Boykoff: Right, but of course. So the count said that this was a safe pair of hands that Tokyo was, but they have been bottling the torch ever since. They hired Zaha Hadid, the celebrity architect, who had designs for this stadium that went way out of control of the costs, they ended up slicing those away bringing in Kengo Kuma, they had a plagiarism scandal, they had Yoshiro Mori, more recently, the former prime minister that was sort of a figurehead for the Olympics, Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, said a bunch of terrible things, sexist things, he said women talk too much in meetings also, just incorrect, in addition to being sexist and horrible, he got the boot. So it’s been like one thing after another, and that’s not even to mention, it’s the last thing I’ll say on this, is that the Tokyo Olympics are mired in a corruption controversy. If you paid attention to the Olympics, you know, it has a long history of corruption. It wasn’t just the Salt Lake City Olympics here in the United States, it was the previous games in Nagano that had horrific bribery, we don’t know enough because they actually incinerated the records there, so we don’t even know what happened, but in this case, there are serious allegations moving through the French courts that there was bribery going on to get Tokyo the games in the first place.

Adam: So explain that bribery, explain that corruption because the word corruption gets thrown around a lot. We obviously have some soft corruption, lobbying — some people say that’s corrupt. You mean old school, Chicago-style bag-of-money.

Nima: Like a briefcase that opens up.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, yeah.

Adam: Like the CIA used to give journalists in Europe a big briefcase full of cash.

Shireen Ahmed: I think, isn’t it FIFA levels of corruption, like watches and like, I mean, that’s my standard of the worst corruption in the world is FIFA. They actually have an exhibit in the Mafia Museum in Las Vegas, they did FIFA. So yeah.

Adam: Really?

Shireen Ahmed: They do. That’s a fun fact. But yeah, Jules, isn’t it like ridiculous amounts of cash?

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, yeah, this was full on illegal corruption. I differentiate illegal corruption versus legal corruption, which we’ll get into later. We just talked about the Olympics as it happens, but yeah, illegal, like shoveling money. In Salt Lake City, for example, they got a knee replacement for a relative of one of the International Olympic Committee , free scholarships for their kids, $524 violin, tickets to the Utah Jazz basketball game, loads of cash, they actually kept little files on each IOC member that had their little predilections and the things that they really liked, the type of women that they liked as well.

Adam: Oh, Jesus.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, it got really, really bad. Now the type of illegal corruption that we’re talking about in Tokyo 2020 is just old fashioned shoveling bags of cash, we’re talking about $8.2 million that was allegedly shoveled in the direction of numerous IOC members. So, yeah.

Adam: Right. Okay, so everyone sees this, okay, it’s this weird thing where everyone kind of knows that, like FIFA, everyone sort of knows it’s corrupt.

Nima: Right. I like the whole, you know, like the IOC is FIFA-level corruption.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: Kind of just, it’s all sort of interchangeable.

Adam: Which raises the question of what is the global mechanism to, these are obviously, they’re in violation of domestic laws — I assume there are domestic laws against handing people sweaty bags of cash, just as a matter of course — so this is sort of the normal kind of routine corruption. Now, one of the things that we’ve noticed and our looking at this is that, and I know that you all have encountered as well, is that’s the extent to which you’re kind of permitted now to criticize the Olympics it’s done now in a very COVID specific way. Whereas what you’re saying is that COVID is a very minor symptom of a much bigger disease of just kind of railroading through these populations, and I want to ask that question about the small “d” democracy, the extent to which “the people” in these places want these games, whether or not this can be properly measured, the extent to which these are traditional neoliberal in the sense that they are about jamming through economic policies in pre-existing — I know we’ve made analogies to Shock Doctrine, which we’ll get into — but to what extent is there just a total lack of public input? Maybe that’s a naive question, but I want to sort of touch on that real quick because if these things were organic and loved by the people, I feel like there would be less bags of sweaty cash.

Shireen Ahmed: Oh, well, I mean, if the Olympics in itself was loved by the people you wouldn’t have huge organizations like NOlympics, and allies and grassroots communities collaborating with each other to literally advocate for not having the Olympics. I mean, the idea of a bid just for example, in Toronto didn’t even make it because the city was like, absolutely fucking not. So, there’s something to be said about that, and it’s something that’s always struck me is the way in which the people are used as props, and it’s never about them. I mean, they certainly, when we think back to Vancouver 2010, how indigenous culture was used as props, literally, in the meantime, the east end of Vancouver was completely being gentrified, and people were being moved out of there. This has never been about people. I mean, it’s a hard stretch to even convince myself as a lover of sport that this is about sport anymore, because it’s really not. I think when we talk about the people I remember a couple weeks ago, I think it was about six weeks ago, we have something called the Burn Pile on Burn It All Down, our podcast, and we get something that infuriates us and one of the things at that particular time, and Jules correct me if I’m wrong, is when the IOC or the Japanese Olympic Committee rather, asked for 500 volunteers of frontline medical staff to volunteer for this particular event, and these nurses were like, ‘Nah, fam, we’re trying to deal with a huge’ and I think we also have to look back when they’re dealing with this huge crisis, how few of Japanese citizens have actually been vaccinated and don’t have access to this. There’s so many layers about it, it’s infuriating at every level, and they took to social media, and that went viral as well, and it’s a way that those kind of stories, again, I get a lot of my information from Jules, quite frankly, his Twitter feed, everybody needs to follow him, because he gets information that isn’t shared necessarily in Western media, it’s not often done that way, and I think, you know, because then again, the layers of the capitalist system and the way it works over here and who’s sponsoring and if you work for a newspaper that sponsored or owned by this person, you can’t see this. That’s why I started with media in this event, because it comes back around to that. But for me, the people have long since been forgotten, and there’s this really great quote that I live by from Arundhati Roy: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” And I think about “deliberately silenced” and “preferably unheard,” and in this case it’s definitely, in my opinion, what happens with the people.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, just to add to what Shireen said, I think that the Olympics have long suffered from a democracy deficit. For starters, who puts forward these bids? It is always, every time, political and economic elites, a privileged sliver of 1 percent of this bid city. Never in all my days studying the Olympics have I ever seen a grassroots bid from working people that said, ‘Hey, we really want to bring the Olympics to our town.’ Second, they sign these host city agreements that Nima was alluding to earlier, and like in the case of Los Angeles, where I’m coming to you from right now, it was signed by Eric Garcetti, who is going to be gone by 2028 — he might be gone by the end of this month off to India — and then also Herb Wesson, who was the head of the city council here, he’s gone. So the people that signed the hosting agreement, putting the city on the hook for cost overruns — and there are always cost overruns with every Olympics going back to 1960 by the way — those folks are long gone. Second, I think you’re pointing us to the referendum issue and most cities, when given the opportunity to weigh in on whether they want to host the Olympics, say, ‘Hell no.’ In fact, between 2013 and 2018, you had numerous bids that were scuppered by different referenda around the world, or an elected official ran for office, they ran for office on a platform of canceling having Olympics and not having them, as was the case in Rome.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti celebrates the city’s candidacy as an Olympics host. (Getty)

Nima: Yeah.

Jules Boykoff: So, you know, between 2013 to 2018, around a dozen cities happened like that. Tokyo never got to vote. Next summer Olympics in Paris never got to vote. Los Angeles never got to vote. Brisbane, which they just rubber stamped for 2032, they never got to vote. So your point is absolutely correct. Serious democracy deficit when it comes to the Olympics.

Nima: You know, this really gets to something that we talk about a lot on Citations Needed, which is, this is nothing new, and we can kind of track all of these trends going back years, decades, potentially even longer. I would love to kind of dig into some of that history with you both. What can you tell us about the contradictions inherent in the Olympic Games from the very start of the modern Olympic Games — I was a classics major in college so if we want to talk about Ancient Greece, we can totally do that — but we can also start in, you know, 1896.

Adam: Let’s talk about the lack of democracy in the Ancient Greek Olympics.

Nima: Let’s do that. But dating back to, if we were talking about counts before, now let’s talk about Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and what broadly are the kind of existential problems with these games as they were created? Have they always plowed through these democratic processes? Have they always displaced the poor? Have they always expedited laws that curtail civil rights and civil liberties? Would love to, you know, Jules, you’ve written about this a lot, love to go to you first, what can you tell us about kind of the inception of the Modern Olympics? And the more you can talk about poetry, the better.

Jules Boykoff: Oh, right, thanks. So yes, the Baron, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, started the Modern Olympics in the 1890s. He was this plucky French aristocrat, who was really bummed when he looked back at the Franco Prussian War, where France had done so poorly, and he was kind of a crotchety old guy who thought this is the young people these days are too quote-unquote “flabby.” So he wanted to really start up sport in a major way through the Olympics to toughen up the youth, and I think that points to one of the bedrock contradictions of the Olympics is that on one hand it was designed to toughen up the so-called “flabby” youth so that they could be more effective in fighting in war, on the other hand, he had all this language about peace. Another contradiction is that, you know, this was supposed to be this unifying thing, universal ideas around sport, and freedom and love and all that, but women were excluded from the beginning. So, the Baron was an avid sexist. For him, and this is in his writings, he said that women’s involvement in the Olympics should be limited to placing the laurels on the heads of the victorious men, and perhaps producing baby boys that could one day be part of the Olympic tradition. It was also built on a bedrock of racism. So, the Baron talked about including countries from Sub Saharan Africa, but only because they were quote-unquote “lazy,” and that being in the Olympics would help them because they “had a thousand jealousies of the white man,” that was from the Baron there. And so the Olympics from the beginning, were based on a foundation of isms, and let me just say, like, the Baron kept these beliefs until the end of his life, we’re talking to the 1930s he’s still saying this stuff about women, for example, who had gotten the right to vote some 15 years before, he was still believing that in the United States, so yeah, it was not just a man of his time, it was actually a cretin of his time.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin (Library of Congress)

Adam: Yeah, because some people listening to this would think, the first question they’d ask is, well, what, what’s in it for the elites? What is their motive? And I think that sort of speaks to the issue of this kind of Shock Doctrine or disaster capitalism, again, Jules, you wrote in 2012, about the Olympics, you said, quote:

Meanwhile, security officials are exploiting the Olympics as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to multiply and militarize their weapons stocks, laminating another layer on to the surveillance state. The Games justify a security architecture to prevent terrorism, but that architecture can double to suppress or intimidate acts of political dissent. The Olympic Charter actually prohibits political activism, stating, ‘no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’ What ‘other areas’ means is open to broad interpretation.

This was a huge factor in South Africa for the World Cup. I know, again, this is not unique to the Olympics, the World Cup does this as well, where they have actual, like extra-constitutional zones. Shireen, I want you to start off by talking about this, because people ask what is sort of what’s in it for them, and what it is it’s kind of a scheduled Shock Doctrine instead of a Katrina or a 9/11, you have something you can put on a calendar in eight years and say, ‘Okay, we have all this bullshit, neoliberal crap nobody wants, again, we’re going to get rid of poor communities that have been there for decades, sometimes centuries, we’re going to institute all these reforms, we’re going to put rocket launchers on apartment complexes,’ like they did in London, or surface-to-air missiles I think it was what it was. So, I want to talk about what the kind of motive is for why these things are jammed down our throats and how this kind of smarmy, nationalist jingoism is used to marshal these resources, which otherwise wouldn’t be very popular. It’s a definition of bread and circuses, as it were.

Shireen Ahmed: Absolutely. I think what’s happened with the Olympics is that it’s been so cleverly packaged and manufactured to appeal to the public to say, ‘Well, you’ll want this, it’ll bring tourism,’ and this particular Olympics, despite it being the Pandemic Games, ‘Oh, we’re having the highest number of women on teams, our national and Olympic teams,’ like for example, China, Australia, Canada, US, they all have more than 50 percent of women athletes. So it’s trying to appeal to feminists or those who look to equality, but you don’t have to go very far to realize a smorgasbord of disaster and misogyny and sexism that actually festers there. So I mean, in terms of why we get it, it’s because those who make decisions, quite frankly, are men in power. They make decisions without consulting people, as Jules already mentioned, take away the ability to input, and so it’s brought to us as this is good for you — it’s really not good for you. But the other thing that I think is a connector that people use very cleverly, and when I say people the way the message is given out is that sport is a connector, sport is the essence, and I think that’s something that’s used as a shield to deflect criticism of ‘Don’t we want?’ Because I mean, I’ll be quite honest with you, I have issues with it, I want to support women in sport and some of the only times I can actually have access, when am I going to see an Iranian woman archerer? At the Olympics. When am I going to see an Egyptian woman or a Central Asian woman weightlifting? At the Olympics. I hate it, but at the same time there’s really no other platform for women who are particularly underfunded and don’t get potential within their own federations, which are also, we haven’t even begun to talk about the Olympic committees and national committees that are equally as corrupt, but women are simply not given support, so at the same time that, you know, you want to see women athletes thrive, and this is the first time we’ll have a transgender athlete, Lauren Hubbard, is weightlifting, and that’s very important because we want to see trans athletes participate as well despite the system being very inherently misogynistic and transphobic and racist, absolutely racist. Caster Semenya wasn’t allowed to compete. So like, you know, you struggle so much as someone who does love sport, I’m still being told, ‘Oh, it’s so great for women,’ well, breastfeeding mothers weren’t allowed to bring their babies until two weeks ago.

Adam: There’s a hostage situation that goes on.

Shireen Ahmed: You want this? Then you have to do this.

Adam: Yes, extortion.

Shireen Ahmed: And you have to, you know, you have to watch the God-awful opening ceremonies. I’m afraid Pitbull’s going to show up and sing. I’m still traumatized from Rio. You just have to take all of this in, and what you want to do is you want to avoid and you want to see like, for example, the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team also has a non-binary player Quinn and we want to support them.

Adam: You mentioned high-profile cases of racism, specifically anti-Black racism and anti-Black women racism, you mentioned misogyny, I know that there was a high profile case of the breastfeeding, there was the issue with —

Shireen Ahmed: Kim Gaucher of Canada as well, yeah.

Adam: Needing to wear bikini bottoms. Can we recap some of that real quick? Because I think people think ‘Oh, well, the Olympics is like super woke or whatever,’ and it’s like, no, it’s definitely still run by five guys who are counts and have monocles and let’s talk about that.

Nima: (Laughs.) Yeah.

Shireen Ahmed: The Olympics are not woke, they’re comatose, really. It’s bad, and you know, some of the things that I mentioned that people aren’t familiar with, the issue of a Canadian basketball player named Kim Gaucher who wasn’t permitted to bring her breastfeeding daughter. She appealed, and two and a half weeks before she was slated to leave for Tokyo, instead of focusing on training, which is what athletes should be doing, she was fighting the IOC.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah.

Shireen Ahmed: And then another one was Ona Carbonell of Spain, who’s a swimmer, had to leave her nursing child in Spain and go to Tokyo. Also, women are an afterthought, and have always been, and so as bad as Coubertin was, Thomas Bach isn’t that far behind. I mean, women are simply an afterthought, and how can we market this, like I talked about this marketing and this packaging of what the Olympics is, how can we make it look like we actually care about women when we truthfully do not? Because if you had one woman at the table making decisions, someone would have mentioned pregnant or breastfeeding or nursing mothers and athletes, somebody would have thought of that. Allyson Felix like, you don’t have to go very far to find these things, but it lets you know who’s providing the input, who’s provided, who’s advising here, and it’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible. So those are some of the things and, you know, the other thing that I wanted to say, and Jules can touch on this, please do, the IOC is in cahoots with other international governing bodies who are equally as wretched, and we think of, you mentioned Al Capone and the mafia, you know, in Chicago, I think of Lausanne, Switzerland when I think of mafiosos quite frankly, which is where all the governing bodies are of sporting bodies. And the way that the IAAF made rules to prevent Caster Semenya, a South African runner from running, they particularly denied her based on some arbitrary idea that they had of science, when truthfully the science does not, our friend Katrina Karkazis, a bioethicists, who’s co-written a book called The T, it explains this, but they won’t look there. They’re very selective. This idea of policing women’s bodies and women have been previously in games not allowed to compete. One of the most famous cases, and what really got my career started, was the disqualification of the Iranian women’s football team, they weren’t allowed to qualify in 2012, because they weren’t allowed to wear a hijab, which propelled a hijab in, that was later struck down in 2014. But my point is, women are an afterthought, no one at these tables actually cares, and it’s performative in every conceivable way.

Adam: Right, and they punish women’s volleyball for wearing shorts, they have to wear a bikini.

Shireen Ahmed: It was actually beach handball.

Adam: Beach handball.

Shireen Ahmed: Norwegian beach handball, and they were expected to wear, and I do want to make this point clear, like I work a lot on uniform accommodations and hijab ins in sports, but in my research I’ve found this isn’t necessarily only about gender and Islamophobia, it’s about misogyny and a hold in controlling women’s bodies and their bodily agency, and men don’t have to abide by these rules, they can wear shorts up to their knees.

Adam: That’s a pretty stark example, because they want them to look a certain way for the TV cameras, presumably, right?

Shireen Ahmed: Because beach volleyball or handball, rather, are two of the most watched and commercially successful events. Everybody watches beach volleyball, apparently, and so they bow and they worship at the altar of money. So that’s what happens.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, just to add on to Shireen’s insights if I could, for starters, the International Olympic Committee did not start to bring women as members until 1981, the Reagan-era folks, so this is definitely not a proto-feminist organization, like Shireen’s been saying, in any kind of way. And you know, Adam, your question raises a lot of big-picture issues when it comes to the Olympics, and a lot of times, if you’re not following the Olympics carefully, it might just seem like all this kind of mayhem out there, and so what I try to do in my mind is I try to organize it around specific types of mayhem, and one of the things that’s kind of endemic to the Olympics is overspending, like I mentioned before, every single Olympics, going back to 1960, has gone over budget, even the so-called successful 1984 games in Los Angeles. A second trend is the militarization of public space. You were mentioning the surface-to-air missiles that were ratcheted onto the roofs of apartment buildings in London. I actually spoke to some of those people, I was living in London at the time, and you know how they found out about these missiles being on their roof? They got a little piece of paper slipped under their door.

The Fred Wigg Tower, a proposed site for surface-to-air missiles during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (AFP)

Adam: That’s right, I remember that.

Jules Boykoff: Saying, ‘By the way, this is what’s going on.’ So yeah, they were livid of course, right?

Adam: ‘Btw, surface-to-air missiles are now on your fucking roof. That community garden you were gonna put up there? It’s no longer happening.’

Jules Boykoff: ‘Yeah, we squashed it.’

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: ‘Your pigeon coop is gone.’

Jules Boykoff: Exactly. The third trend that helps me organize my mind is gentrification and displacement, and especially the decimation of public housing, actually. Public housing gets attacked time and time again, just look at Atlanta in the United States where the longest public housing complex made in the New Deal era, first federally funded one called Techwood Homes, was decimated to make way for the Olympics. And the fourth trend that I look to is greenwashing, so talking a big environmental game, but actually not following through. You know, I can go through all of those four problems in terms of how they’re playing out in Tokyo, because they’re all playing out in Tokyo in specific ways. However, to your point, they’re not necessarily Tokyo problems so much as they are Olympic problems, that when the elites in your city decide to have the Olympics come to your city, they decide to import into your city as well.

Adam: Yeah, because it means people’s brains turn off. This is how they depopulated large Mexican populations in Los Angeles with the Dodger Stadium, right? I mean, this is, if you say sports or stadium or nationalism, just your brain turns off, and then it’s like, yeah, do whatever sinister designs, because again, this profits, real estate interest a lot. That’s a huge motivator for this, and the money from real estate interest goes into the coffers of the mayors who seek the Olympics, and so on and so forth. So the incentives are tremendous.

Nima: I think this all gets at what I struggle with — when there’s something really contradictory in my ideology, I say it’s a struggle, it’s really tough, and I’m sure other people are dealing with it — which is if you like sports, and to your point, Shireen, earlier, supporting the athletes, there are so many, not only is it kind of drilled into us as sports fans, or as people who grew up watching the Olympics, but also people who are really kind of pro-Olympic advocates, saying possibly the most popular pro-Olympic argument, which is scaling back or canceling or postponing or changing the way the Olympics operate, would — what? — hurt the athletes, and we hear this time and time and time again. It used to be kind of in the same way that the NCAA weaponizes the idea of amateurism that used to be a real kind of piece of this, I think that has changed a bit, maybe starting with the Dream Team, and, you know, pro athletes started playing in the Olympics, but you know, what would you say to these hypothetical, definitely-not-Nima people, who love the Olympics, wanna watch the Olympics, and yet hate the Olympic Games, or hate the IOC, or understand that this is a corrupt, terrible, evil organization that has been doing this for decades and decades, and yet, I just really want to watch the high dive.

Adam: You’re clearly talking about everyone here. You know, we’re contradictions, we love sports, we love the Olympics. So comment on the human shield aspect, right? You sort of use these amateur athletes to extort, pull at people’s heartstrings, talk about that.

Nima: Especially because they’ve been waiting a whole extra year, right, because of the pandemic, so there’s that incentive as well.

Adam: Yeah, well of course and who doesn’t feel bad for these people, every single segment has this emotional pornography about how they, you know, they overcame cancer, and their mom died in a car accident, and, oh, you’re gonna tell this person to fuck off and go home? You know, you misanthropic radical left-wing, such and such. So I’m sure you all have heard this a million times in y’all’s line of work, so I want, Shireen, you to start off by talking about the hostage negotiation situation, and then I’m gonna ask a follow up question which we can go to later, which is, is there a non-evil way of doing this? Which to me seems like the obvious rejoinder to this problem?

Shireen Ahmed: Well, I think one of the things, the contradictions are really, it’s very complicated. I’m a grad student right now as well, and one of the things I’ve learned from the greatest academics, Jules being one of them, it’s complicated. Dr. Amira Rose Davis, my dear colleague, says this all the time, and I will use that line in that, if you want to talk about the athletes, let’s talk about Katie Lou Samuelson, let’s talk about Tyler Crabb, let’s talk about those who have tested positive and can’t actually participate in their dream anymore. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how this is all connected, and how the event wasn’t safe enough and how protocols around it were selective and it didn’t end up working out, and a lot of these Instagram posts that I’ve been taking in very often the dream of an athlete is to win a championship or to win a ring, but for those that aren’t part of leagues or don’t have, women in particular, winning an Olympic gold medal is really the be all and end all, it’s the pinnacle of their career, because they may not have a league to go to, they may not have something stable, as we know, women’s sport is not well invested in. So I think it’s funny that we use this idea of the athlete and let’s project what we want the athlete to do. The athlete is out there trying to find enough protein in their diet, because they’re underfunded as an amateur athlete. That’s what’s happening. Let’s talk, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of how we care about women’s sports, and I know we keep talking about women, but I’m sorry, I’m not sorry, rather, but we forget about them after the Olympics. They’re used literally, as I said before, as pawns in this weird, bizarre chess game. ‘Oh, but we’re gonna do this, you know, this is important to support women,’ if you really want to support women, make sure they have stable careers, make sure they don’t have to do two jobs, in addition to training at nights and on weekends. So let’s really talk about, if you want to talk about the athletes, let’s talk about other things. I mean, it’s so weird for me when I hear that, because I don’t accept it, I reject it. And as far as, okay, so maybe I have a friend and she likes sport, and she’s torn, let’s call her Shireen, and she might want to watch, you know, takes a lot of joy in sport, and in doing what I do it sometimes it sucks because I know the complexities and sometimes you just want to sit down and watch the US women lose the soccer game. Sometimes you just want that.

Adam: I like how you foreclosed on them winning. That was not an option.

Shireen Ahmed: Sorry. I’m gonna go there. But, you know, sometimes you just want to see the drama and the teams implode and do this and do that, and you can’t, but you know, we can talk about that in a bit of whether there is a good way to do it.

Adam: Well, yeah, because again, I think there is that emotional extortion aspect. So Jules, do you want to comment on that?

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, I think human shield is the right way of talking about the situation. Absolutely. I mean, look at Tokyo, where the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has told these people that will be attending and participating in the games that the games will be quote-unquote “safe and secure.” Just constantly hammering home that mantra, saying that there’s zero risk that they will pass it along COVID to anybody else. This is patent bullshit, excuse my language, but like, it’s just not true. They’re not even using the best scientific practices. There was an article in the New England Journal of Medicine excoriating the International Olympic Committee for their lack of best practices. Just to give a couple examples. The IOC is not even giving top quality masks to athletes. It’s a BYOM kind of situation: bring your own mask.

Nima: (Laughs.)

Jules Boykoff: They’re putting eight people in a room in some cases in the Olympic Village, four sharing a single bathroom. Obviously not best scientific practices here. They actually had athletes sign waivers, and I had the good fortune of a Tokyo-bound athletes share it with me, the waiver that they received, that states in black and white that if the athlete participating in Tokyo 2020 dies of coronavirus or dies of extreme heat, which is another problem in Japan right now in the summers, that they cannot hold the International Olympic Committee or Tokyo organizers liable. Now I’ve signed, you mentioned I’m an athlete, I was an athlete, at the outset, so I’ve signed my fair share waivers, don’t get me wrong, god knows what I signed away, but even for me seeing that waiver was absolutely bracing. And, you know, they always say the thing that athletes are first, so to speak, but athletes are actually last and one point on this, one last point, if I may, is that there’s a really important study done out of Ryerson University that looked at how much Olympic athletes make compared to athletes from other sports like the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, English Premier League of soccer, football, and they found that in those other big leagues, between 45 and 60 percent of the revenues from those leagues, ended up directly in the pocket of the athletes in the leagues, the Olympics 4.1 percent. So they’re getting screwed when it comes to the Olympic money pie as well.

Adam: Right. So you were an Olympic athlete, Jules, I would have been one, but evidently lying on your back and drinking whiskey and watching Walker, Texas Ranger is not an Olympic sport.

Nima: It’s coming.

Adam: I’m working on it, though.

Nima: 2028.

Adam: So, from the perspective of the athletes, because let’s say, I don’t know what happens to be listening to this, and again, I know we’re being prescriptive here, and I know I teed this up earlier, but like, what would a non evil games look like where you can center the athlete and where you center, you have equity, you don’t have creepy, sexist and racist rules and arbitrary laws and people going around counting T counts and so forth. What would that look like? Is that even possible? Maybe I’m being a bit Pollyanna-ish here, could that even take place?

Jules Boykoff: Okay. Well, I mean, I would say for starters, that there are some interesting examples from history to point to, there were these things called the Worker’s Games in the 1920s and ’30s, where socialists and communists from Europe organized an alternative to the what they called the bourgeois Olympics. And listeners may well know about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, also known as the Nazi Games, that was the place where the Olympic torch relay was actually invented by a guy named Carl Diem, I should say a Nazi guy named Carl Diem, there was an alternative games plan for that very summer in Barcelona, where they were going to bring together all these workers and a lot of them actually arrived and they started to get ready for the Olympics, then war broke out, some of them actually stayed and fought in the war. But the point is, before that, there were these Worker’s Games, and these weren’t like small little things, these were hundreds of thousands of people, and there were different categories for participation. So you had your elite athletes, your people that were, you know, somewhat serious, and then people that really were just neophytes that wanted to give it a go, and you know, that was tremendously successful. You had support from many governments, and obviously, socialists and communists invested a lot in it as well. I think that no matter how you slice it and change it in the modern era, you have to have athletes have a much bigger voice and not just any athletes, not just compliant athletes, there are plenty of yes men and women out there who are willing to just go along with the same kind of structure as the International Olympic Committee, but at the same time, there are a lot of athletes right now out there who are thinking critically about the Olympics, who’ve had a front row seat to the games and say, ‘Whoa, this is wrong.’ I mean, I’ll just give one example, Allyson Felix, going to her fifth Olympics this summer, she was involved in the effort to get the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, and what she saw was totally unsavory. She was quoted in The New York Times saying, ‘Wow, athletes basically don’t really get a meaningful seat at the table, and that there’s so much money floating around and it’s going all the wrong places.’ I want her running the International Olympic Committee. Let’s just disband this whole gaggle of dudes, mostly dudes, with still an incredibly high count quotient I might add, more than 10 of their members out of 102 are royalty still to this day, let’s just disband those guys.

Jacques Rogge, Honorary President of the IOC and count.

Nima: What?

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, no, it’s for real.

Adam: They have a 10 percent count count.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, more than 10 percent. Yeah 11 out of 102 right now.

Adam: Wow. How many monocles are we talking here, like two or three?

Nima: Scepters mostly.

Adam: I want to know what the monocle quotient is. That’s when you know you’re really a man of the people. Go ahead.

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, no more ascots and caviar. But yeah, let me throw it over to Shireen, though.

Shireen Ahmed: Well, just to sort of just scaffold off what Jules is saying too, I think one of the things is talking about athletes and then voicing their opinions. I mean, I alluded to in the beginning of the program, was that they’re starting to share, and I think previously, athletes were incredibly silenced, and with social media, they’re having an opportunity to share, there’s other places like I mean, when Jules talked about going to Brazil with Dave, there was literally just Dave writing about the intersections of politics and sports. Now, there’s so many more people doing it. There’s so much more reporting in a nuanced manner, taking other things into consideration and I think that’s really important as well. But someone like Gwen Berry, who turned around in the Olympic qualifiers and turned her back because she just refuses to partake in this national jingo when she’s trying to talk about anti-Blackness and police brutality and the crisis that exists. And I think these are really important pieces, and you can’t, as much as you know, the IOC wants to use athletes and their images and this and that, and it’s branded this way for the people, for the athletes that support the athletes, athletes can’t divorce their identities from their sport and who they are, and that’s one of the things that I’ve seen that’s, you know, it’s incredibly impactful to see athletes talking. And I wanted to add this, I wrote a piece yesterday, and just talking about how it should be reported and how there’s also the responsibility of media to be accurate, and to be fair in their reporting and understand the issues around it. But in that piece I mention, it was for NBCU Academy, and it was talking about how the IOC previously had banned political expression, the athletes weren’t allowed, and then they kind of pulled back, they stepped back a little bit and said, ‘Okay, you can express yourself, but you can’t do it on the podium, you can’t do it in the sport while you’re in play,’ and you know, you don’t want to do it when the most cameras are on you, essentially.

Adam: Right.

Shireen Ahmed: I mean, one of the things I love more about disruptors and dissenters is that they’ll find a way, and I’m looking forward to that way exploding all over the internet.

Adam: It’s a free speech zone, right?

Nima: What I’m totally fascinated by is the idea that so often the Olympics are seen as this platform for togetherness and like, ‘Oh, we leave politics at the door,’ and yet it’s still very political, but like the good kind of political, right? But, ‘Don’t you dare do a Tommie Smith or John Carlos.’

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: But then the Olympics are supposed to be hailed for in 1964, not allowing apartheid South Africa to participate, right? So, there’s this what is allowed to be the kind of popular IOC approved level of politics, and then what are the other things that are absolutely not approved. Let’s talk a little bit Shireen, you were talking about this a bit, what politics are allowed, quote-unquote “politics.” I mean, you know, on our show, and all the work we do, nothing is really apolitical so it’s not like politics and sports, it’s all the same thing. But talk about kind of how activism shows up in the Olympics, and how it is so often quashed, but so powerful when it is able to break through.

Shireen Ahmed: One of the things I find very interesting about the Olympics is you can’t be political, yet they’re very proud to claim that they have a refugee team, and it’s the team that I followed from 2016. So you can have a team that’s literally made up of environmental refugees, displaced persons from conflict, from imperialist-driven conflict, but we’re not going to talk about it, but we’re going to tote the athletes from team refugee, it literally makes no sense when you think about it. If you think about, there’s one particular athlete Kimia Alizadeh who defected from Iran in January 2020. She’s judoka, but we can’t talk about why or when or how, but we’ll just have her there. It’s so bizarre and it doesn’t actually track, it doesn’t make sense. So much of this is actually nonsensical. So in terms of the politics and the activism, we saw Naomi Osaka all summer leading up to this talking about mental health, talking about how, you know, she wore masks with the names of victims of police brutality last year all through the tour, and what will that look like? We’ve seen players in the EPL kneel, the English Premier League, footballers. Will they kneel again? We’ve seen other messages, will there be, perhaps there will be Palestinian flags being pulled out. So like, we don’t know what that looks like? And it’ll be, in my opinion, what happens is that the IOC they’ll sort of make up the rules as they go, which seems to be happening, and so if there’s an offense committed, they’ll rule on it, Twitter will, you know, explode, there’ll be social media pressure, and we’ll go through the cycle that’s exhausting, but you know, we already know what to expect. So it’s like, I’m waiting for certain things to drop my ears kind of to the ground on this, I kind of think I know some places where it’ll come out, and at the same time, I’m going to never expect athletes, because in issues of social justice it is always racialized, in particular Black women that carry those struggles forward and lead those, I don’t expect athletes to do it, but if they want to the whole world is watching. This is the time that they have to do it, and you know, I think about that in a lot of ways, and I think about my privilege, and I think about where I am, you don’t know what they have and how many opportunities they’ll have for that moment of dissent to be so public, and what that looks like. I do like to consider myself a positive person. For example, Barbra Banda, a Zambian footballer, the first Zambian footballer to score three goals in the Olympic tournament, that’s a big deal, people know her name now. So there’s little moments where there’ll be happy events, women doing slalom canoeing, because canoeing was unbelievably sexist and didn’t allow women to canoe, which is a very, very strange place to focus your sexism but canoeing was largely sexist.

Adam: Yeah.

Shireen Ahmed: So I’ll try to hold, there’s some good stories, you know, that eventually Procter & Gamble will turn into like a mini-montage, we know that, because I’ll admit I cry during those montages. I do.

Adam: They’re very good at the montages, NBC especially.

Shireen Ahmed: I cry.

Adam: I think they plagiarized The West Wing one time but they are, they’re very good at —

Nima: That’ll get Adam every time.

Adam: They’re very good at the schmaltz. Well, you know, they go back to the small little town they’re from and they interview the local grandmother who knew him growing up.

Shireen Ahmed: Or the teacher.

Adam: The teacher.

Nima: Yeah, that’s right.

Shireen Ahmed: The teacher comes and says words and then they cry. Yeah, I’m a sucker for them.

Adam: Yeah, yeah.

Nima: Up at 4:30am.

Adam: Yeah, he has to sell his kidney to make the flight.

Nima: Yeah, no, of course. So actually, to this point, Jules, yes, there’s the kind of performative part of all of that in the corporate use of these stories, but also, we are a media criticism show, but I’m going to flip the script right now, where are the positive media stories? Who is doing good work? Where can we look to? I know this is so anathema to what we do on this show, but what is going well, and where right now?

Jules Boykoff: Yeah, I mean, as a longtime listener to this show, I know you don’t always bring the uplifting mass media success stories.

Nima: It’s because it’s a live show, because there are people looking at me.

Adam: We try to do positive ones Jules, it was a ratings disaster. Nobody wants to hear positive.

Jules Boykoff: Okay, I got you. Well, I just think that we have seen a tremendous shift in the way that people talk about the Olympics over the last decade or so, as someone who’s somewhat monomaniacally followed the politics of the Olympics and how it plays out through the press. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that you could be an elected official from a city that was hosting or wanted to host the Olympics was putting forth a bid, you could stand up behind the podium and say, ‘When the Olympics come, they’re going to lift all economic boats, they’re going to create jobs, it’s going to be wonderful,’ this, that. You try to do that today, it won’t happen, and here’s why. There have been activist groups, anti-Olympics activist groups popping up around the world to fight against the Olympic machine. I mean, in Los Angeles, where there’s a really rambunctious group called the NOlympics LA group, they came out of the Democratic Socialists of America Housing and Homelessness Committee, and they are on the cutting edge of what’s happening globally right now. They organized the first ever transnational anti-Olympic summit in 2019, that I had the good fortune of attending with Dave Zirin, who we were talking about before, so anti-Olympics activists have really helped shift the narrative. Critical journalism, there’s more and more of it out there I can tell you. 10 years ago, was I getting calls from journalists that wanted my input about these trends that we’ve been talking about today? Yeah, maybe like a month or two out, but right now, still, the calls are coming. Right now people want to talk about the bigger picture with the Olympics. Third, you’ve got human rights organizations. I know they’ve come under criticism on your show before, but you know, they have put a lot more attention into athletic events, and the idea of sport-washing regimes, and I would throw Los Angeles actually into that category of a regime that’s using the Olympics to try to launder their reputation. It can happen in a more authoritarian context, like Beijing, and six months after Tokyo, where there’s obvious human rights violations happening there, but it can happen in Los Angeles, where I’m coming to you from, we’re hosting the Olympics, can be a way of shuffling the humanitarian crisis in plain sight out of view, known as homelessness right here. And so like, I’m just saying that there’s been a lot of good work, maybe a few academics as well, that have helped kind of push the narrative in particular ways, but with those four groups, it has shifted massively over the last 10 years, and like you were saying before, it’s not just a COVID thing that’s leading to the criticism right now, people are really understanding that the Olympic project is getting its varnish stripped right off before our eyes, and I view that as a positive, it wouldn’t be able to happen were it not for the media being interested in these stories.

Nima: I love the idea of sport-washing. I think we’ve seen it, you know, it kind of gets back to, I had mentioned poetry earlier at the outset, you know, in the 1890s of the Modern Olympics, what sports was set up to do, and you mentioned it Jules, there’s a contradictory, ‘This is about peace and togetherness. Also, we have to train our young men for war.’ But can you just quickly talk about the poetry piece of this?

The start of the men’s 100-meter race at the 1896 Olympic Games. (PPP)

Jules Boykoff: Oh, thank you for bringing it back around to that. Yeah, I mean, in the early days of the Olympics, poetry and art were part of the games. I mean, they were prizes given for poetry and art. In fact, our friend, the Baron, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, actually was a poet, too. He wrote this really cheesy, bad poem that you should all look up online called “Ode to Sport,” which won the gold medal at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Hey, Baron. Good job. You know, he did it under a pseudonym so apparently the judges were not supposed to know it was him, but rumor has it in Olympic —

Nima: Two pseudonyms.

Jules Boykoff: Oh, yeah.

Nima: It was co-authored. There was one guy.

Jules Boykoff: Faking so hard. Exactly, extra effort on the pseudonym there. But yeah, he won the prize, and you know, that’s, I think a larger metaphor though how this is really an insider’s game, and I think there is a big awakening that it is an insider’s game, that the Olympics do help people, that just happens to be an exercise in trickle up economics and I think the more we ask, you know, for whom do the Olympics boom? The better off we’re gonna actually be.

Nima: Shireen, you know, who do you think we should be paying attention to? Like, what do you see that is positive, in addition to Burn It All Down

Adam: Burn It All Down, which can be found at podcast stores everywhere.

Shireen Ahmed: I think one of the things that I’ll just agree totally, I’ll echo what Jules said about needing to be more critical. Jules, you weren’t necessarily invited 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have had a job 10 years ago. So like these intersections of, you know, and connecting those dots, people are more willing to connect the dots, not be like, ‘This is black and white.’ For example, the Norwegian beach handball team, to correlate that and allowing me, giving me space to correlate that to the way women’s bodies are policed at a wider level, those are connections that sometimes media is not willing to dive into. Having places and having academics come on, sports historians, political scientists, sports sociologists, and talk to us about context and sharing their work. I think there’s also, Jules, you and I talked about this all the time, about bridging the gaps between what the academic research is and getting the information out to people, and there needs to be collaborative efforts in that way, and I think we’re starting to see that in certain places. I mean, I think that I’m always wary. I’m a big supporter of independent media for obvious reasons, and I think that I’m a little bit wary sometimes of the way major outlets and networks report things, because again, they’re privately owned, and as much as I want to support journalistic freedom, which by the way, wasn’t allowed because Jessica Luthor, my co-host, we were talking about this, one of the things and one of the reasons so many journalists didn’t go to Tokyo, because part of the protocol for safety was journalists turning on their phones the whole time they were there.

Nima: To be tracked?

Shireen Ahmed: To be tracked for safety protocol, and I’m like —

Adam: Safety protocol.

Shireen Ahmed: That’s terrible. So they could know where you were at all times, and what if you had a source or are interviewing someone, it would be absolutely dangerous, not to mention against every code of ethics a journalist has. It just would be impossible and so many journalists that I personally know ended up not going, and they’re going to do the reporting, they’re getting up at 4:30 in the morning and doing what they need to do. But those are the things that are so problematic, and people are talking about this, they’re sharing it on their social media, talking about how we have to be more critical, and I think we’re not just looking to one or two people to do that anymore. There’s a lot of people carrying the mantle, and simultaneously, and so if I had a mug, a product placement, I would have picked it up right now and ever so casually drunk out of the Burn It All Down mug, but it’s in the dishwasher, I can’t. So, but I mean, the point is, there’s places to look for it, and I would just recommend the listeners, your listeners, think about where they’re getting their information from. Please, please, please think about where you’re getting your information from. Think about who you’re getting it from, if you’re not following, at least on your accounts, you’re not following at least ten Black women sports writers, you’re getting your news wrong, and so those are just some of the things I’m going to say.

Adam: Yeah, because I think that you’re right, this sort of openness of media has, I think prodded it in a little bit. Corporate media is trying to keep up, I know that Comcast is radio silence, obviously, because it’s a multi-billion dollar investment on their part every four years. But, you know, CNN, things like that, have been starting to poke around the edges. Again, we’re not allowed to be positive on the show so I won’t do that, but it is a little bit, it’s cracked, well, because they’re so egregious, they’re so greedy, they’ve had so many huge PR mishaps by just being casually racist and sexist.

Nima: But we still have to point out that, you know, between 2013 and 2016, broadcast rights made up for 73 percent of the IOC’s revenue.

Adam: Right.

Nima: So this is intimately involved.

Shireen Ahmed: Oh, yeah.

Adam: Yeah, this is fundamentally a media story, because again, what are the two things that make us turn our brains off? Jingoism and sports. And if you add those things together, you know, you get again, I think even the most jaded, hardened left-wing cynic, you know, you want to root for the little guy, so forth. So before we go, now that we’ve had that light beach read for an hour, I want y’all to talk about, I want y’all to push some paper, plug your stuff. Let’s talk about where our listeners can check out what y’all do. Shireen, why don’t you go first, tell us about your podcast. I know we’ve had your colleague on before, so that was what? That was only a few months ago. So tell us about that and then what you’re up to.

Shireen Ahmed: So, I’m at Burn It All Down, a sports feminist podcast. I personally am a multi-platform sports journalist. I live on Twitter, basically, which my children tell me is for old people.

Adam: I’ve heard that.

Nima: You hear that, Adam?

Shireen Ahmed: I don’t TikTok.

Adam: I’m old.

Shireen Ahmed: So I do unsuccessfully, but Twitter it’s @_ShireenAhmed_ and yeah, you’ll you’ll hear me in the airwaves — are they called airwaves in podcasts? I don’t know, but currently I am actually going to be finishing a master’s degree, 12-month master’s degree, and yeah, I’m not really sure what’s happening in September, so maybe —

Nima: (Laughs.)I like how all of that was just the next month.

Shireen Ahmed: I have no idea what I’m doing, somebody hire me please. So yeah, that’s what I’m up to. I will be watching the Olympics but I’m really not into getting up at 4:30 in the morning. Ramadan’s over, there’s no foreseeable reason for me to be up at that hour.

Nima: DVR.

Shireen Ahmed: Just not interested. I’ll catch up at 8am. So yeah, and then, again, the work you all do is very important and necessary and sports doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but I’m really happy you invited us on here.

Nima: Jules, what are you up to?

Jules Boykoff: Well, let me just first plug Burn It All Down. It is a tremendous podcast, and I’m a regular, every week listener to both shows and you just can’t do yourself wrong by listening to that podcast, super well researched, really well done. So I want to plug that. For myself, yeah, I’m on Twitter, just my name @JulesBoykoff. I put my writings up on my website, which is just JulesBoykoff.org, and I follow my email carefully. So if you want to send me a note, I’m happy to respond. So thanks for having us on.

Nima: We really cannot thank you both enough for joining us today. We have been joined, of course, by Shireen Ahmed, writer, public speaker, and award-winning sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports, as well as the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is the co-creator and co-host, as you just heard, of the amazing Burn It All Down, an intersectional feminist sports podcast. Definitely check it out. And, of course, Jules Boykoff, author of four books on the Olympic Games, and endless articles in the press, just recently in The Nation and the LA Times check out his amazing writing. His books include Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, and his latest, NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Beyond. Previously, a professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Soccer Team in international competition and currently a political science professor at Pacific University in Oregon.

Adam: And so many articles critical of the IOC. These guys are handing people bags of cash. I just, make sure when you start your car in the morning, it’s not like the Pelican Brief, man, because these guys play dirty. I was looking through your resume and I’m like, yeah, this guy’s definitely on some Israeli security firm’s black cube. It’s like, just watch who you make friends with, especially with all the recent bad press they made. That’s all I’m saying, I’m not being paranoid, I’m just saying.

Nima: (Laughs.) From a friend. He heard it from a friend.

Adam: I was like, this guy’s just like the biggest pain in the ass to these people.

Nima: We’re so lucky to have you, Jules and Shireen, on this live show of Citations Needed. So thank you so much for joining us.

Jules Boykoff: Thank you.

Shireen Ahmed: Thank you so much.

Adam: Thanks, y’all, so much. This was great.

Nima: And that will do it for this live show. You have been watching a virtual live show of Citations Needed or listening to the recording of it in the pod airwaves. We will be back soon with our last full-length episode of the current season. We’re gonna take a little summer break, but it has been amazing to have you all join us. Thank you for listening. And of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. But that will do it, we’re going to end it here. Of course thanks everyone, all you amazing patrons who joined us today. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone, for joining us again. Have a good night.

[Music]


This Citations Needed live interview was recorded with a virtual audience on Thursday, July 22, 2021 and released on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.