Welcome to Free Word. Interested in exploring the political and cultural power of words? Join us at an upcoming event or read about the themes we explore.

Politics & Olympics

  • By Stephen Escritt
  • 19th March 2012
View in Reading Room
From Mayday to the close of the Paralympic Games in September, Free Word is hosting Politics and Olympcs: Ideals and Realities. Co-curator Stephen Escritt introduces the exhibition and accompanying programme of events and talks that offer alternative perspectives on the Olympics.


“The re-establishment of the Olympic Games, on a basis and in keeping with the needs of modern life, would bring together, every four years, representatives of the nations of the world, and one is permitted to think that these peaceful, courteous contests constitute the best form of internationalism.”
   Pierre de Coubertin, January 1894

“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas…
… No form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas, which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds.”

   Olympic Charter Rule 51

This summer Free Word will be hosting alternative perspectives on the Olympics. Throughout the modern era the Games have provided a stage upon which the great political and social stories of the day have been played out – from debates about the participation of women in the early years of the twentieth century, through cold war diplomacy, the politics of race and freedom of speech, to today’s concerns about human rights, regeneration, security and corporate influence. 

Between Mayday and the close of the Paralympic Games in September, our exhibition Politics & Olympics: Ideals and Realities will explore how political and commercial pressures have buffeted the ideals and values of the Olympic movement.

The exhibition contains historical and contemporary photographs as well as archive material that span over 100 years. As well as the Free Word Centre in London, the exhibition will be shown concurrently during the summer in the central libraries in Newcastle and Nottingham. It is accompanied by a programme of events – at the Free Word Centre and online – that relate to the issues highlighted in the exhibition.  We are welcoming contributors from a wide range of backgrounds including urbanists, freedom of expression campaigners, historians and others.

Programme highlights

On Wednesday 20th June artist, writer and photographer Alberto Duman, in association with Mute Magazine, will host Regeneration Games. A group of critics and commentators will respond to a collection of videos, objects and documents that question the ‘official story’ of the regeneration of East London.

Incursions and Subversions: Art's response to London's Olympic Dreams, on Thursday 12th July, will see Hilary Powell and Isaac Marrero present creative critical responses to the iconography and language of the forthcoming games from their book The Art of Dissent: London's Olympic State.

A screening of Torch – a new short documentary by Marc Silver and AJ Rivers investigating whether London's Olympics will really fulfill its promise to transform East London – takes place on Friday 6th August to mark the anniversary of the 2011 London riots.

Further events, screenings and online content will be announced over the coming weeks – including a collaboration with Index on Censorship highlighting the extraordinary legislative restrictions on the use of Olympic-related language, and our partnership with A New Direction’s Headstart programme, which works with young people from the five Olympic boroughs. Keep an eye on the Free Word website and follow @FreeWordCentre on Twitter for updates.

Enjoy this article?

Read more from:


Support our programme by donating today.