The Day the Olympics Gained the World and Lost Its Soul; for Gold
The London 2012 games are delivered by two key organisations – the London 2012 Organising Committee and the Olympic Delivery Authority. The staging of the games and the delivery of the long-term benefits are supported by the London 2012 stakeholders, founders and commercial partners. Despite all the pomp and pageantry that went with the opening ceremony, a lot of criticism has been levied against the organising committee. If the motto of the London games “inspire a generation” is anything to go by, you would be forgiven to think that the 2012 games was the people’s games. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)
The opening ceremony was widely received with a lot of positive feedback; so much so that it was dubbed the “cultural Olympiad”. More than 16 million people took part in or attended the ceremony and over 169,000 people attended 8,300 workshops. With 3.7 million people taking part in nearly 3,700 open weekend events and with 2,500 cultural projects, it is easy to see why many have come to expect an Olympic festival that is for the people and by the people. When the city of London placed its bid to host the 2012 sports bonanza, its promise among others, was to leave a lasting “legacy about what can be achieved through the inspiration and power of sport, using it as a catalyst for positive change”. Holding Olympic Games should be about evoking history.
The Olympic Games have been considered as a major international event in which thousands of athletes from over 200 countries participate. It is one of the few events were participation is not determined by creed, colour, race, political or economic persuasions. The spirit is neither the property of one race nor of age. It is the only event where the Davids and Goliaths meet on an equal footing. With its origin stemming way back from the 4th. Century, it is fair to say that it is the oldest international event that has stood the test of time. Many attribute the origin of the Olympics as primarily a part of a religious festival in honour of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. In ancient times, the games were so important that internecine wars were stopped by all warring parties to allow for participation. Even countries like Syria, Iraq, DRC, etc have found the time to send representatives in a time of civil strife. By so doing, the games did not only become a symbol of peace and harmony whereby enemies competed, but was also the earliest form of the modern day United Nations by default. . Even Adolf Hitler once said of the games, that “the battle awakens the best human characteristics. That it helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace and unites the combatants in understanding and respect”.
Since the resuscitation in 1896, the games have undergone a considerable evolution of its ethics. Originally, Olympians were strictly forbidden from receiving any kind of monetary reward from their sporting prowess. But we live in a different world now; where consumerism is the common premium currency. It will be utopian or near delusional to expect participants to take part and not expect rewards in this modern day games. Gone are the days when the concept was about taking part rather than the competition itself. Gone are the days when participation in the Olympic Games was the preserve of the amateur. In today’s games, the only sport in which only amateurs take part is boxing. The standards have been so diluted that it is not surprising to see an athlete win the Tour de France one week, and compete in the Olympic road race the next.
With so much money pumped into the games today, it is no longer what it used to be, as greed has been allowed to fester along the way. It is therefore not surprising that in their bid to outdo their counterparts, some athletes will do whatever it takes, including doping to achieve their ultimate dreams. Until 1972, the games had no sponsors or lucrative television deals. One of the reasons for resisting the inclusion of sponsorships was simply to help maintain the ability of the IOC to be independent. The absence of sponsorship also provided insulation from politicisation of the games. Sadly today, the IOC has not only become the high priest of negotiating its own sponsorship contracts, but has also become the fastest growing cash cow of the modern economy. Winning the bid to host the Olympics has now become one of the fiercest diplomatic arm wrestling events.
Today’s Olympic Games has seen a glut of sponsors all fighting for a share of the killing; in a bid to massage their commercial egos. Partners include McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Panasonic, British Airways, and Omega to name a few. Without prejudice, sporting activities and their respective participants are renowned for good and healthy eating habits. It is ironical that McDonalds a fast food conglomerate, though not renowned for healthy eating is one of the biggest sponsors of the games; proof that the games have become so diluted with corporate greed that such an entity will be in bed with such lofty ideals. For too long the world has failed to recognise that the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement is about fine athletics and fine art.
The question of corporate responsibility has long since gone out of the window. Having McDonalds sponsor a sporting event is so contradictory that the next generation will be forgiven to think that a meal from this hell hole is a form of steroid for success in sports. Like McDonalds, sponsors like coca-cola are all agents of the wrong message to the next generation, a generation that is expected to benefit from the legacy of the games. Having some of these corporations to sponsor the Olympic games is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas; or better still, asking foxes to vote for the welfare of the poultry family.
It is this greed that seems to be killing the Olympic spirit. In spite of the splendour of the opening ceremony, the games have been racked by criticisms of empty stadia and sporting venues. Notwithstanding the impact of the recession, and in spite of the austerity laden economic climate, families who are just too willing to part with their cash have found themselves “locked out” of the games. Tickets have been sold at sky rocketing prices, but even that has not dampened the people’s enthusiasm to purchase them. The irony is that, there are “tickets tickets everywhere but not a stub to buy”. Spectators have found themselves sitting by the river Thames but still wash their hands with spittle. This is thanks largely to the large amount of tickets that were allocated to the sponsors, who could not even bother to turn up for the events. The Olympic Games are for the world and all nations and everyone must be admitted.
What this demonstrates is an expose of the hypocrisy behind these companies that profess to be socially responsible. When the legendary Roy Keane of Manchester United once criticised the sandwich prawn eating brigade at Old Trafford, many thought that he was bonkers. We are now seeing the same unethical ethics permeating through the life blood of the Olympic games of 2012. The stadia have been devoid of any atmosphere and the nation is still struggling to be gripped by “Olympimania”, thanks to the IOC’s struggle to spread its ideal of fraternity, friendship, peace and universal understanding.
“While the Olympics was built on one set of ethics based around amateurism, enjoying of sports, taking part and nations coming together in a peaceful and pleasurable way, over time these “values” have evolved into cut-throat competitiveness and crass commercialism where unethical corporations who market themselves as socially responsible, whitewash their poor human rights and environmental justice records by sponsoring the games and raising their brand profile”. All that these corporate institutions have done is to hitch a ride on the backs of well meaning and genuine competitors without the least interest in what the games stand for. While masquerading as socially responsible, they have eroded every tenet of what made the Olympics the people’s sport.
The fiasco that has gripped the London 2012 Olympics, against the backdrop of its ethically calibrated opening ceremony, will be best remembered as the day consumerism and commercialism came of age, and took away the people’s games for good. If the lasting legacy was “about what can be achieved through the inspiration and the power of sport, using it as a catalyst for positive change”, then the London 2012 Olympics has failed dismally on that front. The hope is that:
While the commercial train is coming our way, two thousand years of history, cannot be wiped away so easily.
Keep the flames burning.
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