Downing: Olympic Committee should think long and hard before approving ‘nations within nations’

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By SUZANNE DOWNING

In the realm of international sports, the Olympics have long been a symbol of unity, bringing athletes from diverse backgrounds and cultures together to represent the best of the best of their countries.

However, President Joe Biden’s endorsement on Wednesday of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s request to compete in lacrosse under its own sovereign flag at the 2028 Olympics represents a dangerous shift in American policy and establishes a path toward further balkanization.

Biden’s tacit support for a breakaway sovereignty inside the United States was the boldest land acknowledgement ever at a time when land acknowledgements are all the rage in liberal politics.

While the Haudenosaunee Confederacy sees itself as a separate league of tribal nations, this presidential move could set a troublesome precedent for the future of the Olympic Games themselves.

Some background is in order: The Haudenosaunee Confederacy has asked the International Olympics Committee if its lacrosse team can compete as its own country during the 2028 Olympics. 

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy were originally Iroquoian-speaking tribes in a peace-pact league across an eastern portion of North America, including Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. 

Few speak the ancestral languages today, but the confederacy maintains itself as a separatist organization and says that treaties from early days of the United States are valid.

In 2021, the confederacy went so far as to block access to polling stations that it said were located on land belonging to the confederacy in Canada. The Canadian government backed down and moved the polling station somewhere else, so that tribal members could, ironically, vote in Canadian elections.

Other race-and tribe-based groups in America have sought to compete in the Olympics under separate flags, most notably Hawaiian surfers who want to compete under the Hawaiian flag, rather than the American flag, because they claim Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing (although some Polynesian Islanders may disagree). 

Hawaiians will surely now revive their request to compete under a non-USA flag. If it’s good enough for the Haudenosaunee lacrosse players, it’s good enough for Hawaiian surfers to compete for the Hawaiian Kingdom, right?

Although the International Olympic Committee has earlier recognized some U.S. territories, such as American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as “Olympic nations,” Hawaii’s application to form a separate Hawaiian Kingdom team from the U.S. surfing team was correctly denied by the IOC. 

Then there’s Quebec, where winter athletes have sought to field their own hockey teams under a separate flag. But the way the Canadian federation is organized, Quebec does not have constitutional powers that would allow it to act as a true national government. 

The same is true for tribal groups across America, which have certain aspects of sovereignty but that are ultimately governed by the U.S. Constitution.

There is no doubt that in the world of lacrosse, the Haudenosaunee Nationals team is revered. The men’s team ranks third in the world, and the women’s team ranks eighth. The World Lacrosse organization recognizes the teams as separate from the U.S. teams.

But since the 1990s, the Olympic charter has made it clear that nation states must be independent and recognized by the international community in order to have standing at the Olympic games.

There’s more to unpack in this part of the country about the land-based disputes that go back centuries than can be done in this column, but this is not just about stickball.

Will the IOC recognize the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as its own sovereign country? If so, what will this mean for tribal groups in other countries, which may want to follow suit?

What exceptions the committee makes for U.S. tribes it will be asked to make for Māori of New Zealand, Aboriginals of Australia, Aztecs and Mayans of Mexico and Central America, or people “who got there first” in any country.

The International Olympics Committee should not simply take advice from President Biden, who has a history of scoring on his own goal. If the IOC starts recognizing countries within countries, it will inject politics into what is supposed to be a nonpolitical activity at a time when world peace is in a most fragile state.

Suzanne Downing is founder and managing editor of Must Read Alaska.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Another stupid idea to continue to tear this country apart.
    How about no Olympic athletes and funds as we are broke.
    This is just another way to say we need all your money to fund stupidity.

  2. “…President Biden, who has a history of scoring on his own goal.”
    Very nice sporting reference to the short sighted divisive nature of our prevent govt.

  3. If we’re doing this, then southern athletes should be able to match and compete under the official flag of the Confederate States of America.

  4. The use of the term “stickball” when referring to the game of lacrosse is demeaning. Lacrosse is a very old game that was started by the Indian people who comprise the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. At a time when we as a nation are very conflicted on how we treat our indigenous people, particularly in the area of resource development, as this disastrous administration has done, I see nothing wrong with letting a sovereign group represent themselves while playing their sport. If, as in your example, some Hawaiians want to compete in a surfing competition or the Embera Indians want to compete in a dugout canoe race, what is the harm?

  5. I can guarantee Biden is being manipulated. He can’t remember what he had for breakfast! He wakes up in a new world each day. I Pray each and every day that our country survives the rest of this wing nuts pretend presidency.🇺🇸🇮🇱

  6. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new Olympic event, featuring assembly-line Aztec human sacrifice, such as they used to perform on top of their temples in Tenochtitlan. It can be permanently based in Washington, DC, where taxpayers are routinely sacrificed by the tens of millions anyway.

  7. Tribalism. In this case, actual tribalism. Identity politics feeds right into it. For a fun and uplifting account about where this leads, Google “Rwandan Civil War”. Read it with your children.

  8. The Māori of New Zealand replaced the people that were there before them. The Aztecs and Mayans of Mexico and Central America, and many other of the “native peoples” of the Americans weren’t the people “who got there first” but the people who killed the people who were there before they were. Apache and Navajo people are largely made up of Athabascan heritage, the Athabascan moved in and killed off the paternal lineage of Puebloan people through large parts of the American Southwest and even into Northern Mexico.

  9. Olympic status now to be based on race instead of nationality? Who is Promoting racism? The “nation” status of the applicants is solely based on race. Ugh.

    • You just don’t get it to you?
      The native nations of the current United States, are sovereign and they have never given up their Heritage no matter how hard the United states attempts to assimilate them.

      • True lineage has become diluted. I grew up between to sovereign Indian tribes. Most have married other nationalities and in one tribe in particular, most of the members have Hispanic last names. Few are 100% Indian and the two tribes only require 25% lineage. None if you marry into the tribe.

      • That’s Bravo Sierra Greg! The original Olympic games were part of a religious celebration at Mr. Olympus honoring Zeus. Over the millennia it changed into a sports competition between varying groups of nation states. THE ONLY time the Olympics had any “race” connotation was during the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany.

  10. Boundaries of countries change. Sometimes the people don’t get the memo. Germany has had its boundaries change a lot in the last hundreds of years but the population has remained somewhat static. The earth occupied lands are not really increasing. That could change by cataclysmic means. Presidents have used Olympic politics to buttress social theorems of their day with noticable but limited lasting effect.

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