Deep Read: The five-ring circus
Officials on the Olympic Organisating Committee hold that the Games are not meant to be political, but politics can't be put on hold simply because someone is about to run a footrace.
And while discrimination on grounds of race, religion, politics or gender is seen as incompatible with the Olympic movement, every year sees some form of controversy. One could almost chart the course of recent history through the political scandals behind each of the Games.
No Games were held in 1916 – when it was meant to be held in Berlin – because of the outbreak of World War I, and Germany was banned from the Games immediately afterwards. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted Germany the right to host them in 1936.
Adolf Hitler used Germany's hosting of the Olympic Games in Berlin to showcase a country that had returned to power in short order after suffering defeat in the war.
Behind the scenes, gypsies were rounded up and arrested and anti-Jewish signs were removed from view. A series of spectacles and public events were set up to demonstrate Germany's might, and Hitler commissioned director Leni Riefenstahl to produce a propaganda film about the Games.
Riefenstahl pioneered techniques that are now standard in sports photography and her film Olympia, which paid tribute to the strength and beauty of the world's top athletes and to Germany's power and modernity, won an award at the Venice Biennial film festival.
The World War II broke out in 1939 and the games were put on hold until 1948.
Banning of South Africa
In 1964, the usually reticent International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from the Games for its failure to renounce apartheid and for refusing to allow interracial sport within the country. The move sparked a period of isolation for South Africa from the sporting world that remained in effect until 1991.
Years later, about 40 African countries boycotted the 1976 Olympics in Montreal when a New Zealand rugby team travelled to South Africa.
There was a brutal start to the 1968 Olympic Games, held in Mexico City. Ten days before the start of the games, the Mexican government massacred hundreds of students and activists who had gathered to protest the use of state funds for hosting the Olympics instead of using it to address social needs. The Games went ahead despite the violence.
Civil rights movement
That same year, which also saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the midst of the US civil rights movement, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the world perhaps the most enduring image of defiance at the Olympic Games.
After winning the gold and bronze medals for the 200m sprint, Smith and Carlos ascended the podium in their socks, to signify black poverty. When the US anthem played, they bowed their heads and raised their arms in the air in the "black power" salute.
The protest was met with an uproar and the pair were accused by the IOC of politicising the Games. They were suspended from the national team at the behest of the IOC, expelled from the Olympic village and sent home.
At the next Olympics in Munich in 1972, the Palestinian group Black September kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic team and threatened to kill them if 200 Palestinians held in Israel were not released. The incident ended with a gun battle at a nearby airport. Eleven members of the Israeli team were killed and the attackers were either killed or captured.
The incident came in the long aftermath of the Six-Day War and the War of Attrition, fought between Egypt and Israel. Both countries withdrew from the Games but the tournament continued.
The Cold War heightened in intensity during the 1980s and the Games held during this period were poorly attended. Over 60 countries, led by the United States, boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and their allies in turn boycotted the 1984 Games, which was hosted by Los Angeles.
When they weren't boycotting the games the two superpowers used the event as the setting for a proxy war for ideology. At this point the Games became so political that there were often more political reporters in attendance than sports reporters.
For years, the US and Soviet Russia vied for top spot on the medals list but all this came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years the race for top medal-holder has been a dead heat between the US and rising superpower China.
This escalated before the 2008 Beijing Olympics with activists calling for a boycott of the event over China's human rights abuses, its crackdown on Tibet and its close ties to African despots in Zimbabwe and Sudan. But practice of using boycotts of the Olympics as a political weapon has been fading since the 80s and in the end the event went on without much protest.
Politics and protest
This year has not been without its controversies. Chinese officials were outraged by intimations that the success of swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen – who swam 100m of her 400m individual medley faster than male champion Ryan Lochte – was due to performance-enhancing drugs. An unnamed official complained of bias, saying the Chinese had not accused America's Michael Phelps of doping when he won eight medals in the Beijing Olympics.
The Syrian Olympic team, which has kept a low profile even as world leaders have condemned President Bashar al-Assad for his violent suppression of a civil uprising born out of the Arab Spring, has also been under scrutiny.
And, reflecting the simmering tensions in the Middle East, Lebanese judo players last weekend refused to practise on the same mat as their Israeli counterparts, forcing Olympic officials to erect a screen between the two.
Global politics and international sport cannot be disentangled, and with billions tuned in to the Olympics each day, it seems logical that those who wish to make a statement will use the platform to do it.