The same day as I’m writing this review of Jules Boykoff’s NOlympians*, the CBC reported on the possibility of the Tokyo Olympics being cancelled due to fears over the Coronavirus. A microscopic virus may do what thousands of anti-Olympians want to do: shut down the Olympic games. Not just in Tokyo and not due to their dislike of sport per se, but due to what happens in the cities that host the games; cost overruns being the most obvious, displacement of marginalized peoples to build venues, athlete villages and hotels being a lesser-known one. Jules Boykoff is a former Olympian and now a professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon. NOlympians is the culmination of hundreds of interviews and his personal participation on the ground with demonstrators around the globe and other activist groups, primarily the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and their NOlympics LA campaign ahead of the 2028 Summer Games.
Jules Boykoff himself is a former Olympic athlete now turned activist who has covered the anti-Olympics movement for over a decade: “In some ways, my own transition from a mortifyingly credulous athlete to a fiercely critical academic and activist mirrors the wider shift in the discourse around mega-events, from complacent ignorance to informed criticality.” His approach to writing takes an “arms-length” stance as he gets involved at the ground level with various activist groups and demonstrations, but keeps the lens (aside from a few recollections of his time in the Olympics) squarely focused on the leaders and participants as they use any opportunity (even spray-painting slogans on discarded mattresses) to heighten awareness of the shameless capitalism that goes hand in hand with the modern Olympic games (a “capitalist behemoth”), particularly since the 1984 games when big business brought in advertising dollars.
There is an amazing amount of facts and figures contained within the covers of NOlympians. As someone who has little interest in sports that only appear on TV every four years, and even more so since it seems everything needs to be a spectacle today (SuperBowl halftime, anyone?), NOlympians did for me what another Fernwood publication, Game Misconduct, did for my enthusiasm for professional sports when it exposed the capitalism behind sports like hockey and football (pro and college). Thank you, Jules Boykoff and Nathan Kalman-Lamb.
Even if you are a fan of the Olympics, you may not be aware of the history of the IOC, the corruption and the damage that hosting Olympic games bring to the host city, even environmental damage, as forests have to be cleared for the Winter Games, for ski runs, venues and so on. Perhaps for the Tokyo games, COVID-19 may be a gold medal winner (not that I’m hoping for anyone to die of the virus), and looking ahead to LA and beyond, the Games must change. The “NOlympians” are actively making that happen around the world.
*This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by the publisher. NOlympians is due to be released in April 2020.
About the Author:
Jules Boykoff is a professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon, and is the author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics; Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London; Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games; and Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. His writing has appeared in New Left Review, the Guardian, the New York Times, The Nation, Al Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times, Jacobin, and elsewhere.