This rhetorical question I asked this week in a column for a Dutch sports website, and the year 2028 was chosen because not too long ago Holland wanted to be a candidate for the 2028 Olympics, an idea that fortunately faded quickly.
Watching (and enjoying) the Winter Olympics I asked myself this question since for sure I am not against elite sports, sports competitions or Olympics, but being an accredited coach in 5 Olympics, I really ask myself if the Olympics are still the harmonious, glorious and care-free sports event that it once was supposed to be. And maybe they never have been or even intended that way in the first. We have seen the Olympics being embraced and later hijacked by politics and politicians, to boost the national ego, and therefore enhance nationalism. Also multinationals and local companies started to see the Olympics as a brilliant money-making machine only.
Yes, there is a price to be paid for the Olympics the question is however: who benefits from it and who pays that price? The Games in Sotchi cost more than 50 billion Euro, more than all previous Winter Olympics together. Which is no problem to me at all if only i did not realize that e.g.60% of the workers who built the facilities went home empty handed since they did not get their salaries, the money was gone. Win-win situation? Everybody benefits? The harsh reality is that the current Olympics have drifted further than from its original idealistic intention.
But the Olympics are getting more popular, considering the participation of more countries, one might say. Well, the fact that during the opening ceremony we can see Togo, Tonga and West Iryan following each other into the arena only convinces me that there is always a country in which one found a volunteer, put him or her on skis or skates and push them into the arena. But this has nothing to do with the popularity of the Olympics in general, it seems to become more and more of a mixture of Cirque du Soleil and a folkoristic festival.
The fact that more than 3 billion people watched the opening ceremony also does not tell you anything about the popularity for the majority of people love opening ceremonies, symbols and mass mystique. And the IOC knows how to play that card very well, the Olympic rings, the fire, the hymn, the flag, the oath, the show, the “inspirational” speech and the fireworks. Noting new, here, watch the movies of Leni Riefenstahl (Triumpf des Willens or Olympia) about the Olympics in Berlin, in 1936. It always worked and it still does, anybody who has a budget of 100 million Euro to spend on a ceremony might attract more than 3 billion viewers, no matter what the following event might be a local soccer match, the opening of a library or a fashion show.
But there is a trend: the people of Stockholm, Munich and Davos made sure the bid for the Winter Olympics in their cities, was withdrawn. Now you might counteract that there are still enough cities that will apply for hosting the Olympics. Yes, the politicians and the people who are directly benefitting, mainly in financial sense, are always ready to host a megalomanic event in their town.
And ask the workers that built the Olympic sites in Sotchi or Qatar, ask the people that were forced out of their houses, you can’t, because they can’t or won’t answer, these are the people the IOC should be fighting for. Watch the movie: “Poetins dream” or read the report of Amnesty International under which condition the workers in Qatar have to work and to live, and you’ll get my point.
Recently I talked about this with a friend and colleague of mine, Charles from Commenee, former director of the Dutch Olympic Committee, technical director of the British Athletic Association, a very successful and experienced men. And he tended to disagree with me, for the plausible reason that sport might be the only human activity left, that connects people, independent of gender, race, religion, or nationality, on such a large scale. And I bet he is right most of the time, sports as a form of entertainment-industry, at least during some competitions, might temporarily overcome differences between people, and of course I have been witnessing myself too. But sometimes the opposite too, where people cursed the other team and country with foam flying from their mouth.
Well, if this is true than it displays that we haven’t got very far as a species, since if only watching a curling competition or ice hockey match temporarily prevents us from neglecting, oppressing, or destroying each other, it gives us little hope for the future or for the idea that sports itself has an educational influence beyond the duration of the match.
Maybe we should look at the statement of a famous author, George Orwell: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting”. You’ll get the drift of the real purpose of international sports: it’s conflict: symbolized preparation for survival, for the hunt or for combat. The former GDR knew it best, they called their athletes ambassadors in track suit. That is why our OC’s are so fond of counting the medals and see this comparison as a display of their superiority, quite a limited view isn’t it.
What do I care? I don’t mind the conflict model at all, since it is deeply programmed in our nervous systems. What is really don’t like is to deny this and sell it to us as a harmony model. Don’t try to dress up a wolf and try to sell it to me as a sheep. Please try other people for that, there are millions of them out there.
I think the expiry date of the Olympics in this form is coming closer. Don’t forget also the classic Olympics were abandoned after more than 600 years of existence. Less people will accept an event like the Olympics, once having been a display from an intended win-win situation, changing into a win-lose situation in which fewer people have more to win and more people having more to lose.
Perhaps if it is not too late, it is time for radical change in which the Olympics are once again re-created for the good of the athletes, the sport and the majority of the people, the Neolympics, instead of ego-boosting party for a happy few. But unfortunately, the ancient undemocratic structure and functioning of the IOC and NOC leave little hope for that change. So sit back and enjoy the show as long as it lasts.