The Long Shadows of the 2012 Olympics
The Olympics: a short retrospect
As much as I love sports, I can only get excited about the 2012 Olympics in a cautious manner. It's an incredible thrill to watch athletes at the peak of their abilities but the monetary side creates situations which are at odds with the spirit of the Olympics. False promises by oganisers, shady financial dealings, political influence - various things come into play that have nothing to do with celebrating the achievements of top athletes.
The 2008 Olympics were notable for shocking levels of human rights abuse. The world stood by while the authorities in Beijing forcefully removed local residents to make way for new buildings connected to the Olympics (to read about this in more detail check out my hub on this topic). Everyone knew it was happening. Everybody pretended that it was not - apart from human rights groups, but they couldn't get governments to respond effectively. Reuters estimated 1.5 million evictions took place.4 Money and an interest in forging connections with China's emerging economy was talking - not any kind of Olympian spirit.
The 2004 Olympics in Athens left a legacy of disused buildings and rubbish-strewn wastelands as well maintaining venues that are never used by anyone, costing a fortune in maintenance.3 The Greeks promised environmentally sound policies backing the games - but these were just words to make the bid look more appealing and forward thinking. The truth was a lot different. As Greenpeace says in retrospect: 'Green energy is the most striking failure for the Athens Olympics.'5
In all of these things, it is difficult to conceive of an Olympic hosting bid outside of a wider economic context, such as the 2004 Greek bid. Though this bid was apparently straightforward and even humble in its appeal, harking back to the original Greek Olympian spirit, it seems surprising if there hadn't been somewhere some influence to help Greece look more legitimate in a European context with the single currency in mind. Such is the potency of the Olympics on the world stage. Ironic considering how Greece now threatens to make the whole thing crumble.
...Now fast forward to 2012...
Shadows haunt the 2012 Olympics - Sponsors rub their hands in glee
While the 2012 Olympics aren't tainted by any obvious and direct human rights abuse issues, there are shadows crossing the event due to the amount of money being spent and the choice of sponsors.
According to Members of Parliament, the Olympic funding 'robs good causes'6. The choice of sponsors is also at odds with what the Olympics represent.
Most notably are the presence Coca-Cola and McDonald's - pinnacles of healthy drinking and eating?
Clearly health and fitness – part of the very essence of the Olympics – is at fundamental odds with the ingestion of food-like substances such as those that Coca-Cola and McDonald's have to offer. In fact, McDonald's have created for the Olympics the largest fast-food premises in the world! The venue includes 1500 seats, 2000 staff, and hopes to serve 50000 Big Macs in six weeks.1 Welcome to 'healthy eating' and sharing in the pinnacle of fitness!
What happens to you when you only eat McDonald's
But Mr McDonald loiters around and encourages our children to be healthy!?
McDonald's have tried to improve their image for the Olympics by starting a spurious campaign to get children to eat healthily and take exercise 2, which includes giving away certain toys to aid fitness as well as giving away free tickets for sports sessions with their Happy Meals.
Notwithstanding the fact that it is universally known that McDonald's food-like offerings ensure the grim reaper visits sooner those who have large appetites for their menus... Realistically, would these two approaches to our children's health really help? No, it's a cynical marketing ploy to improve the McDonald's image.
Somehow, McDonald's have even managed to circumvent the restriction they were under from targeting children in their add campaigns.
Presumably advertising child health with one hand, while stealing child health with the other isn't seen as wrong or suspect.
This situation cannot be underestimated. In fact, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges actually demanded "bold and tough" measures to curb childhood obesity, including a ban on firms such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola from sponsoring sporting events such as the Olympics.2
Unsustainable Produce and a Disregard for Environmental Issues
(Please note: the term 'produce' to describe livestock is a term that ensures maximum separation between what someone is eating, and what it actually is, or was).
The creation of this fast food outlet is perverse considering the environmental issues of large scale cattle farming. However McDonald's is one of the sponsors, so money - not health nor environmental issues - is doing the talking.
While the whole world is watching, the Olympics could be used to highlight health and environmental issues. Athletes could be held up as the pinnacle of strength and fitness and the role of proper nutrition could be shown. Instead, what we're being guided toward are the advantages of eating McDonald's.
As well as inveigling children into getting silly toys to supposedly help them with their fitness, McDonald's originally decided to import the bulk of their product (again, an utilitarian term) from abroad, instead of sourcing cows and chickens locally in the UK, which goes against sustainability and environmental considerations.
The ex-athlete Sebastian Coe admitted that McDonald's would import 90 per cent of its chicken from abroad, despite the games organisers' sustainable sourcing commitment.6
This is incredible considering the assurances the games organisers gave on various issues such as sustainability - exactly in the way officials spoke at the Athens Olympic bid.
Rather like the Beijing 2008 Olympics, it is money which is doing the talking, not intelligence in a wider sense.
Patrick Makau racing
Athletes Don't Need the Olympics
In short, the Olympics have been used not to promote not just sport or athletic prowess, but to promote financial systems and interests on various levels, as well as political ones (in the past even sometimes by athletes themselves).
The Olympic games have not been protected from these various mechanisms, despite the efforts of certain groups and people throughout the years.
However, the great thing is that top athletes can compete any time of year, break records without the need of the Olympics. Our modern age of instant communication ensures that an athlete's triumph becomes big news world-wide, without needing the added leverage of the Olympics.
A good example is the amazing Marathon runner Patrick Makau who holds the world record at 2:03.38 in 2011, Berlin. Even though he didn't qualify for the 2012 Olympics, he is still known as the fastest man ever - and he thinks that the 2 hour barrier can be beaten.
Furthermore, there was no sponsorship for him, no finely tuned carbohydrate diet nor exercise equipment, just straight training and running - and more training and more running. It could be argued that he doesn't even need the Olympics.
Do you think that the Olympics are worthwhile?
More pages on Olympic related issues
- Human Rights and the 2008 Beijing Olympics
This looks at the forced evictions that affected an estimated 1.5 million people in China, just for the Olympics.
2 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/apr/16/mcdonalds-olympic-fitness-plan accessed 05-28-12
5 - http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/athens-disqualified-from-green/ accessed 05-28-12