WHY A SPORTS LOVER DOESN’T LIKE THE OLYMPICS ANY MORE

The Olympics are almost over…and I really don’t care, apart from the light relief it has provided from the usual dismal political world news.  But I’m a sports lover.  I’ve actually been to three Olympics.  I used to love the Olympics.  What’s wrong with me?  I think there are at least five reasons.

Organisational Ethical Corruption

It’s been clear for some time that the Olympics are ethically corrupt at the top.  The IOC’s refusal to ban Russia was perhaps the last straw for me.  WADA provided evidence of systematic doping, at the State level, by Russia, particularly at the last winter Olympics.  WADA recommended banning Russia.

But Russia is an important political country…so the IOC pushed the decision back to individual sports federations, with less than 2 weeks to go to the start of the Olympics.  The arrest of an Irish member of the IOC main committee for selling tickets himself was another example of corruption at the top.  The ejection of a whole squad of boxing judges for rigging decisions was another.  The IOC may not be as bad as Blatter’s FIFA, but it’s still ethically corrupt.  And that’s depressing for a person who wants to be proud of this event.

Couple this with the way the Olympics has been run – favelas cleared for stadiums, ordinary wages not paid, poor quality buildings for accommodation, poor environmental conditions for events, lack of ticket sales – and the package being sold was not one I wished to buy.

Widespread Doping

Apart from Russia, it’s pretty clear that some other countries and many individual athletes are doping against the rules.  Fingers have been pointed at Ethiopia. Kenya barely avoided being banned like Russia. It supposedly lifted its game at the last moment, yet a Kenyan coach was caught with EPO in his room and tried to undertake a urine test for an athlete!  Weightlifting, wrestling and cycling have always been regarded as somewhat suspect.

When athletics and swimming are the main attractions, providing a large proportion of the events, medals and therefore ‘heroes’, this matters.  Medals were won by athlete with prior doping convictions.  Swimmers railed against their Chinese competitors. When athletes are openly complaining, the sports are obviously rigged.  We just don’t know how, waiting perhaps forever, perhaps for several years till they develop better doping tests.

Poor TV Coverage

When I was in London for the 2012 Olympics, I sat glued to the many TV channels available covering every event 24/7.  In Australia, the 3 channels available showed a small selection of Australian-oriented events.  When the Australians were eliminated, the coverage mostly stopped.  And, despite there being only 3 channels, I managed to see repeat after repeat after repeat, sometimes straight after each other on different channels.

The beauty of the Olympics is its very variety – of sports, competitors, highlights and lowlights. I want to see that variety.  Sure, I want to see how every Aussie went in every event, but I also want to know about all the sports, all the winners.  I want to be smothered with all the sports simultaneously.  It is possible, but not – apparently – for our commercial TV stations.

Poor Aussie Results

I have to confess that I do like an Aussie winner.  But, apart from Day 1 when we got two golds, it has been quite a disappointing Olympics.  Something clearly has gone wrong organisationally, systematically. We did badly in London, primarily due to the swimming culture problems, but this time under-performance covered almost every sport.  Cycling, hockey, swimming, water polo, BMX, women’s basketball, rowing, equestrian I saw and much I did not. It’s not that other countries are spending more.  We had so many world champions going into the Olympics, but so many of them failed to deliver.

This was compounded by the as usual extremely biased ‘Aussie’ rah-rah  coverage, which built up expectations of winners, then had to interview losers or which dismissed those who were doing well (perhaps even PBs), but were not winners.  Lacking coverage of these competitors (most  competitors in an event lose!), we develop a biased expectation that media coverage will lead to a local win, not to seeing a great world event, admiring champions from all over.

Bad Timing of the Events

This one can’t be overcome.  Events occur at unfavourable times, being 11 hours ahead of eastern Australia. Yes, I could watch through the night.  In the past, I have stayed up to watch Le Tour, the Ashes in England, Wimbledon, the FA Cup, the Americas Cup and much more but, given the issues I’ve outlined, I wasn’t even tempted this time.   More’s the pity.

Prior Olympic Experiences Jaded Me

I loved going to Munich in 1972.  I went to Barcelona in 1992 and enjoyed the competition, but the bureaucracy of the officials and the huge travelling distances from accommodation to venue offset the wonder of being at the world’s greatest sporting extravaganza.  I went to London in 2012, but I could only get a few tickets, found I was seated far away, that the main seats went to global media, the prices were exorbitant and the events were just glimpses that did not engage me in the whole.  I lost the enjoyment of the live experience.  But I loved the TV coverage, so my love of the event remained at that point, but it has gone in these last four years.

The Future?

I have found myself gradually turning off top professional sport, angered by the obscene amounts paid to the top players, the behaviour that has engendered and the ticket prices necessary (same for global entertainment).

It’s clear the Olympics are past their use by date.  There’s so much international sport available to view now that the Olympics are just one event in a crowded calendar.  There are now regular world championships in most sports and these are actually more representative than the Olympics, which limit individual participation numbers for each country.

No doubt the powerful few at the top will find ways to keep the Olympics going, perhaps in some modified form.  The Opening and Closing Ceremonies show that this is now a global entertainment event, not the sporting pinnacle.  Perhaps it is just me – jaded from amazing opportunities in my life to view the best that it is ho hum to me –  but not to others less fortunate.  But there are signs that this event really needs rethinking to regain its relevance.  Its cost, size, impact and risks suggest it has peaked.  Let’s hope Tokyo finds a better formula than Rio has presented.

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4 thoughts on “WHY A SPORTS LOVER DOESN’T LIKE THE OLYMPICS ANY MORE

  1. Graham has put these complaints fairly and with the regret of a disappointed enthusiast – and so he has conceptually clarified my muddled feelings about the global ultimate in sporting achievement.

    But then a purist sporting view of the Olympics may not have been its original principal macro-function even in Classical Greece.

    The modern Olympics main function may be to provide a ‘safe conflict arena’ within which nations can parade and compete without war. Outside the original [religiously sanctioned] Olympic Arena, Classical Greek city states were embedded in a system of such Hobbesian rivalry that it took a Pax Romana to create sufficient civility for conflict between them to be relegated to the court of the Emperor or better still to courts of law.

    Given the now waning influence of Pax Americana, we should perhaps re-cognise that the Olympics are, now more than ever, another facet of the ‘Great Game’ of States in Rivalry. Ostensibly about pure sporting achievement and regulated by ‘independent sporting institutions’, the Olympics now have to achieve ‘economic development’ for the host city and ‘bread and circus’ distraction for the increasingly disaffected middle and under classes.

    But most importantly the Olympics offer, every four years, a confirmation of the legitimacy of each nation’s sovereignty [even North Korea’s] as recognised by the Treaty Of Westphalia. To be denied access to this ‘political arena’ would challenge a Sovereign State’s legitimacy – no matter how high [or low] the drug purity of its representatives; would IS or Boku Haram be entitled to send a team?

    So maybe we should continue to strive to clean up the sporting acts, lower economic expectations, spend less corporate sponsorship money and provide more ‘crowd funded’ support. Applaud the great sports talent [ Bolt/Phelps] as well as the modesty of Murray et al. Lower the volume all round: enjoy the performance.

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    • Ah Basil! Your wide and conceptual view has reappeared! But I do like your practical solutions in the last paragraph. If only we could train ourselves to do this and just enjoy the show rather than worry about its meaning.

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  2. It is really at the Olympics that the benefits of triple nationality become clear. To be Canadian is to seek pride in the fact that we are joint 4th in total bronze medals, but admit to being 20th overall, with 4 golds, including 1 in trampoline. I can’t even find out what weight group, or was it synchronised?

    TV coverage, which is worse, seeing little coverage, or watching endless battles for 8th place. I think we got some peripheral coverage on a Bolt race.

    The charm, and surely the heartbreak of the olympics is that you can prepare for 4 years and it all depends on the day. Ask the athletes if they would prefer if there were no Olympics, and support them. I will not judge.

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    • Thanks Robert. I too follow several countries where we have close friends, so its pleasing to see those countries do well too, I must confess. And we too got some ‘peripheral coverage’ of a Bolt race.

      As for letting the athletes vote on the Olympics…I’m sure that is not the right question! The question is, is this what we should be spending our money on (not theirs)?

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