Has the Olympics Run its Course?
“With the nation in the grip of Olympics fever, Joe Ponting examines the corporate side of the London Games.”
The ancient Greeks would be turning in their graves. The games that grew to pit the very best athletes in the world against each other in an enthralling spectacle of human achievement are now only nominally concerned with physical strength, fitness or ability. Whether it’s the constant drip-drip of doping stories and drug bans, the contentious choice of sponsorship or the blatant prioritisation of profit over entertainment, with the games happening so close to home, the flaws in its modern-day incarnation are all too clear to see.
What was once a race between athletes on the track is fast becoming a battle of scientific wits in the laboratory, with every race won, every record broken, tainted by the gloomy possibility that it was not physical prowess but medicinal skill that attained it. Certainly, the drug use controls and the introduction of WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) in 1999 offer something of a solution, given that universal honesty is an impossibility. They are far from infallible, but doing away with them completely would reduce the Olympics further towards narcotic anarchy. The sob-story reads that despite the best efforts of the authorities, a lawless minority has forever soiled what was once the greatest competition on the planet, but the hard truth is that the Olympics of today are anything but the eternal flame of the sporting world. That said, the games themselves can still throw up some of the most magnetic sporting entertainment on the planet, as we have just seen. Beneath the pomp and behind the fear of sordid substances, Bolt captivated the world, Ennis united a nation, Farah provided an inspirational rags-to-riches story, and many others shone through, maybe only temporarily, the dark clouds. If only it were just about the sport.
It is off the field where the Olympics really turns the stomach. The sheer corporatism, the incessant publicity, the commodification of what should be the ultimate sporting event and the self-important patriotism has totally eclipsed the sports themselves and left a foul taste in the mouth that it is almost impossible to get rid of. There may be economic benefits in the future, but right now it is hard to comprehend how such a bloated event, clogging the arteries of our capital and draining resources and money like a heroin addict, can possibly be advantageous.
There exists an almost animalistic desire to canonise the Olympics, but the driving motivation is sponsorship, not sport. What is supposed to be bringing our country together is in reality widening the gap between the suits – bleeding the games of every penny they can – and the rest of us, who are being force-fed a weakly diluted and strongly commercialised parody of them.
While in the throes of a nationwide delirium conveniently distracting us from the sledgehammer publicity campaigns, the movement of money from one questionable party to another continues apace; the sponsorship of the London Olympics typifies the pervasive sense of amorality and hypocrisy. Far from condemning them, the Olympics is giving Dow Chemical, responsible for one of the worst chemical disasters in history, a global advertising space. Contrary to the unification-through-sport philosophy, sponsors Adidas are constantly accused of being notorious users of sweatshop labour, while instead of the games being used as a weapon against obesity and ill-health, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are two of the most ubiquitous sponsors. The crying shame is that the mesmerising sporting contest that the Olympics has proven itself to be is dwarfed by the distended money-driven structure surrounding it. This is corporate, this is hypocritical big business. And this could hardly be further away from Faster, Higher, Stronger.