The IOC and NBC keep jamming the phrase “Olympic spirit” down our throats. They claim that the London 2012 Olympics stand for international fraternity and global harmony.
In the entirety of the world of sports, a bigger lie can not be found.
The Olympics are nothing more than the intersection of jingoism and sports. There is nothing wrong with this. People are proud of their country and their country’s athletes, and tie winning medals to national merit. This is generally harmless. It may be a little silly, but no more or less silly than New Yorkers or Bostonians tying the number of Yankees or Red Sox pennants to their city’s self worth.
The problem is that the IOC knows that this is what the Olympics are about, but attempts to deceive the world anyway. They pretend that the Olympics represent an idealistic utopia of the potential of mankind to get along.
If the Olympics truly represented international fraternity irrespective of medal count, then why is Austria completely overhauling its athlete development program due to dearth of medals? Olympic national programs and athletes are concerned with nothing else besides athletic excellence.
The vast majority American Olympic fans are interested in rooting for the home team (Team USA). It significantly more plausible that Americans are interested in butterfly races during the Olympics because an American has a chance to medal, and not because the perfect swimming fix for most Americans is once every four years.
The Olympics are a fantastic event because of the infusion of nationalism. There is a reason Americans will tune into events when the medal count with China is close. It becomes a near patriotic duty to root for American hurdlers when their victory could establish American sport supremacy.
If the “Olympic Spirit” was really about the creation of a community of athletes and separating sport from politics, then some of the greatest Olympic moments of all time immediately lose their luster. Jesse Owens’ victory at the 1936 Berlin games would not carry nearly the same importance if there was not an undertone of the American melting pot defeating the Nazi narrative of Aryan racial supremacy.
The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” would have been an amazing underdog victory regardless of a political back-story. The game however holds its place in sports lore largely due to the feeling that it reaffirmed American values and represented a political blow to the “Evil Empire” that was the U.S.S.R.
The notion that sports and national value are somehow linked is in many ways a foolish notion. America did not tangibly prove anything when a bunch of college kids defeated the mighty Soviets in a hockey game in 1980. Yet the country felt like it had. The infusion of patriotism into the Olympics may be illogical but it does make the competition significantly more exciting.
What makes the IOC lie all the more infuriating is they will not drop the myth of the “Olympic Spirit,” yet they reap massive sums of money due to the interest in the games that stem from nationalism. The Olympics are one of the greatest events in sports, it is time that we stop lying about why.