COLUMN: Olympics should go back to roots and stay in the same place

Games should contribute to building a peaceful and better world

By Duck Paterson

In just over two weeks we are going to be privileged to see what is supposed to be the coming together of all nations and people to promote the three values of the Olympics — excellence, friendship and respect. They constitute the foundation on which the olympic movement builds its activities to promote sport, culture and education with a view of building a better world. If only it were true! What started in 776 B.C. in Greece, is totally different in today’s world.

Unfortunately, it really looks like the direction of the Olympics is bigger, better and costlier. It’s gotten to where the venue is more important than the athletes. Up until 1985, the games were “restricted” to amateur athletes. The assembled amateurs of all nations in fair and equal competition. We all know that this really was not the total truth. In 1971 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eliminated the word amateur from the Olympic Charter. For years many countries were sending athletes to the games that are anything but amateur. They are in various military institutions, represent companies as “spokespersons,” the country they represent gives them a stipend and there are other incentives to try and have winners. Even countries whose athletes make it to the podium pay their winners according to the medal they won. Canada pays $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze, according to CTV News.

This would be fine if the athletes were strictly amateurs, but they’re not and for many, the money from winning a medal is peanuts compared to what they make as professionals. The Oxford Olympics Study 2016 found that, since 1960, sports-related costs for the Summer Games were on average US$5.2 billion and for the Winter Games $3.1 billion. As of 2016, costs per athlete were, on average, US$599,000 for the Summer Games and $1.3 million for the Winter Games; for London 2012, the cost per athlete was $1.4 million and the figure was $7.9 million for Sochi 2014. The IOC has needed to adapt to a variety of economic, political and technological advancements. The abuse of amateur rules by the Eastern Bloc nations prompted the IOC to shift away from pure amateurism, to the acceptance of professional athletes participating in the games. The growing importance of mass media has created the issue of corporate sponsorship and general commercialization of the games.

But all that aside, the real issue for the Olympics, is the cost for the host country and why they would want to host them. Countries have invested massive sums to create the necessary infrastructure. Costs spiralled to over $50 billion for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, $20 billion for 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and $13 billion for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. There has been debate, going on for years, whether hosting the Olympics is good for the city/country or not. It surely brings attention, visitors, an influx of cash and other stuff that might be a good thing, so now weigh that against the cost of all these new arenas, tracks, etc then add security and the added infrastructure and does it come out to a wash? Or is it a drain on the taxpayer?

So how can we keep the Olympics the worldwide spectacle they have and should always be…. Take them back to Athens, Greece and leave them there. Along with that give them back to the amateur athletes, which will be the toughest of both decisions, but it’s what they truly should be.

With the games being held in the same location all the time, the cost for all the infrastructure should be minimal. All participating countries should pay an entry fee of whatever million dollars so that everybody has a stake in the games. There would be no “race” to see who could do bigger, better, or more elaborate, it would be focused on the athletes not the spectacles. Once all the structures are built then it would be just a maintenance issue and that would be the “entry fee” for each set of games. In the off years the facilities can be used for training purposes for athletes of any country that wishes to use them and they pay a rental. The extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies can still be held, but do we really need all the other glitzy facilities when the activities inside them will be the same from games to games?

Take the Olympics back to what they were truly intended for, to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating amateur athletes through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.