Olympics far from original ideals

A scene from the 1925 Workers' Olympics in Frankfurt
Stuart Moriarty-Patten

COLUMN

THE Olympic Games are here again and while it’s sold to us as a demonstration of peace, solidarity and the finest humans have to offer, it is often anything but, and in some ways it is a reflection of the very worst of society.

The modern Olympics was established with the highest ideals, and a desire to foster peace. Instead they have become little more than a display of nationalistic pride and flag waving by nations which co-opt the efforts of the athletes to further their own schemes.

The rich countries of the West also get the chance to reinforce their perceived superiority over the rest, as the Games are heavily weighted in their favour.

From the very beginning, the Games were set up by European elites and built on Western sports. Many non-Western countries have long histories of indigenous sports and games that were ignored and continue to be.

Furthermore most athletes, if they are to be successful on the global stage, require a fair amount of social and financial support for training, facilities and travel. This means that better-off countries usually do better.

For the Olympic Games to be genuinely open and fair, there would need to be vast improvements in health care and education for participants from low-income nations.

Not only is the Olympics an excuse for chest-thumping, it also represents the worst kind of gross commercialisation and exploitation.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) collects massive wealth from its product but, like all such multinational corporate institutions, the workers — in this case the athletes — get very little of the wealth they generate, while the executives at the top reap huge rewards.

The IOC stands to earn more than ever from this year’s Olympics as they take their share of revenues expected to be upwards of $US9 billion. Although they state that they plough 90 percent of revenues back into supporting athletes, many say the crumbs that eventually fall from the top table are not enough.

A recent study showed that just 6 percent of the money generated by the Olympics goes back to athletes as salaries. The reality for the average US athlete is a salary of $16,533, according to figures collected by The Washington Post. Those from many other countries receive less.

In New Zealand, there are probably just five New Zealand athletes who could make enough money from their sport to class themselves as professionals, according to Athletics NZ sport manager Brett Addison, while other athletes don’t receive nearly enough to live on.

While the athletes struggle to get by, at the top of the IOC sits a “volunteer” president, Thomas Bach, who gets an annual “allowance” of $US251,000 and lives rent-free in a five-star hotel in Switzerland.

Other IOC members also enjoy generous perks as well as getting cash for expenses at the rate of $450 per day for regular IOC members, and $900 per day for the IOC’s executive committee.

These rates also apply to the Games themselves, which means some IOC members will get paid more to watch the Olympics than most athletes will get paid to compete in Rio.

In the 1920s and 1930s there were a number “workers’ games”, which included Workers’ Olympics in Frankfurt (1925), in Vienna (1931) and Antwerp (1937). With a nascent movement in the USA and other countries to unionise athletics, perhaps one day we will see another and have an Olympic Games that will properly showcase the best of human endeavour and highlight mutual support over competition, solidarity over nationalism, and equality over crass commercialisation.

THE Olympic Games are here again and while it’s sold to us as a demonstration of peace, solidarity and the finest humans have to offer, it is often anything but, and in some ways it is a reflection of the very worst of society.

The modern Olympics was established with the highest ideals, and a desire to foster peace. Instead they have become little more than a display of nationalistic pride and flag waving by nations which co-opt the efforts of the athletes to further their own schemes.

The rich countries of the West also get the chance to reinforce their perceived superiority over the rest, as the Games are heavily weighted in their favour.

From the very beginning, the Games were set up by European elites and built on Western sports. Many non-Western countries have long histories of indigenous sports and games that were ignored and continue to be.

Furthermore most athletes, if they are to be successful on the global stage, require a fair amount of social and financial support for training, facilities and travel. This means that better-off countries usually do better.

For the Olympic Games to be genuinely open and fair, there would need to be vast improvements in health care and education for participants from low-income nations.

Not only is the Olympics an excuse for chest-thumping, it also represents the worst kind of gross commercialisation and exploitation.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) collects massive wealth from its product but, like all such multinational corporate institutions, the workers — in this case the athletes — get very little of the wealth they generate, while the executives at the top reap huge rewards.

The IOC stands to earn more than ever from this year’s Olympics as they take their share of revenues expected to be upwards of $US9 billion. Although they state that they plough 90 percent of revenues back into supporting athletes, many say the crumbs that eventually fall from the top table are not enough.

A recent study showed that just 6 percent of the money generated by the Olympics goes back to athletes as salaries. The reality for the average US athlete is a salary of $16,533, according to figures collected by The Washington Post. Those from many other countries receive less.

In New Zealand, there are probably just five New Zealand athletes who could make enough money from their sport to class themselves as professionals, according to Athletics NZ sport manager Brett Addison, while other athletes don’t receive nearly enough to live on.

While the athletes struggle to get by, at the top of the IOC sits a “volunteer” president, Thomas Bach, who gets an annual “allowance” of $US251,000 and lives rent-free in a five-star hotel in Switzerland.

Other IOC members also enjoy generous perks as well as getting cash for expenses at the rate of $450 per day for regular IOC members, and $900 per day for the IOC’s executive committee.

These rates also apply to the Games themselves, which means some IOC members will get paid more to watch the Olympics than most athletes will get paid to compete in Rio.

In the 1920s and 1930s there were a number “workers’ games”, which included Workers’ Olympics in Frankfurt (1925), in Vienna (1931) and Antwerp (1937). With a nascent movement in the USA and other countries to unionise athletics, perhaps one day we will see another and have an Olympic Games that will properly showcase the best of human endeavour and highlight mutual support over competition, solidarity over nationalism, and equality over crass commercialisation.

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John Fricker - 3 years ago
What a miserable person you are. Of course Brazil could have spent its money more wisely but it is now spent. All you and the rest of the world has to do is join with the Carioca and enjoy the Games. It will lift your spirits - sounds as if that could do you some good.

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