China, the host of the 2022 and 2008 Summer Olympic Games, is now a major sporting power. This can seen in its recent Rio Olympics medal count. Japan will host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and South Korea will host the 2018 Pyeong chang winter games. These are just two examples of the increasing influence of Asian countries within the International Olympic Committee IOC.
This all indicates that the time of Asia in Olympic sports has arrived, as Thomas Bach, IOC president, recently stated. However, East Asia isn’t all Asia. For example, an Indian bid to host the Olympic Games seems unlikely in the near future. The bids of the countries in Southeast Asia and Central Asia to host the 2000 Summer Olympics or 2008 Summer Olympics were also unsuccessful.
Iran is an anomaly. It was consider to be a serious contender for the Olympic Summer Games host until 1979’s Islamic Revolution. Other countries in West Asia, the Middle East and Qatar have gained notable influence in sport affairs due to their financial wealth.
Many of these developments date back to the 1970s. This was a time of significant reconfiguration in Asia of Olympic sport and calls for greater influence by the IOC to Asian countries. The Seventh Asian Games Tehran 1974, which was a regional sporting event that served as a training platform for the Olympics, was what accelerated the rise of the above-mentioned Asian nations in the Olympic movement.
Problem With Two Chinas Olympic
All this is root in the struggle between Taiwan and China for legitimacy. Both countries have claimed to be China’s sole representative since 1949. This meant that neither country would participate in sporting events in which the other was participating.
China’s conflict with Taiwan had led to China leaving the Olympic movement in 1958. The Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966, led to Beijing’s exclusion from all international sporting events. Only in 1980 did the country return to the Olympic Games. It was due to earlier negotiations with IOC regarding Beijing’s participation in the Seventh Asian Games.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran was one of China’s most important supporters. After Tehran recognized Beijing diplomatically in 1971, his engagements with China resulted in increased anti-Soviet cooperation. Soon after, Beijing assumed the China seat in the United Nations. Previously, Taipei had held it. This was due to decolonisation, and a growing number UN member countries becoming sympathetic to Beijing’s claim.
Important supporters of China’s participation were also the Japanese members of Asian Games Federation. The Japanese concluded that Beijing was China, and they wanted to make the Asian Games more challenging by including Chinese athletes.
In the same time, many Arab countries were impact by the Tehran Games, which was the first Asian Games event to be hosted in West Asia. Some of these countries had just experienced decolonisation and financial booms during the 1973 Oil Crisis. Seven of them eventually joined the Asian Games Federation prior to or during the Seventh Games. This encouraged their participation in Olympic sports affairs.
The Geopolitical Background Olympic
The Iranian government’s plan of leveraging China to counterbalance Soviet Union was greatly affect by geopolitical shifts. Since the 1950s, strong ideological tensions existed between China and Soviet Union. In 1969, the USSR declared its intention to withdraw all its troops east of the Suez Canal. This was the reason for increased concern in the 1970s. This was a major contributor to the decolonisation of the Persian Gulf.
These tensions convinced the Iranians that China could be used as a tool to restrict the USSR’s freedom to act. To support Iran’s anti-USSR plans, it was important to intensify cooperation with Asian countries and, especially, China, through the hosting the Seventh Asian Games.
After Japan and China established normal relations in September 1972, the Japanese Olympic Committee began to be interested in China being included in the Asian Games. Discussions with Iran intensified. The Asian Games Federation council met on November 16, 1973 to reach a final decision.
China’s representative was selected as the People’s Republic. Taiwan was then expelled from the Asian Games, until 1990 when it accepted to be renamed Chinese Taipei and left its international status unclear.
After decades of Cold War-related political disputes within the Olympic movement for decades, international sports federations IOC finally accepted China’s participation. This was in spite of the extremely problematic discrimination towards Taiwan.
Asia’s Increasing Influence
China’s participation in the Olympics began with the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid. It was influence by the Seventh Asian Games, which saw China return to the Olympic movement. Japan’s increasing importance in the international arena was highlight by the acceptance by the IOC of Asian countries decision regarding China, Taiwan and other issues. Japan had hosted the Olympics twice before, in 1964 and 1972.
Although less influential, Arab nations became more involved in Olympic affairs via the Seventh Asian Games. Iran was the only country that could not take advantage of this new influence.
Lord Killanin, then-IOC president, had attended the Seventh Asian Games and judged Tehran eligible to host the Summer Olympics of 1980 (eventually in Moscow) or 1984 (eventually in Los Angeles). However, the Shah’s government had to address the superpowers’ demands to host these events. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution overthrew it. The new government, however, was not interest in continuing with these plans.
Iran did not apply for the 1988 Summer Games. These games were held in South Korea, which the second Asian country chosen (instead Iran) to host the Olympics. The next Asian Games (Jakarta 2018 and Palembang 2018, respectively) will show if Indonesia is ready and able to host the Olympic Games in the near future.