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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/16/16

Why The Olympics Is More Politics Than Sports

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Admittedly, I kinda flip through channels to watch the 2016 Rio Olympics. That's because an international event that is supposedly all about athletic excellence, skill and showmanship, has become, not only indisputably corrupt since it's founding in ancient Greece, but is now an amalgamation of games and activities that have no place in the Olympics. Well, that's my view anywhere. From allegations of Russian athletes doping; the media's obsessive harping about the unsuitability of Brazil's capital Rio de Janeiro to host the event because of the Zika mosquito outbreak, and its seriously filthy waters and dirt-poor Favelas, the 2016 Olympics have been the stuff of controversy. Still, despite minor hiccups, the event went on and the opening day's pomp and ceremony certainly was above and over what the ancient Greeks could have done.

Sure, we're told that the Olympics are all about supreme athletic competitions, national pride for just "being there," and the international spirit of the event that is presumably devoid of politics -- just clean, healthy, wholesome athletic competition and fun. To that I say -- hogwash and frothy BS. Any, every and ALL modern Olympic games have been and always will be about big business AND big money. The spin that this is somehow about gamesmanship is just not true. It is simply an event packaged as entertainment that in turn drives money -- truckloads of it. In fact, host cities invest heavily in these games with the hope of realizing long-term tourism and other economic benefits down the road. For example, the Winter Olympics in Russia cost over $15 billion that's far out of the reach of so-called "developing countries" budgets who could barely afford the price tag to send their athletes to the 2016 event in Rio.

The United States media and television company, NBC, has secured the rights to broadcast the games for over $1 billion dollars that also gives the company a monopoly on showcasing and featuring almost exclusively the events in which Americans are competing. Not only Americans but WHITE Americans at that. NBC's coverage acts as if the United States owns the Olympics and is the venue to once more prove the myth of American exceptionalism in comparison to and in the face of other nations inferiority. When the U.S. basketball team hires a cruise ship to house the team what signal are we sending to the rest of the world? That we're better than them, richer then them, and therefore "entitled" to this kind of treatment? Frankly that attitude stinks.

You see that's where the politics of the games come in and try as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does to appear to be an organization divorced from politics, politics certainly gets in time and time again. Remember Jesse Owens in Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler? Remember the taking of Israeli athletes hostage to make a political statement? So let's simply just drop the pretense that the Olympics are just about athletics and sporting comaraderie.

For all of sixteen days, much of the world, especially the Western industrialized world, will be glued to television screens. I don't know about you but when I think of "sports" I sure as hell don't think about beach handball, or is it volley ball?, synchronized swimming and something called rhythmic gymnastics. What the hell are these "sports events" anywhere? True, the Olympics have the hurdles, cycling and sprints. But they also have a curious event called team dressage that in some form or fashion involves horses that you've never heard of before, I'm betting.

Then again, we all watched and saw the greatness of Jamaica's ace sprinter, Usain Bolt, as we've already got from the United States master swimmer, Michael Phelps. Which leads me this: If NBC et al are going to have us sit down and watch these things, perhaps now's as good a time as any to finally tackle the question, "What exactly makes something a bloody sport?"

Aha. No one, not even the IOC, it seems to have come up with a viable, clear-cut and definitive answer. So, I went and took a look at Merriam-Webster's Dictionary that offered up this: that a sport is "a source of diversion: a physical activity engaged in for pleasure." Admittedly, this does not exactly seem definitive; it's still very vague and open ended. To me, and I don't mean to be funny, by this definition and standard, drinking is a sport. So, for that matter, is coitus and cunnilingus. But I don't see them in he Olympics.

So I thought that I'd look at this question by putting on my amateur philosopher's hat. For starters I believe that we have to establish some form of yardstick, standard or rules for "something" to be classified as a sport. Let us therefore agree that soccer, American football, basketball and hockey are sports and gobbling down 30 hotdogs at Nathan's Annual Hotdog Eating Con test is not. Why? Well, I went back to Ole Merriam-Webster's Dictionary again for clarification. And I started from the premise that what links these "sports" is that they are "played" by athletes. Bada Bing! That's what links sports together -- athletes. For some activity to become a sport it has to have athletes.

Crap! Now I have to define exactly who or what is an athlete. Merriam-Webster, says that an athlete is "a person who is trained or skilled in exercises " requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina." Yep, that appears to be about right. Whoa, whoa there is however one key exception: The word or. Think about it, the athletes in the aforementioned sports possess--in varying degrees--strength, agility and stamina. Ergo, having just one of these qualities simply isn't enough. For you to be called an athlete you MUST have ALL of these qualities. Caramba! Unless, we plan on bestowing the title of "athlete" on construction workers, contortionists, and Beyonce we have a problem. I can assure you that I'm looking into this possibility, especially when it comes to Beyonce or Michael Flattery -- the King of the Dance.

But now I've gone and gotten myself in a real pickle of a philosophical situation! This Olympic thing is becoming ever so complicated. To play a sport you have to be an athlete. Seems fair enough. Therefore ALL sports must have athletes BUT not all athletes play sports. In the general sense of the term, gymnasts and figure skaters are athletes, but neither gymnastics nor figure skating are sports. So there has to be other yardsticks to measure this thing called sports. But what yardstick?

Got it! The way in which winners and losers are decided. The major sports all have one thing in common -- a quantifiable scoring system. A soccer game is decided on goals scored, a basketball game by most points made, baseball -- runs scored, and tennis points scored. These are OBJECTIVE CRITERIA -- winning and losing depends on the efforts of a team of athletes who display strength, skill, and stamina in scoring points. Gymnastics, synchronized swimming, equestrian activities, and figure skating rely on the combined, subjective scoring of a panel of scorers (judges) then there's some sort of average. By these standards are we going to next have ballroom dancing, dog and cat shows, and or Donald Trump's former showcase event, the Miss America Beauty Pageant as Olympic sports?

Relax. As The Donald would say - not going to happen. For the record I call these things creative activities competition. Yeah. Formula One Racing and NASC AR racing are not sports. They are competitions. You don't have to be an athlete to drive a car -- just get behind the damn wheel. Sure, things are not all cut and dried because there are some events and activities that fall between sport and competition. For example, you do not need to be an athlete to participate in target shooting -- you can be a 450Lb slob of an SOB and still be a great marksman. You can sit on a chair to do the thing if the effort of moving is too difficult for your football-sized heart.

Skateboarding? Oh heck, that's a sport? But don't get me wrong there are many activities that demand and call for great skill, dedication and long years of practice. But that does not mean they are sports. Of course, big, rich nations benefit the most from hosting the Olympics and politics plays a key role in who gets to host and other accompanying issues. For developing nations there are a number of reasons why NOT to host these showcase events that highlight and expose the large gaps between rich and poor nations AND rich and poor communities in host nations.

First is the cost and the fact that host nations do not recoup any returns on their investments (ROI). Then there are the many infrastructural challenges that disrupt entire communities permanently damaging and undermining the quality of life for residents whose communities are targeted for the various activities. Thirdly, this disruption is ALWAYS accompanied by human and civil rights violations. By destroying established urban areas local populations are dispersed and displaced. For example, in Beijing's 2008 Olympics a reported 1.5 million people were forcibly evicted from their homes with very little compensation.

In Rio the pre-Olympic eviction and displacement process was realized by the state's Police Pacification Units being dispatched to the city's favelas -- the poor districts of Rio. A number of world heritage sites were destroyed while Brazil's elites raked in more and more money with construction deals and post-Olympic games sweetheart contracts for more development projects like luxury condos and other high-priced real estate.

So yes, I'll look at the games. Knock back a few Coors Lites and forget who the hell won what.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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