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Olympics Have Become a Sham
Published on Wednesday, September 1, 2004 by the Toronto Star
Olympics Have Become a Sham
by Rhona Bennett

Diane Cummins, a Canadian runner who was eliminated from the 800-metre event in the 2004 Athens Olympics said, "the Olympics stand for friendship and for celebrating humanity."

Where did she get that idea?

Whatever the Olympics stood for in the past or in people's fond imagination, today it clearly stands for greed, destructive nationalism, political posturing, and corruption.

Sponsors of the Olympics, like big banks and soft drink companies, pay millions of dollars for the opportunity to ride on the world's most recognized symbol. They do this because it pays them to.

According to consultant Keith McIntyre of K. Mac. & Associates, linking a company with the Olympics logo can be worth $15 million to $30 million over an eight-year period, maybe up to $60 million when you factor in soft benefits that are not easily measured. Those are benefits for the businesses and their shareholders.

How much goes to create fitness programs or support athletes?

And now that sponsorship is going to be open to bidding for the next Olympics, the IOC, infamous for its policy of bribery and kickbacks made public during the Salt Lake City Games, will make even more money. So what does this exploitation have to do with helping athletes, Canadians, or international relations?

The idea of people from all over the world coming together to compete in sport is rather appealing until you focus on the word compete.

There is a long history of using the superiority of one team over another to demonstrate the superiority of one country or one political system over another.

At different times, nations have used the Olympics to boycott countries (South Africa), an entire Olympics (Moscow) or a person (the Israeli judoka at this year's Olympics).

A lot of people will think that using the Olympics to shame and to ostracize people and the countries they represent is right because they feel those countries deserve to be punished. Why are people in Athens booing the American basketball team? Are those players responsible for foreign policy? And what makes them so superior and gives them the right to judge?

Is there no racism in France or Saudi Arabia or Canada? Is there any place where cruelty, intolerance and greed are unknown? What does all this flag-waving and nation bashing have to do with friendship or humanity?

And then there is the matter of athletic performance. Who knows which achievements are bona fide? The ubiquity of performance-enhancing drugs which cast doubt on every record, the scandals, and disqualifications have lead to an atmosphere of suspicion.

What values do the Olympics truly represent? Win at any cost. Hard work and a good results are nothing actually shameful if they do not garner a medal. As if that weren't bad enough, the incidents of partisan judging, such as the Romanian judge who openly disregarded rules in order to award a medal to his countryman in the men's gymnastics event, are commonplace.

If the Olympics is where the world celebrates true excellence, how do people whose actions make a mockery of fairness get to be competitors and judges here? And exactly how does shaving 1/100 of a second off a race time benefit humanity?

Yes, friendship and humanity are ideals worth celebrating. So are strength, determination, achievement, health, fitness, co-operation and international understanding.

But that's not what the Olympic Games are about.

Rhona Bennett is a former member of the Star's community editorial board.

©Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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