As the 2024 Olympic games in Paris approach, there are vigorous calls from 35 countries, including the United States, Germany, and Australia, in support of respecting human rights. These countries are calling for banning Russian and Belarussian athletes in protest of Russia’s now year-long invasion of Ukraine.
No doubt, the Russian-led invasion of Ukraine has been an act of aggression and created a major humanitarian crisis. An estimated 18,000 Ukrainians have been killed, with 5.9 million internally displaced and 8 million leaving the nation entirely. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been explicit about his intention to restore the Russian Empire that existed in the past, even if it means sacrificing the Ukrainian people in the process. While the Belarussian government, a close ally of Russia, has not committed any military boots on the ground in Ukraine, it has provided logistical support for the Russian invasion.
In leading the campaign to ban Russian and Belorussian athletes from the Olympics, the U.S. government and its allies want us to believe that they have a vigorous commitment to human rights. What if we were to take them seriously at their word? What if the world banned athletes from ANY country engaged in war crimes and other human rights abuses?
If this were the case, there should be no question that athletes from the United States should be excluded. In the past two decades, the United States military has acknowledged that it has dropped an average of 46 bombs per day for twenty years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. And this is only the last twenty years of U.S. imperialism! U.S. atrocities in Vietnam alone more than double the more recent horrors. And, of course, U.S. power was built on the genocide of indigenous people and enslavement of Africans.
Two of the United States’ biggest allies through the years, Israel and Saudi Arabia, have been carrying out genocidal policies against the people of Palestine and Yemen, respectively. Their athletes should be kicked out without hesitation.
For their part, other nations leading the call against the Russian and Belarussian athletes, Germany and Australia, have had their own brutal legacies. Germany not only carried out the genocidal Holocaust in World War II; it also has its own brutal history of colonialism. German athletes? Out! European immigrants to Australia carried out the genocide of indigenous people there and have had a long brutal history to advance their interests throughout the Pacific Islands, including supporting the genocidal policies of Indonesia against the people of East Timor. Australian athletes? Out!
The horrific history of the rulers of the U.S. and their allies does not diminish the crimes of the Russian rulers. We could go on and on for a very long time, listing the various atrocities committed by the various governments around the world, demonizing athletes and entire populations in the process. But where does that get any of us?
The denunciations about human rights couldn’t be more hypocritical when you look at who is making them. Like the athletes of Russia, Belarus, the United States or anywhere, the people of the world are not responsible for the crimes of governments that claim to represent us.
But working class and poor people have an interest to organize ourselves to stand up against all imperialist aggressions, whether it is done by governments where we live or others. As Marx and Engels wrote more than a century ago, “The working people have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got.”
The fight for a future based on genuine peace and equality around the world is going to be a fight that involves billions of people across national borders all around the world.