The highs and lows of Olympic fever

(August 25, 2004) – OLYMPIC GAMES can no longer stop wars as they did in ancient times, but they still capture the hearts and minds of the whole planet, bring entire nations to a standstill and send fans into frenzied delight or catatonic gloom as flags and fortunes rise and fall and the podium is the only place to be.

The winners are no longer awarded god-like status, but their names do go down in history, their legends live on and their example inspires the youngest generation of sporting talent sat before the TV set but dreaming of being on the track, field or swimming pool. Sadly, modern day athletes often becoming distorted deities; totems for the uncontrolled consumerism that is eating away at the noble foundations of the Olympic tradition.

A tragic example of this is the choice of Olympic venues, where the commercial, technological and marketing potential of competing countries is much more important than their sporting tradition, cultural attraction or the simple desire for geographical balance across the planet.

The extravagant investment needed to satisfy the ever more demanding appetite of the International Olympic Committee means increasing financial burdens for host countries. In other words it means debt, and lots of it. This debt is not always recompensed by the proceeds of the games, despite the fact that entrance fees increase every year, with tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies now going for between $200 and $1000. Has the world gone mad? Greece is one of the poorest countries in the European Union with the second lowest average income. How many “average” Athenians were at the opening ceremony? After spending an estimated $12 billion on the Games will Greece be left with a bill it cannot pay, a post-Olympic hangover that will take years to wear off?

And who is up there on the podium? The true champions to date are the Chinese, who are threatening the United States’ decade-long domination of the Olympics. The Chinese performance has just got better and better, from fourth in the medal ranking in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996 to third in Sydney 2000.

Japan, the other Asian medal machine is also soaring up the tables year after year going from a final 23rd in Atlanta to 15th in Sydney to her current third place. Quite the opposite is happening with Russia, who came first with a Unified Team in Barcelona but is currently in 6th place and threatened.

A great injustice is being perpetrated against Africa where Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Cameroon have all won gold medals but seem further than ever from been granted the opportunity to host an Olympic Games.

The Olympic ideal emphasizes taking part, not winning. This offers an important lesson to all of us outside the stadium. Although the Olympics no longer stop wars, these two weeks every four years provide the planet with an arena for rivalry without bloodshed and contest without casualties. Let’s hope this example lasts long after the medals are put away, the athletes return to their four corners of the globe and the Olympic flame is extinguished.

Editorial, Radio Havana Cuba

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