Olympic Circus – the Flame Fades

Who knows what Zeus, the king of the Gods, would make of the modern Olympic Games, started as a religious festival in his honour nearly three thousand years ago.

There were no medals, just a wreath of leaves and a hero’s welcome home. And, before the Games, a truce was called in order to halt any wars, so that people could travel safely to Olympia. Fat chance today!

Rio was tarnished by cheating, corruption, doping and vilification, a lack of crowds at events, chaos and crime outside.

And BMX bike riding as an Olympic sport? Rio was not Peter Allen land. It raises the question of where to after Tokyo?

The Olympics is a stage for the host country to present itself to the world in the best light possible.

The five Olympic rings represent five continents. Now, South America can be ticked off, which leaves Africa. It is a big ask for poor nations.

1964 saw Japan coming out after the war… 1980 Moscow, (despite some leaders in Australia pushing to boycott these games). In ’88, Seoul was the coming out for South Korea.

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Olympics were dominated by the Adidas brothers in Germany and France. The Moscow and Seoul Olympics were government subsidised. It wasn’t until 1984, when the Los Angeles Olympics used existing venues, had a modest budget, and became the first games in Olympic history to make a profit. Sydney 2000 followed on as a super successful Games and set a high benchmark.

It’s all about money

Now, it’s all about the money. Results bring rewards, but everything is dictated by the domination of television.

Rupert Murdoch and the TEN network had the TV rights in Australia to the LA Games. TV has now established the funding model of sponsorship and TV dictates the rules. American NBC spent more than two billion dollars in two separate deals for the right to broadcast the Olympics from 2014 to 2032 across multi media platforms: streaming, cable television, mobile, and the Internet. As a result, sporting events were held in Rio at midnight to suit USA TV viewers. And this television network will dictate how viewers see the games for years to come. Australia’s sole media rights holder, Channel Seven, has the Olympics contract until 2020.

But, once the profit motive kicked in, so did the bureaucrats and entourages, headed by the emperor-figure occupying the seat of President of the IOC.

Former politician and now commentator, Amanda Vanstone, writes of observing the power of Juan Antonio Samaranch during his reign, though her suggestion that the Olympic Games should be given back to Greece permanently is untenable.


One has to query the 340 million-dollar cost to Australia for the Rio Olympics, and the value of sending 500 people to Brazil for what the organisers deemed a disappointing (and unexpected) medal count. In addition to the athletes sports funding and training, the top heavy sports bureaucracy, with inflated salaries, has ballooned, while cuts to the Australian Institute of Sport, which once had its own coaches, sports science staff, physiotherapists and talent identification experts in these targeted sports, remains a questionable decision.

Japan, which will host the summer games in 2020, had 400 observers in Rio. Hopefully, they have been taking copious notes about what not to do. Although, it seems that they have figured out what to do as, years back, they built a copy of our own, now gutted, AIS.

Money in salaries to Olympic officials, (now a massive bureaucratic monster), plus funding to host and compete at the Games balloons each year, sending host countries into debt, and costs to train and send a team every four years amount to squillions of dollars. Once corporate governance takes over, there has to be a better way to make sports accountable for results. The Winning Edge program that Australia established, where extra funding went to sports expected to win medals, has proven unreliable at Rio, where the swimmers, heavily subsidised, disappointed, and medals came from unexpected sports. One has to also wonder at the diversified expenses incurred in various sports, such as the accoutrements for swimmers – goggles and a swimsuit, as opposed to the costs of the equestrian team, where horses are worth millions of dollars.

Australia perhaps should consider funding from a lottery system like the UK.

Health and Safety

And, as Rio has proved, health and safety are issues of concern for spectators as well as for participants. In 2008, air quality raised concerns in Beijing, while 2016 has been dogged with questions about the taken-for-granted dangers of terrorism, robberies, muggings and worse, where sailors, kayakers and others faced sewerage-polluted water, not to mention the Zika virus and other health issues. Future summer Olympics will face rising heat and humidity, due to climate change.

The Games are a costly spectacle, becoming increasingly more flamboyant, grossly expensive, often ignoring issues of human rights, tainted by corruption and dope taking. While clean athletes vented about suspected dopers, proven or not, and if proven, lightly punished, doping might be a fact of Olympic life for the future. New drugs are developed and used before the tests to discover them have been found. Masking drugs are also developed to hide the effects of the newer drugs. The money tied to a medal, to win it and profit from it, nationally or personally, is a huge lure. Yet it is often the struggles and triumphs of individual athletes which are overlooked.

Olympic Charter

For those prepared to tackle the hard road to the Olympics, there must have been the principle which propelled them in the first place – the Olympic Charter, which included such ideals as:

Respect for the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play, respect of the principle of the universality and political neutrality of the Olympic Movement, respect for human dignity, and human rights, rejection of discrimination of any kind.

The high moral and ethical ground represented by the Olympics should inspire children in remote communities and villages, the kids in our schools and at our local sports grounds, to have a dream; that with talent, ability, skill, perseverance, training, support and a bit of luck, that they, too, can aspire to become Olympic athletes.

But, such an honour should not be considered a passport to professional prosperity. Being an Olympian means respecting the fundamental ethical principles, upon which the games were founded.

And yet, for a spectator at any Olympic event, there will always be the magic and adrenalin of watching the best of the best compete. It’s an atmosphere even TV cannot recreate. The trick seems to be focus on the competitors and not the funding and factions that got them there.

In another four years we’ll all get excited all over again.


  • I found this to be a somewhat jaundiced view of the Olympics focusing on the negatives and not acknowledging the positives. The very real talents of Usain Bolt Michael Phelps and long distant runners from Africa, the battlers with limited resources who achieved well above their previous personal best.

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