So the Olympics and Paralympics have ended for another 4 years – in fact a few months ago now. The next time the machine girds its loins ready to resume battle it will be in Tokyo. It all seems a far cry from the beginnings of the Olympic movement, when money, sponsorship, TV broadcasting, ticket sales and all the surrounding hype – and I include in that assessment both the Ancient Olympics (first run at Olympia in Greece in 776BC), and Modern Olympics (1896, Athens.) By the way, although the Paralympics formally started in 1989, did you know the first organised games for disabled people date back to 1948, as organised by the good doctor Sir Ludwig Guttman?
However, at the risk of sounding an embittered old cynic I’ve become weary about the whole show as it is now, even if friends stay up all night to watch the events unfold. It’s not that there are not dramatic finales and amazing sporting achievements – there clearly are – but there’s a dark side to the Olympics that never goes away and which inevitably taints the human interest stories and performances, not that you would necessarily know from the news coverage.
So let’s start off a very personal survey with the good points:
What I do like about the Olympics:
- Encouraging a philosophy based on common humanity playing games, as stated in the Olympic Charter:
- “The mission of the IOC is to promote Olympism throughout the world and to lead the Olympic Movement. This includes upholding ethics in sports, encouraging participation in sports, ensuring the Olympic Games take place on a regular period, protecting the Olympic Movement, and encouraging and supporting the development of sport.”
- Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
- The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
- The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.
- The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
- Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.
- Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
- Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.
- The pricking of political egos that the enabling of this charter helps to achieve, such that the interests of common humanity to participate can subjugate those of the
- World records. Often I don’t care who wins and can’t get enthused by British competitors any more than others, but watching someone break records is the very apogee of human endeavour and worthy of attention – providing it was not achieved with the help of cheating…
- That women are equal to men in Olympic events, at least nominally. Whether they achieve full equality is a different question but they do not have a lower platform, for which we must be grateful.
- Ditto that disabled athletes are now given a chance, even if equality is a long way off. The IOC would argue that with a parallel games they have allowed disability to have a platform, and that it would not be feasible for all the games to take place concurrently – for logistical reasons as much as anything else – but what they don’t say is that the real Olympics are the ones that make the big money, and TV coverage of paralympics is very low level.
What I don’t like about the Olympics:
- BBC’s they/we schizophrenia about team GB. Personally I think the BBC should always stay neutral and avoid over-effusive cheering and favouritism, though I know very many will disagree. The fact that great achievements by athletes from
- The inclusion of professionals in sports like golf, tennis, boxing, football and others, many of whom don’t give a toss about events for which they are not paid. The Olympic movement should stay true to its amateur roots, even if the advent of lottery funding and other indirect forms of sponsorship mean that it’s not amateur in the state originally envisaged.
- The use of equipment, costumes etc to achieve competitive advantage. It should only be about human endeavour so any advantage should be offset by ensuring all competitors have access to the very latest and best equipment.
- The small-minded attitude of domestic associations that meant we didn’t enter football teams into the competition. Frankly they should not have had a choice, though the situation where we are allegedly a single country with four nations and four associations is stupid in the first place. Nowhere else has that.
- White elephant stadia and waste of money that could be better used in countries like Brazil… and the UK too. Legacy was the watchword for the London Olympics too, but the furore over the presentation of the Olympic stadium to West Ham for chicken feed and a gift of very many millions towards conversion costs tells you how desperate the UK government was.
- Talking of Brazilian poverty, notice how it has been shielded carefully and broke out only in a few barely-publicised demonstrations. Let’s face it, the Olympics are as stage managed and PR-controlled as any political event you’ll ever see.
- Ticket prices well beyond the means of ordinary Brazilians, or even Brits in some cases.
- Ticket allocation policies that are fatally flawed and may be further evidence of
- Corporate sponsors not bothering to turn up to see events. The struggle they had to get a grip on Paralympic funding and ticket sales also said a lot.
- IOC politics, barely less corrupt than FIFA and quite possibly more so if you believe the abundant rumours. See here, here, here, here and here for just a few examples.
- Doping and the fact that cheats seem to prosper far more often than not. Does anyone think for a moment that the WADA testing process weeds out all the cheats? Not for a moment, but even when they do pinpoint systematic cheating, the IOC committee does not have the guts to punish it. See here and here.
- The fact that politics rears its ugly head as nations refuse to participate with other nations and other nastiness occurs. A few examples among very many:
- May 2004: Bernard Lagat became a US citizen three months before he ran track in Athens and won the silver medal in 2004. The glitch is that he won the medal for Kenya, which does not allow dual citizenship, and the Olympic Charter requires each athlete to be a citizen of the country he or she competes for. Lagat was permitted to retain his medal, but had to wait until 2007 before being eligible to compete in any other international athletics events.
- December 2004: It was discovered that Marion Jones, five-time track and field medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, may have been on several banned steroids and hormones when she competed. Because the Olympic Charter states that no decision taken at the Olympic Games can be challenged after a period of three years after the closing ceremony, Jones could not lose these medals involuntarily except for doping violations. Jones was later stripped of every Olympic medal dating back to September 2000 after admitting that she took performance-enhancing drugs.
- 2011 / 2012: Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of contravening the Olympic Charter by systematically preventing women from practising sports in the country, and by not allowing Saudi women athletes to take part in the Olympic Games, thus violating the fourth, sixth and seventh fundamental principles of the Charter, which every member of the Olympic Movement is bound to. This came as Anita DeFrantz, chair of the I.O.C.’s Women and Sports Commission, suggested that the country be barred from participating in the Olympics until it agrees to send women athletes to the Games. I.O.C. spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau, however, indicated that the Committee “would not mandate that the Saudis have female representation in London“, arguing that “the I.O.C. does not give ultimatums nor deadlines but rather believes that a lot can be achieved through dialogue”.
- 2012: The Lebanese judo team at the 2012 London Olympics refused to practice next to the Israeli one, and a makeshift barrier was erected to split their gym into two halves. The two teams were scheduled to use the same gym and mats at London’s new ExCeL centre for their final preparations. However, the delegation from Lebanon would not train in view of the Israeli team, and insisted some sort of barrier be placed between them. Organisers accepted the Lebanese coach’s demand to separate the teams, erecting a barrier so that the Lebanese team would not see the Israeli one.
- Ditto that the Olympic movement can be used as a vehicle to further the selfish goals of dictators and allegedly democratic leaders alike. Hitler’s Berlin games were just one example among very many – though at least the 1936 games and the success of Jesse Owens humiliated Hitler’s racial stereotyping.