By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
More than 10,000 athletes have been competing from 207 countries in 28 sports in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, which have just ended. A similar number of coaches, officials and other back-up personnel have also been involved.
So, the question is being asked in some quarters: are the Olympics, which are billed as ‘the greatest sporting show on earth’, too big?
Because of the present size of the Games, the costs of bidding for, organising and staging them have been increasing. Sochi in 2014, for example, cost US$51 bn.
It is reported that that the 2016 Rio Games were 51% over budget and the high cost of them has led to protests both before and during them by Brazilians. The protesters claim that the country could not afford the Games and certain sections of society, including the poor and the homeless, were missing out, because of the money being spent on the Games and the lack of other available public funding for social purposes, due to the parlous state of the Brazilian economy.
Then, there is the problem of the funding of the Paralympic Games which are being staged in Rio next month.
All of this is set against the background of the Olympic Agenda 2020 introduced by the IOC President, Thomas Bach, soon after taking office in 2013. Under this new vision for the Games, amongst other things, the cost of biding for them, which has put a number of potential host countries off, and also the staging of them, is a concern with the IOC aiming to reduce these costs through a simpler bidding process.
It is all about money and winning medals, which is not to decry, in any way, the outstanding achievements of all the Olympians, including those of Team GB in Rio, who came second in the medals table!
So, whatever happened to the Olympic ideal of ‘it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts!’ The spirit of Olympism seems to have gone by the board.
The Games are now too commercialised and athletes are under tremendous pressures to win, to satisfy sponsors and funding agencies, such as Sport England, as well as National Olympic Committees.
The Olympics should be slimmed down and this would reduce the cost of them and would also, perhaps, with less money involved in them, reduce corruption, such as ticket ‘scaling’ which is currently being investigated by the Brazilian Fraud Squad.
Also, the current philosophy, amongst some athletes, of winning at all costs, even through doping, on an individual or systemic large scale, might also help the fight to keep sport ‘clean’ and also free from other forms of cheating, including ‘motor doping’, for example, in cycling.
The size of the Olympics also, in my view, detracts from their original purpose and, in particular, the Corinthian values of the Games; they should return to their origins by including perhaps only traditional sports involving running, jumping and throwing.
Such sports as tennis, golf and football, which, in any case, have their major global sporting events, outside the Olympics, like Wimbledon, The Open and the World Cup, should be eliminated, still giving their athletes an opportunity to shine and show their prowess on the world sporting stage. Also, the number of disciplines in Olympic sports should be scaled down. This would particularly apply to swimming in a slimmed down Olympics.
A smaller traditional Olympic Games would cost less and host cities would also benefit from not having to raise the mega sums involved in organising and staging them as at present, leaving them with surplus funds for other social purposes, such as providing health care and benefitting the poor and needy in a variety of ways.
Also, having a single, permanent venue, say, in Greece, would also reduce bidding and hosting costs and also possibly any forms of bribery and corruption involved in the bidding process, to avoid, for example, another Salt Lake City situation.
Not everyone around the world is a fan of the Games, which ultimately are not insignificantly funded from public taxes and, in many cases, lottery grants, and many people would prefer to see their taxes spent on social and community projects, such as new schools, hospitals, housing and roads and other infrastructure needs. For example, the City of Hamburg recently withdrew their candidature to host the 2024 Olympic Games, citing for doing so a need to focus their resources on the basic needs of the population rather than a flagship global sporting event.
Getting the balance right between the amount of money to be spent on sport and the money to be spent on other public and social purposes is not an easy one, but, in any event, it is certainly the name of the Game!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic, Author and Member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’