Is anyone excited about the Olympics?

The Olympic Games must be due to start soon, there’s been quite a lot fuss made about them by some media. Is anyone excited yet?

I enjoy following some sports in the Olympics, at least I have in the past. But I have never been a fan of marathon build-ups. I don’t bother watching opening ceremonies – I’ve seen bits of them but have never made an effort to watch through one, they do nothing for me.

I’m sure I’ll keep an eye on things like athletics, rowing, yachting, sevens, golf and maybe a few more when they actually get under way.

But in many ways the Olympics seem to have become dominated by negatives:

  • Drugs
  • Too big
  • Too commercial
  • Too many sports
  • Abuse of the Olympic spirit by self interested officials and corruption
  • Drugs

RNZ asks: Have the Olympics lost their way?

Once a celebration of sporting values with a focus on national pride and personal achievement, critics suggest the Games have been captured by commercial imperatives and tainted by corruption – further underlined by the revelations of Russia’s state sponsored doping programme.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics have a lot to answer for in the mind of a leading Olympic academic, professor Ian Culpan, who is head of the Olympic Studies Academy at the University of Canterbury.

They were the first Olympic Games to operate under a commercial model and became the spectacle that people expect today.

Commercialism, Los Angeless, USA, no surprise.

Do people actually expect a commerce driven ‘spectacle’, or is it foisted on us?

Navigating the modern Olympic field you have to try and dodge a barrage of commercial javelins, discuses and hammers, surrounded by a swirl of sponsors.

However, Professor Culpan said that did not mean the Olympics remained true to the Olympic movement.

‘Where we lose the relevance is [in] the philosophy of the Games [and it is] probably the IOC’s best kept secret, you know, balanced development in your life, joy of effort, athletes being role models and observing universal ethics but in the last 20 years the IOC has hardly ever talked about that,” said Culpan.

“So what I am saying is that Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Christ. The Olympic Games are supposed to be a celebration of the philosophy of Olympism but both have lost their way.”

Both have lost their way in  a maze of commercialism. The main aim of both Christmas and the Olympics seems to be a world record in spending – much of it on unnecessary crap.

He believes the Olympics are now at a tipping point.

He said there were questions over the financial and social sustainability of the Games but also a disconnect existed between high performance sport and the public.

“The divide is really created by high performance sport being captured by the political economy. Athletes are now bought and sold as commodities. They’re traded on the open market and with that comes the notion of money and reward for good performances and with that comes the temptation to gain unfair advantage.”

Brazil seems to have struggled with the financial burden of hosting this year’s Olympics. In 2020 they will be held in Toky0 – back to the venue that I first remember following the Olympics in 1964.

The theory is that winning Olympic medals is good for national identity and inspires people to become active although the head of High Performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Bauman, concedes there is no evidence of that being the case.

The best we can hope for in New Zealand is to be a creditable small player, in some sports.

Rebuilding the Olympics’ tarnished image will be a major exercise for the IOC in Rio and while Rio will undoubtedly put on a spectacular show the true test for these Games will be whether the label of the greatest sporting show on Earth is still valid or whether they have simply become a five ring circus.

I remember the circus as down to earth, rough and ready exotic entertainment. The Olympics are nothing like that.

They are more like a giant promotion for a global shopping mall.

The athletes are little more than pawns in the play for power and market share.