Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Olympics are upon us

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to open in Rio De Janeiro at the end of this week and already some in the media are predicting it will be a disaster. They're saying crime there is high, the mosquitos are deadly, the water is nasty, the favelas are full of feral criminals and the venues are sub-standard and dangerous ...blah, blah, blah. My response is: "are they really worth it?"

Do you know what it costs a city to host the Olympic Games? Anywhere from $6.6 billion (Sydney, 2000) to $44 billion (Beijing, 2008).  Rio is expected to spend $11.1 billion this year on their extravaganza.  And depending on the value they put on the publicity they receive, will they get their investment back?  History says it's doubtful. Oh sure, the contractors who build the venues (and the politicians they allegedly bribe) will no doubt do very well, but how about the average Brazilian on the street who is ultimately going to have to pay for it? The last I heard Brazil was in really dire financial straits, so how can they afford an $11.1 billion ego trip? I'm not alone in thinking that awarding the Games to a different city every four years is just a money-making scheme benefiting the International Olympic Committee, or as we've recently learned, the IOC members personally. They had a license to steal, and they did!

And I'm also not alone in thinking along these lines: the Games will always be the ultimate test of athletic prowess, regardless of where they're held.  It really doesn't matter where they plonk a stadium down. The Olympics originated in Greece, right?  Why not just hold them there every four years?  The historical connection is undeniable, and they already have much of the infrastructure in place after hosting the Games back in 2004.  I doubt the athletes would care: after all, a gold medal is still a gold medal.  We'll still see their smiling mugs on a cereal box.  The several billion TV viewers who watch world-wide can still watch. Individual national Olympic teams can still sell their sponsorships to fund their training centres.  You could still get your official souvenir hats, t-shirts, stuffed animals and other tat on Amazon.  Except for the local taxis and hoteliers and restaurateurs who have a gold mine overcharging tourists during those few weeks, who loses?  Oh yeah, the contractors and the politicians they own. And let's not forget the IOC members who love the jet setting lifestyle multiple venues allows them
What about the Winter Olympics? Why not just hold them in a non-controversial neutral site like Switzerland or maybe Norway? Both of those countries are wealthy and can afford to build the facilities one time, or refurbish what they already have, then just dust them off every four years and do it again.  Who knows, maybe the IOC could throw in some of the loot they get from the very lucrative broadcasting deals they make? 

Rio's $11.1 billion could have been spent on something better, like subsidising new industry to move there and creating much needed jobs. I think the average Brazilian would agree: a regular salary would trump ego trips any day. Unless you are The Donald, of course, in which case ego trips trump everything and anything.
In 490 BC, the Persian Army landed on the plain of Marathon, 25 miles from Athens. The Athenians sent a messenger named Pheidipides to Sparta to ask for help. As the map shows, it's a long way and he ran the 150 miles in two days. The Spartans were late in turning up so the Athenians attacked and, although outnumbered five to one, were victorious. Poor Pheidipides was then sent to run back to Athens to report the victory. On arrival, he screamed “We won” and promptly dropped dead from exhaustion. No gold medal for Pheidipides. Not even the Olympic equivalent of a booby prize?                           

The marathon was run in the first modern Olympics in 1896, and in many ways the athletic ideal of present-day athletes is inspired by the myth of the marathon. Their ideal is superhuman performance, at any cost. Performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport, it could be argued that it is the very spirit of sport. To choose to be better is to be human. All of which leads me to another point. It's clear that the crusade against drug use in sport has failed so, as long as a drug doesn't expose an athlete to any undue health risk, why not allow the use of performance enhancing drugs? I think athletes should be the given this choice. The legalisation of drugs in sport may be fairer and safer if this were the case. There'll also be the added benefit of no more prolonged and boring TV coverage: if all the athletes are drugged up to their eyeballs and whizzing around the stadium like maniacs, we'd get through all of the events in record time. I'd love to see a 2 second 100 metres dash and a 3 minute marathon would be amazing. Now, that would be entertaining.

One final thought and I'm done with the Olympics (unless I change my mind): maybe this year's Games will be the last that Team GB takes part in as a united force. Next time around we may be cheering Team England, Team Wales, Team Scotland and Team Northern Ireland. Yet another unintended consequence of the Brexit vote?

Footnote: I'm aware of the zealous way that the IOC guard their image rights and I'll confess that I do not have permission to show the 5-ring symbol at the top of this post. But I like to live life on the edge so sue me, IOC, sue me.


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