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Olympic Committee or Athletic Nanny State?

The Olympics should entertain and inspire athletic excellence — not preach morals or climate change.

by
Josh Chetwynd

Bio

October 31, 2009 - 12:06 am
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Never mind that this athlete is trying to scrape together approximately $224,000 while the International Olympic Committee raked in a record $3.8 billion for broadcasting rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games. It’s also worth noting that female Olympic athletes — from the Australian soccer team to Canadian biatheletes — have funded their dreams by stripping down to the nude in tasteful calendars and have gone on to represent their countries.

If legislating individual morals were not enough, the organizers for the 2012 London Games have decided to focus their attentions on macro issues. Britain’s “Cultural Olympiad,” which will be run in conjunction with the 2012 Olympics, awarded artist Alex Hartley more than $825,000 this month to tow part of a small island off of Greenland to the southwest coast of England. The purpose is to bring attention to climate change. “It’s an absurd thing to do, I admit that,” said an unapologetic Hartley to BBC Devon. Still, he also promised: “When you see the island there will be magic in it.” As for the environmental impact of ripping off a piece of an island and hauling it thousands of miles, Hartley is confident that the attention he will bring to global warming will offset the project’s carbon footprint.

Now I actually believe that climate change is a worthy issue. But I certainly don’t want the Olympic movement (whether it be national or international Olympic committees or local organizers) spending money to tell me about it. This is especially the case when they seem to be forgetting the fact this is all meant to be an athletics show. In fact, only a day before the announcement of Hartley’s windfall, the British Olympic Association disclosed that it might have to trim the size of the 2012 British team because of a more than $6.6 million shortfall in funding.

No doubt, the hard work put in by the British athletes who may be snubbed — or by New Zealand’s Mr. Campbell — would surely do more to renew my moral spirit than seeing Mr. Hartley’s piece of an island off the British coast.

Ultimately, these “Olympic” actions speak to the hubris of the movement. When Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin coined his Olympic oath, the one request he had for the competitors was to glorify sport through sportsmanlike decorum. In 2000, athletes also needed to swear they will eschew doping in their quest for gold. Here’s hoping that the next level of commitment doesn’t include agreeing to a set of principles that have nothing to do with sprinting down a track or throwing a javelin. Considering the current direction of the movement, I wouldn’t bet against it.

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Josh Chetwynd is a journalist who has worked as a staff reporter for such publications as USA Todayand U.S. News & World Report. He is also a licensed attorney and has written two books, including Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History.
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