Julianna Pijar / Gavel Media

The Olympics: Good for Society, Bad for Humanity

I am an Olympics lover. I love the national pride, the feats of athleticism and determination, the principles of hope and unity, and the moment we have to bring the world together. For me, it’s that picture of the opening ceremony, with athletes from every corner of the globe bearing their national colors. They are experiencing the realization of a lifelong dream, and we get to see that dream come alive through them. For the next sixteen days, they take us on every up and down. We see brutal falls, heartbreaking disappointments, and pure joy in gold medal moments. I am a firm believer that sports have the power to bring the world together more than anything else, and the Olympics is the pinnacle of that power. That’s why watching Beijing 2022 has been so hard for me. I see perhaps the greatest unifying human moment being stripped away by corruption and greed. China should never have been allowed to host this year’s Olympics. Not with their human rights record nor their anti-democratic domestic policy. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has for a long time cared much less about sports and much more about money. 

In 2014 the head of the IOC coordinating commission for the 2014 Sochi games said, “I don’t recall an Olympics without corruption” (Zirin 187). This large scale corruption acts to benefit only the select few, and is not a victimless crime. In Sochi, President Putin gave construction contracts only to his closest friends, therefore inflating the cost of those games to the highest levels ever recorded (Zirin 187). The result of this was a more than $50 billion burden that fell on everyday Russian citizens, including the town of Akhshtyr, who went without running water for a full year due to Olympic-related construction. When the Olympic games went to London in 2012 the government installed countless security cameras, mobilized an army of drones, and armed its police force to the teeth. The 48,000 security forces on its payroll were given authority by law to use physical force as they deemed necessary against anyone seen to be against the Olympic message, including peaceful protesters. The private security companies who provided those protective measures profited, and Londoners were left with a $15 billion price tag and a rejuvenated police state. Going even further back, 40 construction workers died in workplace accidents while building Olympic facilities during the 2004 games in Athens. This number was thanks to brutal conditions brought on by the government's push to meet construction deadlines.

The problem with the current Olympic hosting system is competition. When a city is awarded hosting duties, they naturally want to put on the best display to make the most of the tourism and publicity. This creates a desire for perfection, which all too often comes at the expense of their citizens’ lives and freedoms. In Athens, construction worker deaths were related to a rush to fix Greece’s crumbling infrastructure in time for the Games (Zirin 168). In every case, low-income families were evicted from their homes, whether to make way for stadium building sites or to keep them out of view of tourists and international media. Hosting the Olympics is a thinly veiled means of boosting international image and making some extra money for some of the world's elite. That’s why there is often discontent among citizens of host cities. In 2010, residents of Vancouver were not happy about the Olympics coming to town. They were forced to shoulder a $6 billion public cost, and the resulting cuts to city services, all in the wake of the 2008 recession (Zirin 173). 

The biggest issues are the burdens of stadium costs on countries unprepared to shoulder the expense, loss of construction worker lives in countries rushing to complete massive infrastructure projects, displacement of poor residents in areas where stadiums are meant to be built, and environmental concerns, like in Beijing with the removal of 20,000 trees from a nature reserve to build the alpine ski slope. To fix these problems, the IOC needs to be dramatically reformed. It is irresponsible to allow a private entity to control an event on the scale of the Olympics, giving them bargaining power with the world’s largest countries. These countries are willing to put lives at risk to pull off a flawless Olympics. It’s the competition and the glory for the host nations that tears us away from the heart of the games. We should be focused on the athletes, the competition, the spirit-lifting glory of dreams made on a world stage. We need to end the competition for Olympic hosting duties. 

Host nations spend huge sums of money on infrastructure for the games. After the event is over these stadiums mainly lie vacant. That’s a huge waste of money and resources, not to mention the human cost mentioned above. For this reason the Olympics should be hosted in the same spot every year. Or a few different spots across the world to allow different nations to shine. The purpose is to end dangerous construction projects and undue cost burdens on poorer citizens. We must restrict the competition to the sports themselves so we can focus on what really matters. You can have your fun, you can have your sports, you can forget about politics every once and awhile. We absolutely need that. But when human lives are on the line we have a moral responsibility not to turn our heads and forget about it. I love the Olympics, but I love humanity more. 

Works Cited

Zirin, Dave. “Neoliberal Trojan Horses and Sporting Shock Doctrines.” Brazil's Dance with the 

Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, Haymarket Books, 2016, pp. 167–190. 

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