Protest and politics at the Olympics

Not just the Games? Power, protest and politics at the Olympics

From European Journal of International Relations

This is another in our series of articles highlighting various aspects of Olympic Games to celebrate the countdown to 2012. The Olympic Games represent the largest regularly scheduled international gathering in the world. They serve as a natural venue where multiple and different levels of society can interact. The Games are an under-explored event in the study of international politics and represent one of the longest standing forums for global interaction that has evolved along with the international political environment. This article asks a series of related questions regarding the intersection of political protest and the Olympic Games and conducts a theoretical and empirical analysis of political protest activity surrounding the modern Olympic Games. The study recognizes that the Olympic games are so much more than a sporting event, but an important political, social, economic, and cultural phenomenon.

Abstract

This article conducts a theoretical and empirical analysis of political protest activity surrounding the modern Olympic Games. Although the Olympics are certainly among the world’s most prominent and recognized events, they have seldom been explored from a political perspective within the mainstream International Relations and transnational protest literatures. We argue, however, that the Olympics provide a theoretically interesting context in which to examine political contention in International Relations in large part because they provide such a unique opportunity structure for a range of actors to exercise power in pursuit of their goals. The article presents an original dataset of all protest occurring between 1896 and 2008 and uses these data to show that not only has Olympic political contention grown substantially over time, but it also has evolved in interesting ways in terms of the particular actors engaged in contention, the tactics they use, and the resistance they face. Furthermore, we suggest that the study of the Olympics has important implications for understanding the power and power limitations of those actors (including transnational advocacy networks, international institutions, and sovereign states) participating in Olympic protest.

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Article details
Cottrell, M., & Nelson, T. (2010). Not just the Games? Power, protest and politics at the Olympics European Journal of International Relations, 17 (4), 729-753 DOI: 10.1177/1354066110380965

     
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