Contributed by Joe Montero
The Olympic games will end in a few days. The mighty achievements of the athletes, pushing to the limits of human capacity, is a monumental achievement that draws in the world. They are also big business, and this creates a contradiction between the stated values of excellence, friendship, and respect and the crass greed of commercialisation and cheap politics.
Tokyo has been one of the worst cases in memory. The cost of staging them has been somewhere around at least $U.S.36 billion. A large part of covering involved selling of broadcast rights, sponsorship, and selling space to sell at the events. The banning of spectators meant that income could not come from them.
Japanese citizens are now left with a $U.S.20 billion bill.
The astronomical cost of staging the Olympics makes for a scandal on its own. The billions pent could go to better uses. It’s high time to consider saving money by building a permanent site and sharing the cost among participating nations. Greece, the birthplace of the ancient games would be a good neutral option.
Far worse is the corruption of big money. When big money becomes intertwined with sport, it become distorted and pressured by corruption, which sometimes reaches to the athletes, when sponsorship deals become more important than the sport.
Every Olympics attracts a bigger army of officials and functionaries than of competitors. At least the Covid restrictions cut this down in 2021. This makes for a cesspool of corruption. The International Olympic Committee has long had the stench of it and constitutes a major barriers to making any changes.
One of the most sinister aspects of the connection between the Olympics and big money was holding it at the time when an especially virulent form of Covid was rising in Tokyo. Health concerns were not the top priority. The return to investors was.
The result? The world risks a new and major threat of spreading the pandemic. Was the risk justified? The simple answer is no.
Cutting the cost of running the Olympics could reduce the level of dependency on commercialisation and the impact of corruption.
Inequality is real. Nations with the resources to spend big on its athletes have the advantage. Many of the best competitors and trainers from poorer nations, find themselves forced to have their talents purchased by the wealthy ones. Setting a level playing field requires wealthy nations assisting poorer ones, as a practical application of excellence, friendship, and respect.
Then there is the politics. The Tokyo games have proved to be the most racist since the Berlin games in 1936. Asia was virtually ignored. One would have though China wasn’t there, even though they won more gold than any other nation. Even Japan, the host, was almost absent in the western coverage. They came third in the medal count.
Viewing the games through the Australian networks, for example, meant subjection to jingoism and parading as if only Australian and American competitors mattered. Does this live up to the values of friendship and respect? It clearly doesn’t.
Here we have another violation of the stated values, connected to the notion of Western superiority, and made worse by a new shift to cold war politics.
The Russians were on the list of the ignored., despite being fifth on the table. Most other competing nations were completely out of the picture.
Consider that easily over half of the gold medals were won by athletes of nations not among the first four. What we saw on the television was not representative of the games.
It is even worse in the United States, where its media insists, their nation won the most. The irony is that they didn’t. But this little reality does not suit the image of American superiority, which seen as more important than the truth. This is cheap politics presiding over the sport.
Decoupling the Olympic Games from the capacity to use them to serve a political agenda would help. This is no easy ambition. But their longer-term viability might depend on it. Taking it out of the hands of government would be a good start. Once again, a permanent site would do a lot to weaken the connection between Olympic officials and government.