The great distraction of the Olympic Games

Warning: I'm aware that the vast majority of my readers will not enjoy this article, seeing as people often do not enjoy what they disagree with, and my readers, mostly being my friends and acquaintances - all love sports. However, as always, I write regardless. Please do share this article and comment if you feel the compulsion!

As I write this, the Olympics is drawing to its conclusion; the media frenzy fizzing out like flat cola. I have just finished reading a brilliant piece in The Atlantic titled How Much Longer Can the Olympics Survive? which struck a chord with me and highlighted many of the woes that I feel are present in the international games and that of other renowned contests.

Those who know me well understand, and are continuously baffled by, my total disregard of sport - whether televised or live. I simply have no interest in watching it. I've often pondered why this is. Like, I should really try to figure out why I don't conform to this universal engrossment that people hold. As if I'm some sort of freak lacking the Sports Gene - and not the kind that Epstein was referring to.

I think people find it all the more peculiar as I'm somebody that thoroughly relishes physical activity, and in years past have enjoyed playing sports. Truly, being active, enjoying the wonder of movement, is a core of my being. I simply do not care to watch others do so.

I do appreciate the vast array of positives associated with participating in sports. They provide communities with a reason to connect, they teach children rules for life and discipline, they provide a physical outlet for pent-up adults dealing with the stresses of home life. I suppose I'm just not a "watcher", if you will, and struggle to understand why others are.

I once took solace, when reading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, from a passage in which the great Emperor is thanking all of his influences;

"From my tutor, not to have sided with the Greens or the Blues [at the Chariot races] or the gladiators with the long shields or the short ones..."

Reading this was the first time I realised I wasn't so bizarre for not getting caught up in the madness and tribal nature of team sports and competition after all! Marcus was acknowledging the folly in such behaviours and feelings. Even back then, 2000 years ago, when most Romans were enjoying their bloodsports in the Colosseum, some people, including the sitting Emperor of Rome himself, were aware of the futility of such competition.

Sports competitions have always been used as a distraction for the masses, as well as providing them with emotional purgation from their stressful lives; just as the Romans had Gladiatorial contests, we have the Olympics and numerous other highly publicised competitions. The Olympics, however, is the pinnacle of the guise and the public is all too willing to imbibe it freely through the television screen.

Of course, you might contest that I am being melodramatic or writing hyperbole - and you might be correct. Indeed, I'm willing to debate with you (in the comments section if you dare 😉 ).

Surely the Olympics is all in good spirits, all for a good cause, right? Don't I care at all about human progress, excellence, and potential? Don't I wish to see a man run one-hundredth of a second faster than that of another man four years prior? Aren't I aware that the Tokyo Olympics has the greatest gender parity to date, as well as the most sports!?

According to this Washington Post article, published back in May 2021, the Olympics needed to go ahead because "the world needs an example that life can be normal again". Whatever that means. 🤔

Brigid Delaney, the ever cheerful public-diary-keeper, hailed the Olympics as a saviour that has prevented Australians from "tearing each other apart" during its most recent lockdown. Well, the lockdown persists, Brigid, so we shall see if there is an increase of blood-spattered shop walls and stray limbs clogging up the storm drains.

No doubt, the Olympics has a lot of fans. Like any mass spectacle, we rarely hear a contrarian point of view or are enlightened as to the negatives of such events - of which there are many. If one considers the true nature of competitions such as the Olympics a little more closely, the reality might be just as sinister as I am making it out to be.

When I watch the Olympics, or should I say scrutinise the medal tally, the first thing that strikes me is the type of countries that are leading. The leading countries, have always been, and continue to be, world superpowers (the United States), those vying to be a superpower (China), or ex-superpowers (Russia, the UK and its previous colonies/territories including Australia).

Although some nations perform exceptionally well in specific arenas, for instance, the Kenyans in the running disciplines, or the Jamaicans in sprinting; there is an obvious lack of competitiveness from most countries in most other sports. The answer for this is simple of course - the majority of countries simply do not have the economic means to doss around spending frivolously on what is completely redundant to survival.

Billions of humans alive today, many of whom may well have the genetic material to excel at a given sport if it could be chronically nurtured, are unable to even consider competing at a world level because the resources in their home nation do not exist. I am not saying this means all other countries should throw in the towel out of unity (like that would ever happen!) but what I am trying to make clear is that the Olympics is a rigged system from the ground up.

The Olympics' true function is to showcase the might of the most powerful nations. Do not be fooled - this is first and foremost a political event. It is a battlefield in which the winners take home medals instead of scalps. Egotistical, dominant nations such as the United States are willing to pump in billions to make sure they quash their adversaries, particularly vying for power against their traditional archenemy, Russia, and their more recent foe, China. I'm not going to bother touching on the scandalous nature of Russia's state-sponsored athlete doping, as it's well known and too involved for this piece.

China and Russia came second and fifth in the medal tally respectively; autocratic, corrupt regimes which are rife with poverty and highly unequal societies - but have the cash lying around to pour millions into their athlete programs. The USA, too, has a society with massive disparity between its rich and poor, but again deems competitive sport on the world stage too good an opportunity to flaunt its power.

Furthermore, if the mass prodigality of sending athletes to compete wasn't harmful enough - hosting the Olympics itself is a ludicrously expensive endeavour, a burden which many cities and nations are willing to bear given the opportunity. Most cities that host the Olympics lose money in the process - this happens even when tourists and spectators are able to attend.

The Sydney Summer Olympics, for example, had a net loss of $2 billion and the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 likewise had a net loss of $2 billion (yes, this is the same Rio that is riddled with favelas, investing in which is clearly of less importance than throwing a big party).

Financial extravagance and national amour propre aside, why do we really care who runs quicker than whom, when the world is facing so many existential threats simultaneously? Look, dear reader, I really am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you weren't already aware, this most recent Olympics games were held, quite controversially, during a global pandemic at great cost to most nations, while also in a period of increasing climate instability.

We also don't seem terribly concerned that China will be next to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing. I mean, it's China, what else must I say?! How about the ongoing genocide?

Brisbane, a city that gets notoriously hot during the Queensland summer will host the Olympics in 2032. How much hotter will it be in 2032? Australia only recently had its worst bushfire season on record. Is it really appropriate to prioritise exuberant expenditure on the Olympics in the context of what is without a doubt environmental collapse? Is the Olympic illusion of human ingenuity, power, and scientific advancement too persuasive to ignore? Maybe the consensus is that we might as well just go out with a bang?

Let's not forget - the Olympics is a business. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) exists to promote the Olympic Games across the world and it isn't afraid to cosy up to autocratic regimes like China. According to an article in The Atlantic, an IOC spokesperson attested to the fact that they must "remain neutral on all global political issues" which apparently includes genocide; although this protocol to keep mum "does not mean that the IOC takes a position with regard to the political structure, social circumstances, or human rights standard in [the] country.”

Ultimately, one does not bite the hand that feeds, right?

Naturally, this is a mammoth topic; one that can be debated, prodded, poked, and picked apart for hours. I am merely writing to give my readers a different perspective (granted, quite superficially) on the nature of the Games. Call me Theodosius if you will; I merely contend that it would be far more beneficial for humanity to put away its arms and its athletes of war and to instead focus on collaborating on the pressing problems which we face. I don't envision us achieving these ends by wasting resources on figuring out which country has the greatest horse sorcerer, stick poker, water dancer, or projectile pitcher.