by Gaelan Campbell
The largest country in South America, Brazil is home to 205 million people. It has the seventh largest economy in the world, is a major exporter of oil, and if you have ever had a cup of coffee, you very likely got it from Brazil. Combined with the leadership of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country has enjoyed almost two decades of economic growth and prosperity. In recent years, however, the revelation of deep-seated corruption in the Brazilian government while the country is undergoing a recession has led to massive political upheaval. According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), the unemployment rate has jumped to 11.6 percent. Additional statistics show that the economy has shrunk 5.4 percent in the first quarter of this year. To put it simply, Brazil hasn’t been doing so well. Just this last week (following the games), they impeached their president. So what do you do when your economy is in shambles? Why, you host the Olympics, of course!
The Olympics is all about bringing people together from all over the world to celebrate athleticism and compete for glory on an international stage. Many athletes spend years preparing for a shot at the gold. So, every four years we gather around a new venue to witness the amazing feats of people like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. There’s just one problem: the games don’t exactly pay for themselves. The Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford estimates that approximately $12 billion will be spent on the games this year. Worse still, Rio de Janeiro, the hosting city, will be paying a large portion of the cost on its own. Now, all of this would be fine if the Olympics made enough money to recuperate from the costs. Unfortunately, the last few Olympics have shown us very clearly that they don’t. For example, the city Montreal, which hosted in 1976, took 30 years to pay off the debt it incurred.
Many infrastructure investments eventually go under as well. Many Olympic facilities go relatively unused for years, and some are never even finished. The economic issues with hosting the Olympics are more than enough to provide cause for concern, but the issues don’t end there.
The morality of such an event is questionable in this time of great unrest in Brazil. The image becomes clearer when the harsh reality of Rio comes into play. There are currently almost 6,000 people living on streets throughout the city. Almost 350 of them are children. One of the duties Rio was faced with when constructing the Olympic facilities was building housing for the athletes. While thousands of homeless and uncounted others living in extreme poverty watched from the darkness, the Olympic stadium shined brightly through the opening and closing ceremonies.
Ideally, the Olympics is supposed to do all those things we want it to do and more. It should bring people together. It should celebrate the physical accomplishments of our champions. It should draw the attention away from all of the conflict in the world for just a little while. It can, and it will. But right now the current system is just too economically damaging and morally irresponsible. Many suggestions have been made to address these issues. Some suggest decreasing the budgets. Another suggestion was to have an Olympic Island off the coast of Greece to host it every four years. Whether any of these solutions merit consideration remains to be seen, but until a better way is found, the world seriously needs to reconsider the resources it pours into the Olympics.
Sources: IBGE, tradingeconomics.com
by Anthony Barr
Sports, like war, involve a contest of wills. In sports as in war, passions are heated, loyalties fierce and rivalries intensified through conflict. But whereas in war people are killed, families ripped apart and property destroyed, sporting events do not–by nature–result in death and destruction. The value of the Olympic Games is precisely this, that it allows for an intense contesting of wills expressed through conflict that is channelled, restricted and subject to international scrutiny. To that end, athletes who are caught doping, or who refuse to abide by principles of basic sportsmanship, or who lie about incidents related to their time in the host country, are reprimanded by the Olympic Committee and indeed the entire international community. Moreover, inasmuch as these athletes are recognized to be representing their country of origin, such admonishments are thus directed to the host country as well. By thus enforcing basic decency, honesty and sportsmanship, the Olympic Games allow for competition between highly motivated and patriotic athletes while providing boundaries to ensure safety and respect. The Olympics, then, are not just about the high stakes risk of honor versus shame for competing nations and athletes, but are also about championing principles of human flourishing that transcend ties and affections to one’s country of origin.
The modern world is faced with increased provincialism, which over-emphasizes nationalistic affiliation to the detriment of openness to other cultures and people groups. The Olympics provide the world with a public forum in which we can act on legitimate nationalistic affiliations while also hopefully growing in our openness toward and appreciation of those who are different from us. In an era of Trump, Brexit and burqini bans, the Olympics are thus an antidote to hyper-nationalism of which war itself is perhaps the most vivid expression. Olympic competitions allow for a catharsis of visceral conflict between nations in a way that doesn’t leave a trail of carnage in its wake.
As an example of the promise the Olympics holds, consider the 1971 World Table Tennis Championship in Japan where two competitors, one from America and the other China, formed an unlikely friendship. Contextually, this friendship was surprising because relations between the two countries were dismal. As a result of this internationally highlighted friendship, China invited the American players to visit. On that same day, President Nixon announced that the United States would lift its sanctions on China and went on to become the first U.S. President to visit China.
Pierre de Coubertin is the French intellectual who is credited as the father of the modern Olympics because he resurrected the idea of Olympics from the ancient Greeks. Under his leadership, the first Olympics of the modern era were hosted in April 1896. Regarding his vision for the games, he said that “the important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.” These words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were in Coubertin’s day and remind us that despite the various scandals, the Olympics can do a world of good.
Sources: The Olympian (1984) olympics.org