A Parting Shot at the Olympics

I want to start off this rant by saying that for the past two weeks I have watched a lot of the Olympics.  I can be a little obsessive about things like this, and with the greatness of the invention of DVR, I was able to record and playback an significant portion of all the televised events, liberally fast forwarding through the fluff and replays to see all of the important (and some unimportant) events.  I also want to say that, for the most part I enjoyed what I saw.  The Olympic games carry with them a mystique that is hard to screw up in the first place, and the added element of patriotism that I felt, and good sportsmanship that was exhibited by almost all of the athletes (I do exempt the numb-skull from Cuba who kicked the referee in the face from this statement) made watching the events that much more enjoyable.  I will also credit the host country, China, for putting on a great spectacle and providing great venues for the events.  The presentation (excluding NBC’s coverage) was unrivaled and deserves to be lauded. 

That being said, I was angered at the smug attitude exhibited by International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge in a three-part interview with Bob Costas over the weekend.  The biggest theme that came out of the interview was that the Olympics were not ever going to criticize China for any reason.  The truth is that China rolled-up the Brinks truck in a way that the Olympics has never seen before.  And, make no mistake about it, the IOC is about making money.  They are not about to bite the hand that just served them the colossal feast that was the Beijing games, and the definitely do not want to cut off this gravy-train.

In the piece, Bob half-heartedly attempted to interview Rogge about several controversial aspects of the games. He asked him about the controversy swirling around the Chinese girl’s gymnastics team, and whether they were cheating by sending underage girls to the competition.  He completely dodged the question by putting the onus on the gymnastic federation.  Let’s be honest, the IOC was not interested in offending the Chinese by strongly pursuing any such allegations.  Besides, the IOC has much more blatant problems to deal with in these games such as the travesty that was the boxing venue.

I said at the beginning of this controversy, that if these girls were under 16 that the rules needed to be changed.  The argument that 13 year olds cannot compete at the Olympic level falls apart when several of them win their respective competitions at the biggest of venues in the sport.  As it is, the Olympics only come around once every four years, and a gymnast’s opportunity to compete is greatly diminished if he or she is unlucky enough to be born in the wrong year.  Costas pointed out that there was a 14 year old British diver at the Olympics this year.  Rogge hid behind the rules of the respective federations on this answer, and added a paternalistic (possibly chauvinistic) statement about protecting the athletes.  This rang especially hollow with China, and its Olympic tradition of taking 3 year olds away from their parents to be trained for the Olympics as a backdrop to the conversation.  As I said, the rule should be, if you are able to compete, you should be allowed to compete, but until the rules are changed, the IOC should enforce them for everyone.

Later, in a discussion of the dropping of baseball and softball as Olympic events, Rogge used the steroid controversy (baseball), and being unfairly associated with the steroid controversy (softball) as reasons for the dismissal of these sports from the games from the games.  I will give Costas a little credit here.  He ignored Rogge’s disingenuous answers and went straight at the truth.  First he alluded to the fact that baseball does not send major leaguers to the games due to the conflict in schedule.  Rogge admitted that the Olympics desired to have the best athletes on the field.  Translation: the IOC would make more money if Jeeter and A-Rod were there.  So, if they can’t have those guys, then they’ll take their Olympic games and go home.  This is odd because baseball, being second only in popularity to soccer in the world, can field competitive teams from any number of Central American, South America, North American and Asian countries even if they do not get major leaguers.  Also, a compromise might easily be worked out by rotating the games from the Northern to Southern hemispheres.  This way every other Olympics could be attended by major leaguers who would be attending the games in the Southern hemisphere in baseball’s offseason.

The reason that Costas forced out of Rogge for the removal of softball was dominance by the USA women.  Of course, the irony of this was the fact that the USA women lost in the gold medal game to Japan.  Rogge, in a classic bit of smugness, suggested that the loss had a silver-lining by proving that other teams could compete with the USA.  Golly, thanks, Jacques.  That makes us feel so much better.  So, all we have to do is lose to in order have our sports accepted in the Olympics.  I wonder if Chinese dominance of ping pong, or Russian dominance of rhythmic gymnastics (not a sport, but that is a discussion for another time) or Hungarian dominance of water polo is going to relegate these sports to the Olympic ash-heap.  I doubt it.  This is simply another in a long line of IOC digs at the USA, its biggest generator of capital.

Finally, Costas brought up China’s reputation for human rights abuses.  In particular he mentioned Joey Cheek, Tibet, and two 80 year old Chinese women who were sent for re-education for the sin of simply applying for a legal permit to hold a protest.  Rogge said that the IOC defended Cheek (fat lot of good that did), but on the matter of Tibet and the two women, Rogge went on the offensive.  He stated (and I paraphrase) that if the governments of the world had no power to expect China to reform, then how could the IOC be expected to force China to reform.  This high-handed comment ignored the point of the criticism which has been leveled at the IOC all along. 

The point of this criticism is that the IOC should not award games to countries that have human rights issues, abusive training regimens for their athletes and tend to bend the rules on a corporate level as it comes to the games.  Of course, the IOC has no power to dictate policy to any country.  It does, however, have the right to express its outrage or even concern for a country’s policies by simply not awarding them an Olympic games in the first place.  The sad truth is that the point of this interview was to show where the IOC stands now, and it is clear that when you come to the IOC with enough money, they will bend over backward to make sure that you give it to them.  Look for China to have a games every 20 years from now on.