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  • The Difficult Legacy of IOC President Avery Brundage


    (ATR) After banishing a bust of founder Avery Brundage, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco this week hosted a virtual discussion critically examining the former IOC president’s reputation for racism, anti-semitism, and gender bias.
    A photo of Brundage's bust during the Zoom conference. (ATR)

    Brundage was president of the IOC from 1952 to 1972. His collection of Asian art forms the core of the museum collection that numbers 18,000 pieces,

    Last month the museum directors voted to remove a bust of the former IOC leader from the venue. The action mirrors steps taken by other institutions which have removed statues and monuments of white supremacists. The panel discussion held July 15 comes as national protests against police brutality have sparked conversations on race relations.

    Panelists Dr. Harry Edwards, the noted sports sociologist and political scientist Jules Boykoff, a critic of the Olympic Games, both seem to agree that Brundage's racism as IOC president merits concern.

    ”The Games were political to begin with. It was about white supremacy and domination that was Pierre De Coubertin’s mission. So they were tailor made as an institution for the eventual emergence of an Avery Brundage,” said Edwards.

    Brundage’s IOC tenure was marked with controversy over race. In the early 1930’s Brundage came to Germany’s defense as momentum grew to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a protest over anti-Jewish discrimination. In 1957, Brundage wrote to IOC members saying women should be classified as a minority and sought to remove them from the Games.

    At the 1968 Olympics, Brundage led the push to ostracize John Carlos and Tommie Smith after their fist-raising protest during their medal ceremony. The IOC president had already acquired the opprobrium "Slavery Avery"  by then, largely due to his beliefs that Olympic athletes could not be professionals, restricting them to penurious sporting careers as amateurs.

    Both Boykoff and Edwards expanded in their collective discussions on Brundage’s legacy of Rule 50, prohibiting demonstrations of “Political, religious or racial propaganda” on Olympic sites.

    The panelists reflected on how the rule has been amended in the aftermath of both Race Imboden and Gwen Berry protesting during the 2019 Pan American Games and with the recent Black Lives Matter movement.

    “It's about the ideological context and the broader movements that are going on and for this reason I will absolutely guarantee you... somebody in the Tokyo Games in 2021 is going to make a statement. I don't know how much money they will lose... but in any event I will guarantee you because of the era in which they exist that a statement is going to be made,” said Edwards.

    Boykoff said: “The Olympics thrown under the weight of an unreckoned history. Today protestors in the streets are forcing that reckoning. They are reminding us that we need to confront the past in order to understand the present and move forward into the future with justice and compassion.“

    “One way of doing so is by ditching one of Brundage’s legacies, the rule in the Olympic Charter that prohibits political dissent at the Games.
    Boykoff and Edwards. 
    At the time of global uprisings it's hard to see how the Olympic ban on political dissent should stand. The bottom line is that Avery Brundage and the wider group he oversaw, the International Olympic Committee, is not against politics it's against a certain type of politics. Banning political protests is itself a blatant political act….. It seems especially important to remember in this particular historical moment that is enfolding right now that forbidding political dissent at the Olympics often means reinforcing white supremacy.

    "After all most recent protests by Olympic athletes were carried out either to raise awareness of racism and its ramifications or by athletes of color from around the world who use the Olympics to talk back to power in their home countries," said Boykoff. 

    Earlier this week IOC President Thomas Bach was asked about the dubious racial legacy of his predecessor. 

    "The role of Mr. Brundage has been the focus of many studies and his history is pretty clear and has been evaluated,” Bach said Wednesday to the Associated Press. “So we see no reason to rewrite history at this moment.”

    Reported by Greer Wilson

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