The Other Problem With the Olympics

It happens every two years. People gripe about the Olympics. Corruption in the International Olympic Committee, doping scandals, and the like. They swear they aren’t going to follow them, and yet they keep an eye on the medal tables and whatever else the media tells them to pay attention to.

In and among their litany of complaints, they might mention how the Games have gotten too expensive for a city to host. The displacement of people, the disruption of everyday life for the residents, the oppressive security measures, the wasteful expenditures on facilities that will never turn a profit (as if making money was the only reason to host the Games).

They have a point. The Games have gotten rather expensive. But it’s not just inflation, or hosts trying to “one up” the previous games.

It’s that the Olympics have gotten too big.

Let’s look at the numbers. In 1988 – the first Games after we got all those stupid boycotts out of our system – the Summer Olympics in Seoul saw some 8,400 athletes competing in 237 events. The Winter Games in Calgary had 1,400 athletes in 46 events. In Rio, over 11,000 athletes are competing in 306 events. The bloat is even greater in the Winter Olympics. Sochi had over 2,800 athletes in 98 events – twice the numbers from Calgary. It’s become virtually impossible to take in all the events in all the sports.

It’s not just population growth producing more qualifying athletes.

Since 1990, over thirty countries have appeared on the globe. The breakups of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, island groups in the Pacific becoming independent, and civil wars in Africa have all created new nations. And as a matter of national pride, they all want to send teams to the Olympics.

New sports have been added. Snowboarding and freestyle skiing in the Winter Games and badminton and taekwondo in the Summer Games are all newcomers – with athletes and teams coming to participate. There are more and more events for women, too.

And it’s not just all the new athletes; each delegation needs to bring along coaches, trainers, judges, and other staff as well….

No wonder the Games have bloated to the point where only a great First World country – or a totalitarian dictatorship – can afford to host them.

A couple of easy solutions present themselves.

* Limit the number of athletes a country can send, or the number of events they can compete in. There already are such limits; the call here is to increase them.
*Tighten up the scores / times / whatever that are needed to qualify for the Olympics. That should cut down on the number of participating athletes by eliminating those who don’t really have a chance at a medal.
* Stop adding “sports” that aren’t really sports, and even get rid of a few. Look, “rhythmic gymnastics” is definitely pretty to watch, and requires a great amount of physical skill – but it’s nothing more than glorified dancing. And unless you’re doing it as an endurance contest, it’s NOT A SPORT. Same goes for skateboarding and surfing, which are actually being talked about as new sports for the Summer Games. No matter how much physical skill and stamina they may require, if you need a judge to tell you who won, it’s NOT A SPORT.
* Enough with countries that aren’t really countries. The IOC has more member nations than the UN! Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam are all territories and dependencies of the United States – but the IOC considers them separate entities. They should be lumped in with the US team.

However…..

When the IOC isn’t running, organizing, and overseeing the Games, their primary mission is to expand sports and athletics around the world. They help maintain training facilities, and provide some funding to help athletes from poorer countries get to them. They reserve “wild card” entries in some events for athletes from less-developed countries in the hopes that it will stimulate the growth of the sport there. They’ve been the ones pressuring countries like Saudi Arabia to send more women athletes to the Games. The IOC wants MORE athletes in more events in more sports.

There’s not a chance in heck the IOC is going to tell athletes they can’t come.

Guess we’ll have to deal with things as best we can.

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