What does it mean, for a nation, to host the Olympic Games? Is it competitive edge, or national pride that drives countries to host? Is it the chance to give back to the world, or the freedom to earn from it that compels politicians to place their bids? While torch-bearers line up, coaches get interviewed, and athletes train to ski, skate, and luge their way through the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, provincial leaders and finance critics stay busy predicting the revenue the event will bring during the season. Thus it seems the expectation of monetary proceeds is regarded higher than the expectation for medals. Is Olympic success then, determined by honor, or measured by profit?
As far as profit goes, Vancouver need not look further than Salt Lake City—the host of the 2002 Winter Games—to catch a glimpse of their coming economic boost. Utah’s Life in the Valley magazine claims $4.8 billion in sales, $1.5 billion in earning for workers, and 220 thousand visitors in Salt Lake City as a result of the Olympics. In several recent articles by Utah’s KSL news station, residents mentioned the state is still in an economic haven eight years after hosting the Games. Not only does it earn revenue for its own Olympic exploits, but gets a share in the Vancouver Games too, as companies use Salt Lake’s photogenic venues and snowy landscapes to shoot their own Olympic commercials to air in February. Already predictions are in on Vancouver, which expects to outperform Utah with twice as many visitors. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Vancouver is projected to be number one in economic growth in 2010, with a forecasted 4.5% increase. The “Your B.C. Government” site, in accordance, boasts a $4 billion sum of economic activity brought on by the Games. It seems so far that these aforementioned statistics—along with the Olympics’ costs, and the inconveniencing of Vancouver residents due to constant construction road-blocks and traffic detours—have been making more headlines than the sports themselves. I’m no athlete, but when the focus is so tragically shifted from its main point, one has to wonder what role sports really play in the Olympics.
Lesser known sports the likes of lugeing, bobsledding, and the biathlon attract little attention in the Olympic off-season, making them existent almost solely for the delectation of the athletes. A tripartite diffidence has formed between the athletes, the public, and the government. The athlete, mechanical and precise, achieves victory in his sport regardless of viewers or profits. The public watches in a patriotic daze, caring little for the sport, but cheering earnestly for medals. The government, in the meanwhile, cashes in on the efforts and fervor of both.
The Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger”—in reference the expected athleticism of the event—has instead turned into an economic standard of “faster” spending, “higher” payout, and “stronger” market. One must not forget that we live in a world where the half-time show gets more coverage than the game, where commercials during the Super Bowl are reviewed more than plays, and where red-carpet fashions outshine cinematic performance. It is no wonder then, that like music on the radio, or dramas on television, sports have become filler in between commercials. Importance is placed not on the features, but the numbers they earn. We get to enjoy a competitive show, and the athletes get their medals, neither of us aware that we’re simply pawns in the biggest quadrennial pissing contest of the world; in which the purpose is to outperform the former in medals as well as in finance. The Olympic creed, after all, as coined by Pierre de Coubertin, reads: “the important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.” And in taking part, apparently, reap all the earnings you can while the chance exists.