Is Tokyo 2020 a disaster, or were the Olympics always like this?

Howard Green picks apart the grandiosity of the Olympic Games, examining where the international competition falls short

At the beginning of the Men’s Triathlon, staged in Tokyo’s Odaiba Marine Park, a major calamity was witnessed. The event, which begins with all participants diving into the water, had a false start as a camera boat was blocking around half of the participants from jumping in. The gun had already been blown, and it was not until many of the swimmers had already swum about 200 metres before catching news that there had been a false start.

What is simply a frustrating moment of individual stupidity from the crew operating the camera boat, can be scaled to much a larger question. In our relentless pursuit of Olympic and all sporting coverage, are we actually disrupting the uniting pursuit of sporting competition itself?

Mark Perryman, culture and sports commentator and academic, wrote a book just before the London 2012 titled Why the Olympics aren’t good for us, and how they can be. This book is a scathing criticism on the state of the games and it’s governing bodies, in particular the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As well as this still relevant criticism, Perryman sets out a vision for ‘Five new Olympic rings’ to adhere to for a more prosperous games. These being:

1.) Decentralize the Olympics by hosting them in a nation, not a city
2.) Use venues that maximize the number of tickets available
3.) Relocate sports outside the stadia to create free-to-watch events
4.) Choose sports on the basis of their universal accessibility
5.) A symbol of the Olympics not a logo for the sponsors

It’s easy to see that in the space of 9 years since London 2012, that almost no progress has been made in any of these critical areas. Can the Olympics ever change? Or will this lack of progress, at least for these games, be blamed on COVID?

To evaluate the spectator engagement at the Tokyo Olympics will be seemingly impossible and pointless. The Japanese government declared a state of emergency, outlawing any spectators at the games due to concerns over virus-spreading. Europe was lucky enough to witness half-full stadiums (but in the case of Hungary at full-capacity) during the also delayed Euro 2020.

This immediately turns the question of Olympic spectating to the television audience. In this regard, the IOC has failed many. In the UK, the BBC is only allowed to have two streams of Olympic sport at once as the IOC sold the broadcasting rights for all European nations to Discovery and Eurosport, services that have a paywall. What is occasionally brilliant about the BBC is not it’s governmental propaganda or programs about antiques, but it’s relentless coverage of sport for all. As the access to the games becomes harder and more expensive, how can the IOC actually perpetuate it’s message of the inspiring power of the Olympics, if many of us just can’t see it?

The unfortunate circumstances of this Olympics has also exposed further the problem of the games. The hollowed-out carcasses of many Olympic sporting venues are left to shrivel after many Olympic games, including many of the new venues built for Tokyo who will never witness spectators. This unfortunate truth proves further Perryman’s point, about moving the Olympics outside a host city, and into the nation or even amongst multiple nations. Building new stadiums is wasteful, particularly when considering that the countries who host will typically have all elite sporting-facilities, just not all contained within one city.

However, it is worth noting that the games have made a few very recent advancements in it’s addition of ‘universally accessible’ sports. One of the most talked about additions has been skateboarding. Wonderful as it is to see, questions need to be asked on the governing bodies view on adding eSports to the Olympics. Although some may disagree with the idea of video games being considered ‘athleticism’, the factors of the continuation of many eSport events over the pandemic has proven it to be a popular spectational activity, with it being largely accessible to those who have the right computer. A recognition of particular eSports by the IOC could save the activity from the grip that gambling already has on it.

As often is the case with multi-national governing bodies, their values are not about uniting, but more so about a drive for capital. Often the importance of the Olympics is reiterated not so much by nation-states or important figures, but by the mindless snore of the multi-national sponsors who profit so wildly from the games. The labour of athleticism and the labour required to construct the Olympics is worth far more than the impersonal stake that many abusive corporations hold.

An ideal competition neither dogged by the influences of imperialism or capitalism is seemingly far away, the problems relating to the games need to be solved quickly. However, as has become the norm for some governments and organisations, mistakes that had existed before the pandemic will unfortunately be shrugged off as a consequence of the disease. In the case of the Olympics, whether you have much of an interest in it or not, a motivation is needed to preserve what little this world has ever had of cooperation in the face of competition.

You can read Mark Perryman’s Why the Olympics Aren’t Good for Us, and How They Can Be free here.

Howard Green, is a member of the YCL’s East of England branch

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