The protests over China’s human rights record and its treatment of Tibet as Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Olympics underline a key fact: sports and politics are supposed to remain separate, but rarely do.
An exhibit now at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum outlines another stark example of how athletes can become unwitting political ambassadors: the 1936 Berlin Olympics, used by the Nazis as international propaganda to trumpet the strength, nobility and supposed superiority of the German people.
The exhibit, touring the United States since 1998, traces Germany’s efforts to regain stature after its withering defeat in World War I. Germany won the bid to host the 1936 Olympics in 1931, two years before Adolf Hitler came to power. But international debate on whether countries should boycott the games grew heated as Germany banned Jews and Gypsies from its teams and racism and anti-Semitism in the country increased.