Photo by Muhammad Nur Fairuz
There are images of an epic era which we have passed in our pursuit of a globalized community. With every website published, every media group merging into giant conglomerates, every generation webbing together a greater network of acquaintances, the world has appeared to become smaller. As Johnny Depp’s character in The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Captain Jack Sparrow, states: “The world hasn’t gotten smaller; there’s just less in it.”
The images mentioned above can be epitomized in Olympic lore. Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin in 1936. Michael Johnson breaking a world-record in the 200m dash in 1996 in Atlanta, wearing golden shoes. Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in Munich. The winter Olympics have just as many classic images. The Miracle on Ice, as the United States beat a heavily favored U.S.S.R team in the semi-finals.
Unfortunately, with the world not holding as mystery as in the past, the day of the global competition for honor and glory has left us. The Olympics have fewer and fewer reasons to take place beyond the push for the status-quo.
A wide majority of the competitors compete professionally in their respective sports, making a solid living and gaining greater recognition and credibility within their own niche. Even professional beach volleyball players, such as Misty May, can have a greater impact on the sport through competing with the AVP, than by stepping on the sand in the Olympics. The NBA players recruited to play for the United States team this summer in Beijing don’t have to risk injury or their personal safety to prove they belong on a basketball court. They do it for 82 regular season games and subsequent playoffs, making millions of dollars and gaining superstardom in the process. It seems as if the only purpose Olympic competition serves them is the opportunity to avenge the recent humiliations of the US basketball team to Puerto Rico and Argentina.
Additonally, the Olympics, in an increased global community, pose a significant safety threat to athletes and spectators. The Olympics are foundationally based on structure, peace, respectful competition, and inclusion. Terrorists who oppose such rights might deem the Olympics as a symbol for such ideals and view it as the perfect opportunity to strike a blow for democracy and peace. Security will be heightened to unprecedented level, but it has become increasingly difficult to prevent such tragedies.
Beijing will be another step on the downward path of popularity for the Olympics in America. The winter Olympics in Turin, Italy two-years ago saw the lowest television ratings in decades. It may be due to a lack of identity for Americans, but the issue remains that the summer Olympics in Beijing will mark a milestone for viewer apathy. The issues the organizing committee has faced in completing venues has put a pinch on the aestheticism of the events. The Chinese government has run into a brick wall of recent bad press from the Tibet protests and the banning of live broadcasts from the various event locations. There have even been senators and members of Congress calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies by American participants.
The Olympics are a significant member of history, providing memories, icons of past epochs, and a means for propagating peace and harmony in a conflicted world. Unfortunately, in a world with few mysteries left between nations, the wealth and star-appeal of professional sports, and battles between ideologies, the Olympics have become obsolete. I am in no way happy to say it, but the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing will prove to be another downturn in the popularity of a bygone era.