At the risk of sounding mawkishly sentimental, there was a time—decades ago, when this world was vastly larger, more mysterious, more inscrutable—when the Olympic Games genuinely mattered. A time when one could make the argument that the Olympics actually “benefitted mankind.”
Take the Summer Games of 1960, for example, which were held in Rome. It was in Rome where American and European track stars first got to meet athletes from countries that they barely knew existed, much less had competed against. Indeed, it was in Rome where the African runners—those extraordinary athletes who eventually came to dominate the distance events—first made their presence known on the world stage.
In 1960, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, et al, were remote and exotic locales. In fact, they were so remote (this was before the Peace Corps was established) that, farfetched as it sounds, it was unlikely an American would ever meet face to face with any of their citizens unless he did so as an athlete at the Olympic Games.
It was a different age, a different milieu. Not only was there was no TV coverage of the 1960 Olympics, the only aspect of those Games that the American media deemed worth reporting was the comparative medal count of the USA and its arch-enemy the USSR.
But so much has changed since 1960, it’s close to impossible to quantify. Not only is the “magic” gone from the Games, even the novelty is gone. Because today’s world is an infinitely smaller place, who really cares?
To say we have become more cosmopolitan is a profound understatement. “Hey, I met a Kenyan.” An athlete telling someone that he got to shake hands with a Kenyan doesn’t even move the needle on the Human Interest meter. That’s because our mailman is a Kenyan. Or our neighbor. Or our buddy at the health club.
Somalis now post photos of themselves and their families on Facebook. The men are wearing Dockers and polo shirts. There are two excellent Ethiopian restaurants in the city of Santa Monica. Also, let’s not forget that mega-corporations now own the whole shebang. They own it outright. NBC reportedly paid $1 billion for the rights to broadcast the 2018 Winter Olympics. And of course, absurd as it seems, professional athletes are now allowed to compete.
Why any American (even those of the flag-waving, USA-chanting variety) would get their jollies seeing a team composed of NBA stars beat a struggling team from, say, Honduras by 81 points is a mystery. Charles Barkley said that during an out-of-bounds call, an opposing player actually handed him a scrap of paper and a pen, and requested his autograph. The game was a mismatch, but it was still in progress! WTF?
Basically, the Olympic Games have outgrown themselves, and by doing so, they’ve relinquished whatever modest “contribution” they once made to the Family of Man. They’ve gone from a noble and worthwhile experiment to a bloated, self-aggrandizing, and over produced spectacle, having congealed into a caricature of their former self.
And speaking as a life-long track & field fan, the final nail in the coffin has been the proliferation of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). Other than perhaps bicycling, nowhere in the sports world do you find athletes more juiced up with drugs than today’s world-class runners, jumpers and throwers.
Because the “drug detectives” (those overworked and understaffed technicians assigned the daunting task of flagging drug users) are five years behind the “drug innovators” (those creative and highly motivated geniuses who are coming up with space-age performance enhancers that aren’t yet even on the list of illegal substances), the sport will always be suspect.
So let’s end the charade and abolish the Olympics. We don’t need a billion-dollar extravaganza to satisfy our needs. Track fans can catch all the action they want by attending high school and college meets. I’ve done it myself. Gymnastics fans can do the same. As for aficionados of synchronized swimming, well….good riddance.