Despite the severe restrictions adopted as a result of the Covid pandemic, the Summer Olympics are now underway in Tokyo. In the next few days we will undoubtedly see many impressive athletic achievements. but as prominent British sportscaster David Goldblatt explains in a recent guardian Article, the Olympics also have a dark side, most of which predate the current pandemic:
The Empty seats in the stadiums of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are a blessing in disguise, as the sporting spectacle, good as it may be, will not be able to dispel the fact that this super-spreader event takes place in the midst of a public health crisis. without precedents. Y against wishes of the vast majority of the Japanese public… ..
It’s not that these Games and the IOC’s position weren’t deeply flawed before the pandemic. As in all Olympics, costs have skyrocketed and Japan will have to rack up more than $ 30bn (£ 22bn), of which the IOC will not pay a penny. Along the way there has been the usual combination of expensive white elephant stadiums, corruption allegations in the bidding process and in assignment of contracts, and the forced eviction of citizens from their homes.
Paris, Los Angeles and now Brisbane are signed up to host the next three Summer Olympics, and the IOC continues to argue that their Games catalyze economic growth and leave a positive urban and sporting legacy. Still the investigation is unequivocal: With the exception of Barcelona 1992, no modern game has increased the economic growth rate, skill and employment levels, tourist income or productivity of the host city.
As Goldblatt points out, these problems are not unique to the Tokyo games. Almost all involve large losses of public funds, forcibly extracted from taxpayers. These losses almost always exceed the associated economic gains. Previous Olympic Games in countries such as China, Russia and Brazil have presented a much higher forced displacement of people from their homes, including the extraordinary total of 1 million sent off only for the 2008 Beijing games. Compared to that, Eviction of about 200 families in Tokyo it seems modest in comparison. Still, it’s hard not to be moved by the story of a Japanese who was first kicked out of his home for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and then again, now in deep old age, for this year’s Games.
I am a huge sports fan. But no sporting event deserves so many tragedies, multiplied hundreds or thousands of times, as happens too often.
On top of that, many Olympics are propaganda showcases for brutal authoritarian and totalitarian states that harbor them. Examples include Nazi Germany in 1936, the Soviet Union in 1980, Russia in 2014 and China in 2008, and the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics.
I don’t agree with all of Goldblatt’s criticisms of the game. But these three are backed by overwhelming evidence.
However, unlike Goldblatt, I don’t think the best remedy for these ills is to abolish games altogether. Instead, future Olympics should be required to follow three simple rules:
- Without public subsidies. Let the games be financed exclusively by private organizations and sponsors, as was largely the case. for the successful 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. That way, no one has to pay for the games except those who benefit from them and the audience that voluntarily chooses to watch them.
2. No forced displacement of residents, private companies or civil society organizations. We can and must hold sporting events without expelling innocent people from their homes.
3. Lack of lodging rights for authoritarian human rights violators. There are many possible Olympic venues that are not controlled by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Denying these types of rulers hosting rights will not fundamentally alter their regimes. But at least it will damage their image and deny them propaganda victories.
I outlined these reforms in greater detail in a 2016 post, written at the time of the last Summer Olympics. Most recently, I advocated boycotting or moving the next 2022 Winter Olympics, currently scheduled to take place in China under the aegis of one of the most oppressive governments in the world.
These reforms will not be easy to achieve. But the same is even more true of Goldblatt’s proposal to abolish games altogether.
Sadly, none of these ideas are likely to be embraced by the notoriously corrupt International Olympic Committee. Time and again, the IOC has shown that it is willing to tolerate almost any injustice, as long as the organization and its leaders benefit.
But the United States and other liberal democracies can easily force these reforms simply by making them a condition for future participation in the games. Without the involvement of the US and its allies, the IOC’s revenue would plummet, as the value of broadcasting rights drops dramatically.
The question is whether the United States and other Western governments have the political will to do what needs to be done. In that regard, I am far from optimistic, especially regarding the near future. However, the injustices associated with games are becoming more and more known. There is a growing international movement to relocate or boycott the 2022 games. To avoid depriving athletes of the opportunity to complete, I have suggested the idea of running competitive games located in a liberal democracy that already has the necessary facilities, such as Canada. In recent years, more and more cities have refused to bid on accommodation rights, as public awareness of high costs increases.
Reforming the Olympics will continue to be an uphill struggle. But, as awareness of the problem increases, the prospects for at least some degree of success are now greater than before.