I know it seems weird to see the two things together, but I’m of two minds on this subject.
First, the rave:
The Olympics is one of those events that’s supposed to bring the world together to compete against each other in one of the most noble capacities, comparing athletic power and skills. The athletes embody excellent qualities such as hard work, dedication, talent and strength. They represent some of the values that we all strive for, often looking perfect and God-like as they move, race, bend, jump, run, and twirl. And in a world where people move more and more and are less rooted to their communities, it’s good to see them cheer and have pride in the things that their nation can do and what it represents. And whose heart doesn’t soar when they see the slow raising of their flag and listen to beautiful symphony rendition of their national anthem and the tears of their gold medal winner?
Then, the rant:
Although the principles of the Olympics are alive and well for most people on an individual level, on a more global level, the Olympics are a corporate machine. They make money for countless people on the International Olympic Committee, but also, they demolish the infrastructure and the capacity of most cities around the world who host the games, leaving behind creaking arenas and debts. Not only that, the stars of the show are underfunded athletes who compete for free in the hopes that a medal will bring them some form of corporate sponsorship that usually comes in the form of smiling pictures on cereal boxes.
Once used as a mechanism to bring attention to some of the world’s unknown hidden gems like Albertville and Nagano, it’s now being used as tourist brochure for some of the world’s most well-known destinations who do not need more tourists, but who have more money to campaign for the Games. London, Paris and Athens hardly need more attention or more press or more people, but they will get all of the above when they host.
It’s impossible to turn the clock back on the games and it’s probably not worthwhile to annul an institution that still makes people proud and happy. The Games have become a commercial juggernaut that has huge endorsements, advertisements, and sells lots of gear that we don’t really need. I’m just as proud as anyone else when our athletes win, but I think we all need to keep the Games in perspective and campaign for it to return to its more modest and noble roots. Because bringing people together is about a lot more than advertising and paraphernalia and broadcasting rights.