I’m done with the Olympics. Not tired. Done. It’s not just that I’ve stopped really caring, it’s that I’m now questioning the entire reality of sports as a result of the Olympics. I’m hoping that this is just a function of how my views on sports have changed as I’ve aged.*
*And that watching sports with my sons will rekindle some of my former feelings. I’ve covered this before but I’ve been pushed even further down this path now.
I fear however that it’s sports which have changed to the point where I barely recognize them anymore.* And that the world has changed to the point where the old approach is no longer sustainable.
*In some ways, best summarized by the baseball card market and how it imploded on itself by forgetting the point of the product.
We know too much now and something as innocent* as sports is anachronistic when it doesn’t evolve.** Yet it’s no longer recognizable when it does.
This isn’t just the evolution of sports into becoming more and more like business. It’s the erosion of our sense of idealism.
In the past, it was possible to watch the Olympics each night with family, talk about it the next morning with friends, and experience the events as an introduction to semi-obscure sports and to the rest of the world. The competitors were amateurs and the competition was intended to be a celebration.
Tape delay didn’t matter. Nor did the relentless focus on American athletes. And the event was unquestionably the most important event of the sport.
Now? It’s a stunt more than anything else. These athletes see and compete against each other all the time.* Any surprises are because of people peaking at the right time rather than a lack of knowledge about a country. The events are never show live so there is no sense of community with the rest of the world.** Results are known in advance.*** And, in many cases, the competition truly isn’t the most important event for the sport anymore.
*One of the nice things about the World Cup is that it represents a reorganization of the existing professional teams in a way which is still taken seriously. This reorganization of teams isn’t possible with individual sports.
**Watching Twitter, or even Facebook, while a live event occurs is a fantastic way of being plugged into the pulse of the event.
***It’s been this way for a dozen years now. Impossible to stay away from “spoilers” and, really, why would you?
If it’s not broadcast live, it’s no longer a sport.
The Olympics is now a sports-like product which encourages all the things which are ruining sports.
It’s not just fanaticism, it’s nationalism. This tales the irrationality to an extreme. Not only does a rational point of view become potentially “not a real fan,” it’s now unpatriotic to criticize your team. Oh, and you can’t choose your team at all now.
The packaging of individual stars as products. While this is annoying in sports which I care about, it’s even worse with sports which no one cares about. Especially when a medal favorite “fails” despite the hype. Winning is hard and should never be taken for granted yet the Olympics coverage is all about expecting wins.
Advertising and commercial sponsorship. Good lord. At least the Super Bowl ads are funny. These ones are all trading off of stars or patriotism. And they all reflect corporate buy-in in a way which tends to exclude any local businesses from being involved in the games. Every Olympics is the same old sponsors. Why are there never any local companies involved?
The extortion of public money for private benefit. This one galls me the most. Private owners of sports clubs expect the general public to fund stadiums and other infrastructure. For baseball (80 games a year) this makes some sense. For football (8 weekends a year) it does not. For the Olympics (2 weeks. Period.) it really does not. Especially since all the commercial sponsorship money does not make it back to the funders of the infrastructure.*
*The Bay Area 2012 Olympics proposal involved already-existing stadiums and just upgrading the infrastructure. It never made the cut because it was “too cheap.”
The amateur-professional issue. The Olympics, correctly, does not treat athletes as amateurs anymore. This, however, screws anyone still in college since the NCAA still clings to an unworkable definition of amateur. And it points out both the problems and issues we have with rationalizing the professional world with our ideals of what sporting competition should be.
As someone who roots for comeuppance, the only lingering hope I have for the Olympics is that they’ll blown themselves up in their own hype. While I’ll only get to see it on tape delay, the good news is that I’ll know to tune in ahead of time.