Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Lords of the Rings

It occured to me that I might be suspected of harboring undue cynicism towards the Olympics. But I don't. Not undue cynicism, anyway.

I've covered the Olympics. When I was with the now-defunct (though I'm sure that has nothing to do with my participation...right?) SportsFan Radio Network, I spent a week at the '96 Games in Atlanta hanging out with Gary Hall Jr., Amy Van Dyken and Janet Evans (who were America's Sweethearts that week, or at least America's sweethearts-in-waiting, right after Kerry Strug), and the rest of the U.S. Olympic swimming team. I was in Centennial Olympic Park the stirring morning it reopened. I questioned Jon Drummond about his infamous sit-down in the 100 meters. I watched the elder statesman of the '96 Games, Carl Lewis, cap off his legendary career. I sat down with Karch Kiraly, who was hailed like a rock star, after he won the first-ever gold medal in beach volleyball.

In other words, I'm not completely impervious to the supposed spirit of the Olympics. But there's just too much evidence on the other side to overcome my cynicism, despite my overwhelmingly positive experiences with these Olympians.

The fact is, the corruption and graft in the International Olympic Committe makes the United Nations look like a bridge club.

  • For years, there has been an officially sanctioned system of bribery in place for determining the host cities for the Olympics. In 1991, IOC officials demanded cash, jewelry, and other gifts from Toronto officials in return for hosting consideration for 1996. When it came out, the IOC looked the other way.
  • In 1999, one of the organizers of the Sydney Olympics admitted that he gave two different IOC officials $35,000 the night before they awarded Sydney the Olympics.
  • A member of the IOC since 1963 admitted that bribes of over a million dollars had been demanded from some potential host cities.
  • A Japanese newspaper discovered that the city of Nagano had spent over $6 million "entertaining" IOC officials in an effort to lure the Winter Olympics there.
  • Everyone remembers the Salt Lake City fiasco of 2002, when the city was discovered to have bribed IOC officials and their families, resulting in the resignation of the president of the Salt Lake Olympic committee, among others.
  • Juan Antonio Samaranch, the longtime, imperious head of the International Olympic Committee before his retirement in 2001, was previously a henchman to fascist Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who thankfully is still dead.
  • And, there's already evidence that under new "Mr. Clean" IOC president Jacques Rogge, the 2012 Games are already accepting bribes from potential hosts.
"But John," you might say, "none of this has anything to do with the actual competition!" Trust me, there's plenty of corruption there, too.

  • And, as always, there's manifold suspect judging in all the subjective events.
In short, the Olympics are what they are. If you find them entertaining, great. There are events I enjoy too. But don't give me any idealistic nonsense about the "Olympic movement" or the purity of the "Olympic ideal." Next to the corruption of the Olympics, the Teamsters look like the Salvation Army.

No comments: