In the midst of all the Olympic-torch protest stories, the reminders about the (largely) Fascist origins of the torch thing, there is of course one solution to all the political machinations surrounding the games, advanced back in 2004, that at least one European country could get behind: Just always hold the Olympics in Greece!
On the other hand, Mary Beard did point out political machinations (and worse!) connected to the ancient Games:
The classic case is the eligibility of Alexander the Great’s ancestor, Alexander 1 of Macedon. When he turned up to compete in the early fifth century BC , the other Greeks said that he was a foreigner and so wasn’t eligible. Eventually the gate-keepers allowed him to take part, but -- although he finished first (equal) – he didn’t get his name written into the official list of winners. (Hence, he is an awkward example on both sides for the modern argument about whether “Macedonia” is “Greek”. Does Alexander 1 prove the Greekness of the Macedonians, or vice versa?).
But there were plenty more political controversies. The worst was in 364 BC when the Games happened while Olympia was under enemy occupation, or more accurately in the middle of a war zone. In fact, the Arcadians (Olympia’s neighbours in the Peloponnese) invaded during the Pentathlon event and some of their soldiers looted the sacred treasures. So much for the “Sacred Truce”.
That was only the tip of the iceberg. In the 380s Lysias, the Athenian orator and democratic hero, harangued his fellow countrymen, urging them more or less to wreck the Olympic village. Four and a half centuries later, the Olympic officials appear to have turned a blind eye and let the emperor Nero win whatever competition he wanted -- in return for some rather generous investment at the Olympic site.