There are three major political events this summer. Three?
Yes, there are the two national political conventions. But there’s also the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It should take our minds off politics for a couple of weeks, but it is a highly political event.
In fact, the Olympics may be the most political event of the three. There’s almost nothing about it that isn’t more political than athletic.
When the modern Olympics were created more than a century ago, they were meant to promote personal ties across national lines as athletes from many countries gathered to compete. They were all amateurs and teams might be composed of people from several countries.
Achievements were measureable and the motto was “higher, faster, stronger.”
The idealism of those early days has been swept away by national rivalries and professionalism. It wasn’t worth cheating in the early Olympics, but now there’s much at stake, because national prestige and personal profit have come to matter.
It begins with the selection of the host country. This year it is Brazil in recognition of that country being among the supposedly emerging world leadership group, BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
But the BRIC concept seems to have faded as quickly as it emerged. Brazil has shown it has neither the financial resources nor the political stability needed for a host country. The Olympics may hang on by its fingertips in Rio and making it to the final ceremony may be its greatest accomplishment.
The Zika virus and unsanitary conditions have led some top athletes to decline participation. Team housing is not ready and boating competition waters remain polluted. Brazil, in the midst of a major political crisis, simply cannot bring these conditions under control.
In the past, the host country could organize events so that its participants were able to pick up a few extra medals. But, instead of its moment in the limelight, Brazil is likely to suffer a loss in its reputation as the result of hosting the Games.
Then, there’s the political choice of events. For example, baseball and softball are excluded, because organizers worry the U.S. would always win. No matter that millions around the world play and watch these sports unlike rhythmic gymnastics with its two gold medals going to gymnast-dancers who are judged not scored.
The professionalization of the Games provides a strong incentive for cheating. And the most well known form of cheating is the use of performance enhancing drugs.
The logic is as obvious as it is basically wrong. If athletes from a country rack up a lot of medals, it supposedly implies that the country is superior to others. In turn, its Olympics reputation should enhance its influence in the world.
This year, Russia’s systematic and government-sponsored cheating on drug tests, allowing its athletes in both summer and winter Olympics to benefit from PEDs, has been starkly revealed. “higher, faster, stronger” results have become “hyped, falsified, stolen.”
By now, these moves to produce phony results are not worth the effort. Some top athletes disregard Olympic medals. The world now knows about the cheating. And people have been able to recognize the difference between winning a Greco-Roman wrestling medal and exercising world power.
The role of PEDs has become undeniable as the result of recent revelations about Russian tampering with tests. To that cheating has just been added the corrupting role of money.
What started out as a series of amateur competitions has become highly professionalized. Every participant from the countries sending large teams receives pay. If an athlete wins a medal, there’s usually a big bonus.
In some countries, the athlete is paid by the government as a public employee. In the U.S., where the teams get no government funding, the sports organizations distribute sponsorship money to athletes free from any outside control.
NBC, the authorized broadcaster of the Games in the U.S., touts them no matter their problems. It is a major funder of the International Olympic Committee. That allows “volunteer” Olympic Movement leaders to pay themselves well, stay at the best hotels and travel first class. They even get a special stipend to attend the Rio Games.
There’s a sharp contrast between what the sports association executives and the competitors are paid. One participant says he could do better than his current income as either an association executive or flipping hamburgers.
Every four years, Americans face a highly charged presidential campaign with its claims of corrupt practices and the dominant role of big money.
We are probably unaware that the supposed pure Olympics are just the same.