The Olympics Games have long been the golden standard of international sport. The modern Olympic Games has a rich hundred year history dating back to the opening of the Athens games on the 6th of April 1896 (The Organisation, 2017). At it’s peak, the Olympic Games were used by developing countries to announce their presence on the international level. A clear example of this is the Olympic Games hosted in Beijing, China in 2008 (Grix, 2013). The ability for a nation to attract THE mega sports event speaks volumes to that countries influence on the international stage. In addition, the opportunity to present the best a country can offer under the intense media scrutiny can make or break perceptions. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to attract host cities. Environmental and economic concerns have been cited as key factors in the lack of host bids (Ludacer, 2018). As posed by the narrator of the video above; are we witnessing the death of the Olympics?
Many different approaches have been suggested. The approach that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken is to promote sustainability. Similarly, FIFA and Formula One have also attempted to “go green” (Miller, 2016). However, mega events such as these are inherently damaging the environment. The 2014 FIFA World Cup brought “three and a half million tourists, which amounted to 84% of emissions associated with the Finals” (Miller, 2016). Another environmental concern is the creation of stadiums and event sites. Similar to the golf industry, the IOC has created policies to minimize the environmental effects of hosting (Millington and Wilson, 2016 & IOC Sustainability Strategy, 2017) While plans are in place, the practical application is abysmal. Mount Gariwang was deforested to create Jeongseon Alpine Ski Centre (Swain, 2018). Theoretically, the strategy put forward by the IOC can reduce the environmental impact of the Games, the reality is that the games will continue no matter the cost. However, sustainability requires resources and revenue that host cities are not getting. How can the IOC expect results when they are taking an increasingly larger cut of revenue
Zimbalist takes a different approach. He believes that changes need to be made to the bidding system (Zimbalist, 2015). The process of hosting such events no longer makes economic sense for the cities. Zimbalist further illustrates this point by stating that the London Olympics of 2012 brought in USD3.5 billion in revenue but spent USD18 billion. Finally, he proposes that the bidding process be eliminated altogether and be replaced by two permanent host city for the Summer and Winter Olympics (Samuelson, 2018). Though this approach will eliminate the economic concerns building infrastructure, the environmental concerns remain the same. Millions of tourists will flood the host city to partake in this mega sporting event. In addition, the opportunity for countries to exhibit their cultures and advances is eliminated. Does choosing a permanent host city change the dynamic of the Olympic Games in a negative way?
With these suggestions in mind, I suggest a radical reform of the Olympic structure. Nowhere in the fundamental principles of Olympism does it require the IOC to physically host the sports it promotes (Olympic Charter, 2017). Thus I propose that the Olympics disband the formal event known as the Olympic Games and focus on the oversight of international sport organizations like FIFA and the IHF. These large organizations inherently host their own international competitions that are also linked with the Olympic Games. If the FIFA world cup is the pinnacle of the sport, it is rather redundant to host a similar tournament that limits countries from putting forward their best athletes. By eliminating redundant tournaments a pure focus on sport, fair play, and the social and political benefits of the game can become the focus and driving force of the IOC.
This solution brings forward both pros and cons. First, the reduction in the number of events minimizes the financial costs needed to fund the entire operation. It would become the sole responsibility of the IOC to plan and implement single sport tournaments for all sports. This would leave the individual sport governing bodies to solely focus on the actual sport itself. In addition, the IOC can target major cities that already have infrastructure in place to host these tournaments. This would greatly reduce costs on the host city and would incentive cities to host in order to boost tourism. By targeting these cities, the environmental damage that would be caused creating new infrastructure is eliminated. Furthermore, the fact that these tournaments are no longer multi sport mega events would also decrease the amount of overall fanfare and as a result less emissions from travel. With the focus shifting to tournaments focused on a single sport, the scheduling can align with off-seasons of professional leagues. The Olympics seek to promote sport and competition; there is no better way to do this than to allow the most talented athletes compete and represent their countries (The Organisation, 2017). It is fair to say that the lack of NHL players at the Pyeong Chang was a major story line and was a factor in my own personal lack of interest. By allowing the best players to compete, the sport is brought back to the root of competition and love for the game. By focusing purely on the sport, the goal to oppose exploitation of athletes and sports is also achieved. Some could argue that the large cuts of revenue that the IOC is taking from TV rights is exploiting the hosts cities for the IOC’s own financial gain. Finally, by eliminating one mega event, the individual sport tournaments would fulfill the void left by the Olympics and become the status symbol the Olympics were. The FIFA World Cup is a large event that parallels the interest in the Olympic Games. Other sports can achieve this level of interest with the cooperation of professional leagues. The annual IIHF World Championships occur during the NHL playoffs thus reducing the talent available. By solely focusing on the schedule of one sport, the championship tournaments can be played with the maximum talent available. Purely focusing on the sport will allow tournaments to elevate the sports reputation and continue to grow individual sports globally. Due to the elimination of the Olympics the term sport would be viewed more generally. There is current debate on whether certain activities are considered sport, arguments are made due to the sports inclusion in the Olympics. This devalues the integrity of activities like eSports, darts, lacrosse, and baseball.
Though this approach may provide benefits for the host cities and the sports themselves, potential issues arise from this radical change. The Olympics have become a sacred tradition for some. The thought of travelling to different countries and learning their culture all while cheering on your own nation is an appealing vacation. Change will always be met with resistance and this suggestion is no exception. Cancelling the Olympics for single sport tournaments would also require restructuring the IOC entirely. This would include the elimination of the National Olympic Committee; the group that currently decides which cities may apply to host the Olympics (The Organisation, 2017). While this may eliminate corruption and bribery that has become all too familiar with the organization; restructuring such a large organization would require months or even years of planning (Jennings, 2011). Finally, a negative result would be the coverage of sport. The Olympics creates a platform for lesser viewed sport to be thrust into the spotlight. Curling and luge would be hard pressed to compete for air time if not for extensive Olympic coverage. While this may not affect global sports like soccer and basketball, lesser known sport may struggle to remain internationally relevant. Radical change will always be met with scepticism but the issues remain. A course of action that is able to remedy host city concerns and fight corruption within an organization should be explored.
Today there is no plans to change the Olympic formula. However, changes must be made to ensure that host city concerns are addressed. The IOC has been resistant to change and has instead promised to focus on sustainability and promoting legacies. While the Vancouver 2010 Olympics was able to create infrastructure that is still used today, the same cannot be said for subsequent Olympics (Knowlton, 2017). Cities are already taking action against hosting Olympics as seen by the No Boston Olympics movement (Zimbalist, 2017). The continued opposition will only lead to detrimental perception of the Olympics as an event. By delaying action, the IOC is in effect going against it’s own agenda to “promot[e] sport and competitions through the intermediary of national and international sports institutions worldwide” (The Organisation, 2017). Collaborative work must be done with the IOC and international sports associations to identify a course of action that will continue the goals identified by the Olympic Charter. The Olympic Games remain the gold standard of sport but that may not remain true for much longer.
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