The Empty Spectacle of the Olympic Games

The Olympics. The spectacle begins with the ceremonial lighting of the torch in Greece, giving homage to an ancient tradition brought down from the Age of Zeus. A magnificent sight full of significance and pageantry by young women in robes. The Games, an occasion for nations to compete without violence in the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play. The Olympic Torch is lit, to begin its travels around our vast planet, a beacon of hope and harmony across national borders. People line the streets to witness its journey and the carriers running with both pride and honour. At the Olympic Stadium, elaborate productions involving twirling dancers, dazzling light shows and ultimately the precious children, the hope of the future, celebrate its imminent arrival, and the start of the greatest athletic event on Earth.

The Parade of Nations begin. Athletes from all over the world dressed uniformly carry the blessed flags of their homelands, The finest physical specimens their nations have to offer. Once the Stadium is filled with the potential heroes, the carrier makes his lap around the track, pauses dramatically so the crowd can take in the great significance of the moment and the smaller torch lights the larger one. The Games have begun.

Behind the Spectacle

I find it hard to grasp how some deem this highly commercialized sports event founded by aristocrat, a movement. Popular movements blossom from the grassroots, not by some privileged wealthy benefactor attempting to “save the world”. Its even given a term called Olympism, which is a hollow philosophy for “fitness, fair play and mutual respect”, which is amusing since the Olympic Selection committee has a corrupt history of bribery when selecting the host city.

It’s questionable how “fortunate” it is to be selected a host city, for example, the Athens games cost over $8.5 BILLION dollars for a 2 week event. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (1976) was just recently payed off in 2006 , a debt of $1.5 billion , after 30 years. In China for the upcoming games, up to 1.5 million people are being displaced to accommodate the event according to a Geneva housing rights group, and usually those moved are among are poorest in society. Squandering these massive funds simply to accommodate these games, the athletes and the tourism for a COUPLE OF WEEKS, is obscene when many cities need better infrastructure and accessible housing.

Commercial interests tend to be most eager to push the “prestige” of the games, often subsidized by the taxpayers who must deal with the strain on their infrastructure to increase private opportunities. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit. It’s great PR for some of these giant corporate conglomerates who appear to be giving to a great humanist cause as sponsors, instead of just giving greater exposure to their company logo. It’s just advertising costs to them, in my opinion, not some altruistic attempt to expand the “Olympic Spirit”.

The Politics

This so-called bridge between nations has failed spectacularly several times as boycotts have been used to send political messages, especially during 1980 and 1984, casualties of the Cold War. Even now one is being considered for the Beijing games, due to valid concerns over human rights, but unfortunately at the end of it all, nothing will change.

Those who want to send a message violently, as they did in the games in Munich and Atlanta, get the attention they clearly don’t deserve. These centralized global sporting events can attract those who are willing to harm others to make their point, and the security costs can be astronomical as was the case in the Athens games which was five times higher than the Sydney Games after 9/11.

The Athletes

Doping scandals taint the games, as the pressure to win pushes some athletes to compromise their health and the spirit of fair play to get a better chance at Olympic glory. The organizers are addressing the issue, although there have been ridiculous draconian mesures like banning marijuana. The idea that this is a performance enhancing drug is pretty insane.

Professionals are now allowed to participate in the Olympics, which attracts more sponsors (read: more money) to the games, so the games themselves are becoming less and less about the so-called Olympic Ideals of amateur (“lover of”) sports. Even some of the victorious amateurs will quickly leverage their metal trinket into becoming professional spokesman for an often unrelated product you’re supposed to be more inclined to buy.

Resistance is Growing

The Games are looking less and less like a great honour, and more like a great burden and many are beginning to voice their concerns about the cost to taxpayers and strain to local infrastructure. In the case of the upcoming 2010 Games in Vancouver, these concerns were brought up by dissenters to the Olympic Committee . With good reason as costs are spiraling up. There is a great site keeping an eye on the preparations of the 2010 games at 2010watch.com .

How about the World Cup?

There are differences between the World Cup of soccer and the Olympic games although they are both popular global sporting events.

  • The World Cup tends to celebrate the sport, soccer. The Olympics is about the event.
  • As mentioned above, the Olympics tend to suggest its a great humanitarian and philosophical movement, while the World Cup doesn’t make such grand presumptions.
  • The strain on local infrastructure is much smaller for the World Cup, where one needs a soccer field and place for people and cameras, while the Olympics need many specialized facilities for the bloating number of sports, many of which few care about anyways.

The Olympic Games have lost any appeal or credibility in my eyes. There are many international sporting event going on annually all around the world, but I wondered why did I watch a game I had no interest in to begin with simply because it was on the Olympics? Was it the Five Rings? The hypnosis is over, as far as I’m concerned. The Games are an overproduced corporate event subsidized by taxpayers where athleticism appears as a secondary concern to a global spectacle to glorify the organizers and the advertisers. I can’t wait until “regular programming” on the tube comes back when it on.

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