In general, sports confuse me. Football is totally incomprehensible. I understand the basic concept of basketball, baseball and soccer, but all those rules are way too complicated. Golf makes sense; it just seems kind of boring.
But there is one realm of the sporting world whose intricate workings are abundantly clear: I get the Olympic Games. Medals aside, the Olympics are all about gold.
When news broke of the Olympic scandal, I was shocked â€” shocked that so many people seemed surprised.
Initial stories revealed the outrageous financial deal making involved in Salt Lake City’s effort to secure the 2002 games. Twenty-four members of the International Olympics Committee have been linked to “ethical misconduct” involving Salt Lake City’s bid. With the flood gates open, a surge of tales have surfaced detailing the greasy-palmed culture endemic to the IOC.
Australia held its collective breath waiting to see if the 2000 Sydney games would go forward after news of their city’s dubious bidding practices came out. Sydney’s bid chief, John Coates, admitted he offered $70,000 to two IOC members the evening before Australia secured the games (conveniently, by two votes).
Some media outlets have labeled Coates’ actions as “suspiciously timed philanthropy.” I have little patience for such euphemisms. Regardless of whether the money goes into the voter’s pet project or back pocket, a bribe is a bribe. While the definition of a bribe continues to perplex IOC members, they seem to be very familiar with the concept of taking money, gifts, etc. in return for their votes.
How complicated can it be to bestow these lucrative games? After ruling out those cities currently suppressing armed insurrection, recovering from natural disasters or otherwise indisposed, the 114 IOC members should be able to agree upon one of the many, eager hosts. Apparently it is a very difficult process, one that requires bidding cities to provide extravagant gifts, first class accommodations, spending money, “perks” (such as allowing a member’s daughter to perform with the city’s orchestra), lavish entertainment, prostitutes, and, don’t forget, in the words of the official report, “jewelry or other items easily converted to cash.”
The corruption of the IOC’s old boy network can be traced back to Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC tyrant, I mean president, of the last 19 years. His Excellency, the title he prefers, single-handedly transformed the Olympics from a struggling international athletic event into the monstrous orgy of corporate sponsorship we all know and love.
During Samaranch’s reign, the concept of amateur competition has been perverted to utter meaninglessness (need I remind you of Michael Jordan and his “amateur” Dream Team.) More significantly, in 1983 Samaranch established the New Sources of Finance Commission in order to start selling marketing rights to the Olympic brand name.
One may wonder why bid cities didn’t speak up as the IOC was systematically extorting them. Apparently, all were willing to play along for the chance of winning the bid, a privilege which could mean billions of dollars for the lucky host. But now that the scandalous behavior has become a public scandal, these cities, once so willing to quietly hand money over under the table, are coming forward with an open palm. Stockholm, Manchester and Toronto are among those looking to recover the millions spent on lost bids.
Even the winners are hoping to recuperate some of their exorbitant spending. Salt Lake City, the focus of the scandal, wants to renegotiate its financial commitments to the IOC. Salt Lake City officials say they have uncovered $10 million of excessive funds allocated for the IOC, including $650,000 for breakfast during the 2002 Olympics. Considering that the games last 14 days, and there are 114 IOC members, that comes to about $400 for each meal. Well, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
This most recent scandal, involving the host bidding process, is hardly the most corrupt IOC practice. Corporate sponsors furiously compete for the right to “officially” exploit the Olympic logo. Rumors of kickbacks are rampant. Broadcasting rights are one of the Games’ most valuable commodities. NBC paid $3.5 billion to secure the rights until 2008. Is it any coincidence that IOC member Alex Gilady is both a member of the Olympics’ television commission and a senior vice president of NBC Sports? However, the IOC has no regulations regarding such conflicts of interest.
Money has even perverted the very notion of athletic achievement. An Olympic medal is not so much an accomplishment as it is an invitation to be the latest Madison Avenue whore. Having dedicated their lives to honing a skill of little practical use, athletes have found that corporate endorsements are the only way to profit from their hard work. Be the best in the world, so you can sell your body to Nike.
Apparently we have a new Olympic creed.
And, because the end justifies the means, who cares if a little pharmaceutical assistance helped you win the gold? It is estimated that as many as 30 percent of Olympic athletes use illegal substances to boost performance. As a recent Newsweek cover story pointed out, the IOC has turned a blind eye to this pervasive “doping.”
The commercialization of the Olympics is a fact. But, seeing as this is an opinion piece, I will give you an opinion. As initially stated, sports are not my thing. I couldn’t care less whether the Olympics worship athleticism, Mammon, or even Zeus. However, the IOC needs to stop acting as though it is simply a physically fit branch of the UN. The sanctimonious spiel about global harmony and the triumph of man is getting pretty tiresome.
Coke doesn’t pretend it’s on a goodwill mission to hydrate the thirsty masses. McDonald’s is happy just to sell us their hamburgers. Likewise, the Olympic goal is to deliver specific demographic sectors of the population to advertisers of the world. In particular, they neatly package the eyes, ears and impressionable minds of males (18-35 years of age, please) and sell this slice of attention span at a hefty premium.
The IOC can stop hiding behind an obsolete myth of athletic righteousness and reveal their true, corporately sponsored, colors. Here’s a message that the IOC might understand: just do it.