The Games Politicians Play

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The world turns on its axis, night comes after day, the Olympic Games are held every four years. The Olympics are so ubiquitous, so much a predictable, fixed feature of the rhythms of the world that it is easy to forget that they essentially began as a private initiative by a French aristocrat. In the early years it was far from obvious that the Olympics would become so widely accepted as a global event and that there were other competitors who could have eclipsed the Olympic Games or prevented its rise as the preeminent gathering in global sport.

For example, during the First World War, Pierre de Coubertin was very worried about the potential of the ‘Inter-Allied Games’ being organized by the United States. When these Games, dubbed the ‘Military Olympics’ were held in France in 1919, Coubertin wrote a letter of complaint to one of the guiding lights of the event, the YMCA director Elwood S. Brown, who responded by saying that the Inter-Allied Games “were not a rival of the Olympics Games in any sense.” (YMCA 1909-1927: IOC archives) Similarly, when the Far Eastern Asian Championship Games, which brought together Asian countries for a sporting event for the first time, were dubbed the ‘Far Eastern Olympiad’ in 1913, Coubertin again insisted on preserving the brand name of ‘Olympics’ only for his event. The nomenclature of the ‘Asian Olympiad’ became crucial because of the early insecurities of the Olympic movement and its name was changed to the Far Eastern Championship Games from 1915 onwards (Hong, 2007, xvii).
One of the biggest problems the Olympics movement ever faced in its evolution is the story of the now largely forgotten Games of the Emerging Forces (GANEFO) which were promoted by Indonesia’s President Sukarno in 1963. The idea arose out of a dispute between Indian officials and Indonesian administrators at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta which led to the Indonesians being suspended from the International Olympic Committee. Sukarno, one of the originators of the non-aligned movement with Nehru, was so incensed that he responded by creating his own new international sporting event. The new Games were directly linked to the spirit of Bandung, he would argue, and ideas he had outlined at the UN General Assembly in 1960. In its conception, GANEFO was nothing less than a bid for leadership of the developing world. Sport was the conduit.

GANEFO, the fight for Asian leadership and the challenge to Olympism
GANEFO was a fascinating interlude in the story of the global Olympic movement. It carried the potential to seriously damage the idea of the Olympics itself and it emerged out of a complex interplay of international power politics between Nehru and Sukarno. In 1951, Delhi had staked its claim to wider Asian leadership by organizing the first Asian Games under the aegis of the International Olympic Committee (Majumdar, Mehta: Ch. 7). Now Sukarno was attempting to stake his claim to Nehru’s mantle with the fourth Asian Games in Jakarta serving as a marquee.

The Indonesian economy was sinking. Government debt was as high as $1.1 billion and inflation was reaching 600 percent per annum but Sukarno’s decision to host the Games was indelibly linked to his politics. Sport, he insisted, was a way asserting Indonesian nationalism, of showcasing ‘self-confidence’ and physical and mental strength’ (Lutan, 2007: 13-17). The changing alignments of the Cold War meant that he could also bank on the Soviet Union for a large loan to build the Games infrastructure and equally support from China. Jakarta was refurbished like never before for an Asiad but it was the question of China that would play a crucial role in the politics that subsequently unfolded. Sino-Indian tensions over the disputed Himalayan borders were running high (the Chinese invasion would come a months later) and Indian officials played a crucial role in the dispute over China in Jakarta.
The problem arose over Taiwanese and Israeli athletes. Both countries were recognized by the International Olympic Committee but not by Indonesia. The Asian Games Federation, under whose aegis the Games were held, also recognized both countries so Indonesia could not openly refuse entry. It resorted instead to subterfuge. Athletes from both countries were invited but when they opened their identity card packets, they found that they were full of blank cards instead. Things came to a head on 21 August 1962 when a Taiwanese official was returned from Jakarta airport.

It was at this point that G.D. Sondhi, representing India at the Asian Games Federation Congress, publicly objected to the Indonesian action. Arguing that excluding athletes on the basis of politics was against the Asian Games charter, Sondhi wanted Jakarta to be punished. He called for taking away the title of the Asian Games and turning the Jakarta event into ‘merely an international athletic and sports meeting’. The delegates agreed on the first point but since athletes from 18 countries had already in the city they ended with a request to Sukarno to allow the Taiwanese and Israelis in.

The Games began amid this uncertainty and when on 30 August Sukarno formally informed the Council that he would not budge, Sondhi continued to lobby for punitive action against Jakarta leading to a full scale diplomatic crisis. As the official IOA report would conclude, Sondhi’s proposals were:

…tantamount to an insult to the President of Indonesia….Djakarta newspapers took up the cry and the atmosphere became charged with excitement. The matter passed out of the realm of sport.

The Indonesian foreign minister intervened and though he and Sondhi agreed on the compromise gambit of appointing an enquiry committee by this time the crisis had taken a life of its own. On September 3, the Indian embassy in Jakarta was stormed by an irate mob. Another mob attacked Sondhi’s hotel, searching room-by-room for the Indian who wanted to withdraw Jakarta’s Asiad status. Sondhi escaped and flew back to Delhi the same day (Haq, 1962, pp. 19-23).

Sukarno, on his part, saw the Indian action as a backstabbing affront to the spirit of Bandung. After a meeting with his ministers, he publicly announced that Indonesia would break out of the Asian Games format and create its own Games of the New Emerging Forces. As his office put it:
… the Asian Games does not truly reflect the true spirit of Bandung…we must stage a new Asian Games, which does truly represent the spirit of Bandung. Right now, we must stage a new games among the New Emerging force at once, as soon as possible, yes, in 1963 (Lutan & Hong, 2007, 28).

An Indian protest had given Sukarno the chance to project himself as the new hero of the developing world, much like Nehru until now. It was no coincidence that as soon as the idea was made public, the People’s Republic of China, which would invade India just a month later in October 1962, was the first to accord official approval and support.

The political drama spilled out onto the sporting field. The day after the GANEFO declaration and Sondhi’s escape from Jakarta, India was playing the football finals but anti-Indian passions were so high that it was treated virtually like an enemy nation. India won the gold but its greatest football success was eclipsed by the greatest crisis to inflict Indo-Indonesian relations. As the official Indian report put it:
…it was worse than the worst for when we… looked like winning a large section of the crowd of a hundred thousand persistently booed the team. Not satisfied, it continued to boo when the Victory Ceremony to present the Gold medals to our team was performed. The National Anthem was drowned in the booing.

The Indians certainly did not see the crowd protests as spontaneous, but orchestrated by “the hands of a political party” (Haq, 1962, 22).

The International Olympic Committee and India Vs Indonesia

The drama in Jakarta meant that the International Committee (IOC) suspended Indonesia from its membership on 7 February 1963. This was the first time a member has been suspended and G.D. Sondhi played a key role in lobbying for the decision (CIO MBR SONDH: IOC archives). Sukarno saw this as an international humiliation and predictably, the Indonesian sports minister denounced the Olympic Games as an “imperial tool” while announcing his President’s intentions to organize his own kind of Olympiad (Haq, 1962, 22). Ironically, what Indonesia saw as imperialism was led by Indian officials.

Indian officials were so put off by the events at Jakarta that they now upped their demands. By January 1963, the IOA was demanding nothing less than a full apology from Indonesia for “misbehaviour with the Indian National Anthem” and threatening the return of all medals won by Indian athletes at Jakarta (Indian Olympic News, Jan. 1963). Indian sport officials also began to lobby global opinion in other sports bodies apart from the IOC. For instance, in Sep. 1962, delegates at a meeting of the International Amateur Athletic Federation were convinced by the Indian representative to ask Indonesia for an apology to India and to Sondhi (Mathur, 1962). India may not have been a powerful force as a sporting nation but its sport administrators did seem to have influence beyond its performance on the playing field.

As the Indians lobbied opinion against Sukarno, he got busy with his new GANEFO. It may have been started as a result of a spat with Sondhi but GANEFO was also a product of a particular time in Indonesia’s political history. Rusli Lutan and Fan Hong have noted that Indonesia, still striving to create a post-Dutch identity, was at the time engaged in a revolution to obtain West Arian from the Dutch, while simultaneously confronting Malaysia. As Sr. Soebandrio, the State Minister of Indonesia told the Indonesian athletes at the Games,
Indonesia is now struggling to finish its revolution… GANEFO aims to finish mankind’s revolution to achieve a new world order which will be full of fairness, prosperity, safety and peace, and free from exploitation and suppression (Lutan & Hong, 2007, 29)
Sukarno saw in the Games an opportunity to become the leader of the ‘New Emerging Forces’ in a new world order but his biggest ally was Beijing. Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai wrote to him expressing full cooperation and delegations of specially deputed Chinese experts began arriving in Indonesia to put the Games together. The PRC, which was excluded from the Olympic movement saw GANEFO as an opportunity to gain global legitimacy. Maoist China pulled out all the stops “to persuade Asian and African countries to join the games.” In addition, the PRC gifted the Indonesians with $18 million to organize GANEFO (Lutan & Hong, 2007, 27-31)

The rhetoric of GANEFO made it explicit that the Games would be based on the “spirit of Bandung” but they were also a direct challenge to India and the Olympic movement. As many as 42 countries took part in the first Games at Jakarta that began on November 10, 1963. Most of the participating countries did not send official teams for fear of being barred from the Olympics.

Despite this, at the time GANEFO did seem like a major challenger to the Olympic movement. The Indians were the most vocal in their opposition and made common cause with the IOC. In letter after letter to the IOC as it faced its biggest potential crisis since its formation, Indian officials rammed home their opposition to GANEFO and took a hard line against what they saw as “political influence” by Sukarno (CIO MBR SINGH CORR: IOC archives). The ill-feeling generated by the unpleasantness at Jakarta was a driving force but also at the heart of their efforts was a sense that a successful GANEFO would leave India powerless in Asian sport. As an editorial in the official IOA newsletter summed up: “The whole move behind this appears to be to form an Afro-Asian Sports body, in which India, who gave Asia the present Games, will have no say.” (Indian Olympic News: Sep. 1962)
Just as the Indians were scared of losing their hegemony in Asian sport management, the IOC was worried about the prospect of a rival body. When Cambodia hosted a mini-‘Asian’ GANEFO in 1966, 37 countries participated. Again the PRC underwrote the event by building a brand-new stadium. Beijing has successfully turned sport into a tool of influence. As a worried IOC President, Avery Brundage noted, the PRC was using the Games to strengthen its diplomatic linkages across Asia and Africa, giving, for instance, Congo Brazzaville a $20 million loan for sporting activity (Lutan & Hong, 2007: 32-33). The IOC’s immediate priority was to avoid a split engineered by Beijing.

The IOC need not have worried. The GANEFO initiative died a natural death with Sukarno’s relinquishing of power in 1966. The new Suharto regime was not interested in pursuing sport diplomacy at a time when the Indonesian economy was in grave crisis. Moreover the Chinese and Indonesian diplomatic relations began to cool off and with the breaking of diplomatic relations between the two countries GANEFO lost its primary sponsor. Cairo was to host GANEFO II in 1966 but with the Chinese and the Indonesians not interested any more, the lack of financial resources meant that GANEFO was given a quiet burial.

GANEFO is now a forgotten chapter in the history of international sport but at the time it threatened to overturn the Olympic movement. Indian and IOC officials fought hand in hand. Both had much to lose: India, its Asian hegemony on sport management, and the IOC, its global control over international sport. In the end, GANEFO was a vehicle for Indonesian and Chinese self-expression and the means to advance the political aims of both nations. Communist China used GANEFO to gain greater legitimacy while Indonesia used it to further its aims of becoming the star of the Third World. GANEFO was always dependent on these two countries and when their partnership collapsed the movement collapsed with it.

REFERENCES

‘CIO MBR SONDH CORR OU MO1 41 O7 Sondhi, Guru Dutt Correspondence 1929-67’. Sondhi letter to Avery Brundage, President, IOC, Dec. 26,1962. IOC archive, Lausanne.
‘CIO MBR SINGH CORR OU MO 01 41 07 SINGH, Bhalendra Raja CORRESPONDANCE 1947-1985.’
Raja Bhalinder Singh, President, IOA to Otto Mayer, Chancellor, IOC, Aug. 26, 1963; Raja Bhalinder Singh, President, IOA to Otto Mayer, Chancellor, IOC, Aug. 17, 1963. IOC archive, Lausanne.
Haq, S.M. Mainual, Report submitted to IOA on AGF meet in Jakarta on Aug 22, 1962, published as ‘Our Delegate, Mr. S.M. Mainual Haq’s Report, on A.G.F. Conference at Djakarta’, Indian Olympic News, Vol. 1, No. 8, Nov. 1962.
Hong, Fan, ‘Prologue: The Origins of the Asian Games: Power and Politics’, Fan Hong (ed.), Sport, Nationalism and Orientalism: The Asian Games (London: Routledge, 2007), p. xvii
Indian Olympic News, Vol. 1, No. 10, Jan. 1963. ‘Sport Improves the Spirit’,
Indian Olympic News, Vol. 1, No. 6, September 1962. ‘More at the Games than Sport’
Lutan, Rusli & Hong, Fan, ‘The Politicization of Sport: GANEFO- A Case Study’, Fan Hong (ed.), Sport, Nationalism and Orientalism: The Asian Games (London: Routledge, 2007).
Lutan, Rusi, ‘Indonesia and the Asian Games: Sport, Nationalism and the ‘New Order’, Fan Hong (ed.), Sport, Nationalism and Orientalism: The Asian Games (London: Routledge, 2007).
Majumdar, Boria, Mehta, Nalin, Olympics: The India Story. New Delhi: Harpercollins, 2008.
Mathur, P.K., ‘Congress of the International Amateur Athletic Federation Held at Belgrade, Official Report of Shri P.K. Mathur, our Representative’, in Indian Olympic News, Vol. 1, No. 8, Nov. 1962.
‘YMCA. 1909-1927’. IOC archives, Lausanne: Personal letter from Elwood S. Brown to Pierre de Couertin, 3 February 1919

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