The Olympics: Time for Change

Conversation, sport

In light of the Olympics going on for the past two weeks and myself being a massive supporter, I’ve decided to blog about this and go off the educational route this week.  I wanted to reflect on the Olympics now that they have ended and share my feelings about it all.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympics. Being half Greek, I grew up learning about its inception.  We Greeks are a proud bunch in general, but the Olympics have a special place in our hearts.  We are the first nation to enter the stadium in the Olympics, always!  We are the founders, so it stands to reason that some courtesy be given, otherwise most ignorant people would think that some evil band of corporate elites started it all and as a result, have a monopoly on the whole scheme, which helps them rake in cash in the gazillions!  Thankfully, only the few believe that, and the rest lie somewhere in between.

I love the Olympics though, who wouldn’t? Nations come together and meet in one place, not to talk politics, wage wars, or sign business deals but to compete in sport.  In a wide range of sports and recreational activities actually, to pay respect to the top persons of that discipline.  It’s a kind of recognition and redemption for the ones who compete.  There’s so much preparation and sacrifice that goes into being an Olympian that when you reach the pinnacle, emotions inevitably run high.  All of the participants have spent hours, days, months, years preparing for an opportunity to represent their country and rise to the top in the world.  The world is watching so here’s your chance. Holy shit, that is some intense stuff right there.  You can see it on the faces of the winners, there is pure emotion there, out in the open for all to see.  There is a reason for that.  Pride for all, vindication for most, redemption for some, relief for a few.  Most of them don’t take for granted how impossible the odds were, but somehow they managed to overcome them.  How many can say that about anything? I mean anything at all.  I certainly can’t.

I remember attending the Athens 2004 Olympics, it was of the most spectacular events I have ever attended.  Most people have memories of a great concert with friends, music festivals, or a great match, mine is of the Athens games.  Never have I been in a stadium full of people from across the world, gathered in the same place, to cheer for their nation, their nation’s athlete(s) and sport.  The atmosphere is electric and the scene is absolutely beautiful.  Win or lose the stadium is always buzzing and everyone is enjoying the spectacle.  How many events bring nations and people together like that? The World cup does I suppose, but it’s only one sport.  I remember leaving the Olympic stadium feeling privileged to have experienced it, grateful to be a part of the atmosphere of cheering for the athletes and signing along with everyone in the stadium, regardless of skin color, religion, or nationality. Awesome.

But now, 12 years later everyone knows that many of those venues are abandoned and in ruins, the modern Greek ruins which have accompanied the ruins of a country that 12 years ago was standing as proud hosts and now has shrank in the shadows with generations to be lost in the aftermath of an economic meltdown.  I know now looking back that with the current Olympic hosting model, Greece had no business hosting those games, that cost billions of dollars while its own citizens struggle to make ends meet.  Now in Brazil we can see the same thing repeating itself and I believe that the structure of how we host the Olympiad needs a drastic makeover.  And now is when I go into my little rant for this week’s blog post…

I mean let’s be honest, the Olympics have become a money making scheme for the elites to make obscene amounts of it (money) while citizens struggle to make a living for themselves.  Let’s not also ignore the means these host cities are using to build the infrastructure necessary to host the games.  Unfortunately, it’s not the infrastructure that the host nation’s people desperately need, but sporting facilities instead, which will inevitably never be used again, at the tax-payer’s expense of course.  It’s ugly and sad, and frustrating to admit it, but there is no sugar-coating it any longer.  Surely, there must be a better way, a sustainable approach that doesn’t require such extravagant amounts of money to be wasted like this.  Make no mistake, that even rich nations like China, Russia and Qatar who will be hosting world cups and/or Olympics already spend these enormous sums at the expense of its citizens.  The locals don’t feel, see or experience the improvements the infrastructure projects supposedly bring.  I personally believe that it is just a show of force by such countries, including Greece and Brazil saying: ‘Hey look at us! We are big time, don’t mess with us!’  Nonsense that completely contradicts the spirit of the Olympics.

So what’s the answer? I shouldn’t be blogging about this if I don’t at least offer a solution right? Well, that seems fair.

I was thinking that numerous countries and cities can host the Olympics and the World Cup.  In the case of the Olympics you can award certain events in specific cities only.  Cities that may even already have the facilities built and up to modern standards to host an Olympic event.  How freaking hard is that?  If we want the Olympics to be in South America, so have numerous countries host specific events.  Obviously one city will have to host the Athletics and the opening ceremony in an Olympic stadium, and that would be on a rotational basis, taking into consideration, economics, infrastructure, weather etc. Boom! We are done here.  I don’t see the problem with that.  The bottom line is we should be striving for sustainability more than anything else and not sacrificing at the expense of millions who need proper water sewage installed, or a public transport system that gets them to work within the hour not three.  These are basics that citizens of host nations live without while their countrie’s politicians get kickbacks and corporate elites make a killing.

What saddens me is how there’s been all this controversy in Brazil, with regards to the Olympics and the World Cup, and right now even the Maracana stadium in Rio sits half empty during track and field events that would fill a stadium to the brim in Europe.  What a damn shame that is.

It’s not hard to see below the surface of the sea in Greece.  But until you look below the surface the details are still a bit blurry.  We may love the Olympics and value it’s spirit but at whose expense and pain? And inevitably, when we make it all about the money, what are we saying to the everyday citizens who lack proper health care, sanitation, transport and economic security? What’s the message when we hold a double standard with regards to doping, or hosting?  Is that the Olympic spirit? It’s bull is what it is and something needs to change.  Will it ever though? I hope so, because if you watched any of the events over the past 2 weeks you would have seen some remarkable achievements by athletes who can really inspire and create  some of the most unforgettable moments in sport, or competition in general, while becoming Olympians.  Anyone who has ever competed knows how hard it can be.  So forget about football, or all those professional sports where athletes make millions like the owners do, stop looking for role models there, and actually watch the Olympic divers, runners, gymnasts, swimmers or anyone else in any discipline and prepare, to be amazed! At least until the lights of the Olympic closing ceremony go off, then be amazed at the ruins left behind.

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