Olympics nothing more than a money making machine – Bidwell

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The late American television sports executive Don Ohlmeyer was fond of a phrase that’s applicable to these times.

Opening of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Fireworks during the opening of the Rio 2016 Olympics held in the Maracana Stadium.

The opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo: Photosport

A longtime producer and director, before moving into management, Ohlmeyer was responsible for the broadcast of various Olympic Games, Superbowls, World Series baseball match-ups and that staple of the US sports diet, Monday Night Football.

Ohlmeyer is the man that comes to mind when you see International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach claiming the Tokyo Games will take place as scheduled.

From this distance there is simply no justification for these already-rescheduled Olympics to commence on 23 July, against a backdrop of the continued coronavirus pandemic and the plummeting desire of the Japanese public to see the event staged.

You could go on and on and on listing reasons why the Olympiad should not take place and why Bach’s insistence that it will is a nonsense, but in the end it all comes back to Ohlmeyer.

“The answer to all your questions,” Ohlmeyer would often say “is money.”

Not sport, not the alleged Olympic ideals of participation and friendship, not nationhood. Not anything other than cold, hard cash.

And that’s cool. Bach says there’s no Plan B here and that he can see no reason why the Olympics will not take place.

“This is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful,” he said.

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I don’t know about you but when I think of the Olympic Games, I think of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. No Olympics these days is complete without tales of how many free chicken nuggets Usain Bolt – or whoever – consumed in the athletes’ village.

Big brands have paid big bucks to hitch their wagon to Tokyo 2020/21 and they’ll get their television exposure come hell or high water. No crowds? No worries. This is all about selling Big Macs to big blokes like me, sat scoffing food on the couch.

In all honesty, what would it take for the IOC to call this off? How bad does this health crisis have to become before Bach and company concede defeat? At what point are athletes and officials and media and volunteers being put in too much harm’s way for this event to be viable?

We all understand the IOC’s position, we accept the commercial realities involved here. We know the bidding countries spend an absolute fortune on venues and infrastructure and assume – rightly or wrongly – that includes a few sweeteners for IOC folk as well.

These people need a return on their investment and they won’t get that without a fortnight of wall-to-wall ad breaks.

I had misgivings about the Olympics from a young age. I was nine, in 1984, when the then-Eastern bloc countries boycotted the Los Angeles Games and we were fed a constant diet of American exceptionalism.

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In 1988 we got, what many have called, the dirtiest men’s 100-metre final in history. Only the winner, though, Ben Johnson of Canada, returned a positive test.

I felt results couldn’t be taken at face value. That there was cheating and corruption at all levels and bias in the reporting of everything.

By the time 2000 rolled around, it was all the nationalism that did me in and I haven’t watched the Olympics since.

The commercialism was a massive turn off as well.

I love sport. It has been my life. But too often I see it spoiled by money.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic committee.

President of the International Olympic committee Thomas Bach. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Again, I understand why Bach and co need Tokyo to go ahead. But, by the same token, we’re just as entitled to be appalled or revolted by all that.

People say they don’t begrudge athletes their salaries. That this is what basketballers and footballers and cricketers and rugby players – and whoever else – are worth.

Well, I do begrudge them the money. Not because they have it and I don’t, but because all those wage bills necessitate games and tournaments that are played purely to generate cash.

Not to sort the best from the rest or to celebrate athletic achievement, but to satisfy broadcast and sponsorship-rights deals and to pay people’s often-absurd wages. And when it’s all about the dough – and not the competition – that’s where things can get badly corrupted.

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I won’t go down the rabbit hole of doping and match fixing, but those things exist in high performance sport and we’d be fools to think otherwise.

I assume these Olympics will take place and I have no doubt the propaganda machines will tell us they’ve been the best and cleanest and safest Games yet. Maybe even the most profitable, despite the almost 12-month delay and the likelihood of empty stands.

I won’t be watching, though, and I’d encourage other people to give them a miss as well.


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