The pomp, the pageantry. The inspirational stories of hardships overcome. The athleticism. The greed, the corruption, the doping, the showcase for dictators and scandal-plagued nations. Such is the state of the modern Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is supposedly a non-profit organization that runs the alternating summer and winter competitions every two years. Yet recent investigations have revealed a pattern of corruption and failure to address cheating on the part of Olympic athletes.
For instance, the competition among cities to host the Games has been riddled with payouts and lavish perks for members of the IOC – in short, bribery to get the hosting honors. Currently, investigators are looking at the process used to award Tokyo with the next Summer Olympics venue. Furthermore, the IOC has allowed despotic regimes to host the games in order to rehabilitate their questionable reputations on the world stage. Most recently, this involved looking the other way when rampant doping on the part of Russian athletes should have come to light.
There have been scandals involving judges and broken promises to host cities, whose citizens are usually worse off after holding the games. This year’s Olympics are no exception, with Rio de Janeiro being the dubious choice for an international celebration of peace and excellence. Brazil’s economic woes have only been exacerbated by the expense of building the structures and providing the security necessary for the games to go on. Along with the threat of the Zika virus, the host city has been plagued by political corruption, crime, violence, pollution, and inadequate infrastructure. Not a very charming venue to showcase the world’s best athletes.
The problem with the modern day Olympics is that it has become big money, mostly for corporations, star athletes, government officials, and members of the IOC itself. The revenues generated from ticket sales are nothing compared to the advertising revenue paid to NBC and the endorsements enjoyed by the most famous Olympic athletes. Such money encourages corruption, whether it be bribes to officials or illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes eager to cash in on Olympic glory.
Let’s face it. The so-called goal of “Olympism,” as the IOC refers to it, is world harmony and peace. Instead, countries compete to see how many medals they can rack up for the glory of their own country. (NBC encourages the jingoism by regularly posting the number of medals each country has won.) As one writer pointed out, a few days after the Sochi Olympics ended, Russian leader Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea. So much for international cooperation.
It also seems a bit strange to have the world’s strongest, fittest athletes being sponsored by Chicken McNuggets. Somehow those Olympic-based ads with their inspirational soundtracks ring hollow against the backdrop of cheating and sheer commercialism. Even Simone Biles’ impressive athleticism and winning smile don’t quite overcome the hypocrisy of the modern Olympic Games.
Some have suggested that a permanent site be built in Greece to host the Summer Olympics every four years. This would eliminate some of the financial burden a city takes on by having to start from scratch building facilities that will go virtually unused after the games move out of town. The IOC wants to build an Olympic museum, and Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, would be the logical location for such a paean to athletic excellence. Revenues from the games could be used to maintain the facilities, and tourist attractions could become part of the draw of the Olympic Village in off years. A similarly iconic location could be chosen for the Winter Games.
I love watching the Olympics. The athletes’ awe-inspiring abilities are given an impressive stage, and it is thrilling to see records broken and hardships overcome. Of course, there are other world athletic competitions out there. But just as with the Oscars telecast, there is nothing quite like the Olympics. The goal of the IOC and the world athletic community should be to return the games to their golden glory, untarnished by scandal and waste.