I always thought the Olympic Games were pretty cool. For a couple of weeks every four years, the world (at least most of it) came together in peace in the name of friendly spirited competition. The athletes could do things that most normal people just dreamed of, and it was always a lot of fun to root for the good ol' U. S. of A.
Now, I'm disgusted at the Olympic GamesTM. This year, I've barely followed them at all. Furthermore, I'm really starting to think that the world would be a better off place without the Olympic GamesTM at all. Why? Several reasons.
First and foremost, there is the commercialization of the Olympic GamesTM. Over the past two weeks, I've read two articles that have really upset me. The first one said that people bearing products and/or logos of Olympic GamesTM sponsors would be allowed inside the venues in which events were held, but that people bearing products and/or logos of non-sponsors would be forced to dispose of them or otherwise hide them. As a simple example, if you wear a Coca-Cola shirt to the soccer stadium, you'll be allowed in because Coca-Cola is a sponsor. If you wear a Pepsi shirt, you'll be asked to wear it inside-out or else be turned away. Personnel inside the venues are monitoring spectators as well in case someone slips through or (gasp!) turns their shirt back out the right way once inside. The second article said that because of a sponsorship contract with the U. S. Olympic CommitteeTM, all American athletes must wear an Adidas branded outfit when they accept medals on the podium.
This presents several (hopefully) fairly obvious problems for me. First of all, there's the insane notion that the Olympic GamesTM is an event where all types of people--black, white, man, woman, young, old, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, communist, socialist, democratic, capitalist, whatever--can come together in peace, except for those damn Pepsi drinkers! Second of all, I'm more than a little curious what would happen if an athlete refuses to go along. What would happen if Jim Bob on our Olympic foosball team decides that he's got to have a cool Mountain Dew before his gold medal match, or (more likely) he has a lucrative deal with Nike to promote their new Air Pong line of sneakers? Would Jim Bob be told that he couldn't play? Are we really going to change our motto from "Faster, Higher, Stronger," to "Those who are corporately approved to compete?" It's funny how those Romanian girls aren't forced to wear any logos, yet still manage to win gold medals, isn't it? Maybe the U. S. Olympic Committee could learn a lesson: It's not about what logos are on the outside, it's about what guts and heart are on the inside.
Next on my hit list of things that are world-record screwed up with the Olympic gamesTM is this concept of exclusive broadcast rights for the events. Basically it goes like this: NBC paid a big wad of cash so that it and only it can show any events here in the United States. NBC doesn't show us Olympic ping pong, which I would kind of like to watch. What if ESPN wanted to show Olympic ping pong--a sport that NBC isn't going to show anyway? No can do, they would get sued. What if I wanted to watch the women's gymnastics live before I read the results in the paper the next day? No can do, NBC has decided that such a big event will be time delayed for best Nielsen ratings, so I am forced to watch it after I already know the inevitable conclusion. End result? Boooooring, and anything I or anyone else wants to do about it is illegal.
This has led to two silly circumstances already. The first one related to our northern friends, the Canadians. Television stations in Canada broadcast most of the events live so that if someone did want to watch women's gymnastics at 3:00 in the morning, they could. Then, of course, they would rebroadcast the big events when everyone else could watch, too. Canadian citizens got the best of both worlds and a lot of choice in how they wanted to see the events. Unfortunately, though, we in the United States don't get that same choice or privilege. Beginning four years ago with the Sydney Olympic GamesTM, when NBC did not air any live footage of the games, and continuing now with the Athens Olympic GamesTM, NBC warned people that if they try to get the broadcast in any other manner than over-the-air antenna (for example, by satellite), NBC would sue them. NBC's chairman of sports Dick Ebersol said, "Who in their right mind would tell us to put finals on from 4 to 7 a.m.?" Uh, that would be us, the customers, Dick. (Article at CNN)
The second silly circumstance is that sites offering coverage of the Olympic GamesTM on their Web sites are being required by the International Olympic Committee to block visitors from the United States from accessing that coverage. The end result is that many Web surfers in Great Britain will have better access to watch the Olympic GamesTM than television viewers here in the Unites States. (Article on Wired) Thanks, NBC, and especially thanks, International Olympic Committee, for trivializing and commoditizing what was once the biggest sporting event in the world, and allowing our coverage of that event to be worse than any other civilized country's.
I've got a few other gripes that have been bothering me for a few years, such as staggering the summer and winter games so that the Olympic GamesTM only happens every two years now instead of every four (yet another IOC money grab at the expense of the prestige of the games), the doping scandals that continue to plague the games, and so forth, but these are very minor and, until the other problems are addressed, inconsequential.
I hope that someday, the IOC regains a little bit of sanity and the Olympic GamesTM once again is restored to the former glory and excitement of the old days of the real Olympic Games. But now that the IOC has tasted the money behind mass commercialization, I'm not holding my breath. I suspect that they will continue to milk the cash cow until all dignity is gone, because "Faster, Higher, Stronger" will never be as appealing to the pocketbook as "More, more, more."