The Arts Council vs Seb Coe’s neo-liberal Games


I was off to the Free Word Centre in Farringdon on Friday to see their new exhibition on Politics and the Olympics. I was thoroughly impressed by it. Although there are relatively few images, they are well chosen. There’s Jesse Owen being driven through Berlin after his triumphs at the 1936 Olympics. While he doesn’t get the choreographed mass-response that was accorded to the Olympic torch bearer (one of several Olympic “traditions” which dates back no further than the Nazis), he appears to be received with real sympathy.

There’s are striking versions of the images above and below.

The collection reflects a left-wing and libertarian take on Olympic history; a distrust of authoritarian states, aggressive policing and corporate sponsors. There are images from the Workers’ Games that ran as antidotes to the Olympics (with all competitors taking part under the same, Red, flag).

My one regret was that in the otherwise very full section on the Workers’ Olympics, there was no specific reference to the events of Barcelona in 1936. For those unfamilair with the history: a Workers Olympiad was planned for Barcelona, as a counterpart to the Nazi games taking place in Berlin.  Franco’s uprising was timed however to coincide with the very first day of the left-wing games (a reminder that when the politics of sport go wrong, they can go very wrong). Rather than taking part in sports, the athletes became the core of what was to become the International Brigades.

I am delighted that the curators managed to get the Arts Council to fund the exhibition; it is a thoroughly enjoyable event, wholly at odds with the corporate festival that is being foisted on Stratford over the summer.

It is open weekdays 9am-9pm until September, near Clerkenwell Green, address and map here.

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