The Olympics should be a celebration of human potential. Seeing some of the best athletes from all over the world come together as equals to compete in nearly every sport should be something to celebrate and enjoy. But the reality of the Olympics is very far from what it should be.
Athletes from various countries do not come to the Olympics as equals. The Olympics serves the purpose of showcasing the might of the most powerful countries and the corporations they serve, not the talents of the world’s people.
In the US, the Olympic coverage is completely centered on competitions the US is in, only concerned with counting how many gold medals it wins. In the NBC coverage, there are never any interviews with athletes from other countries – especially when they beat the US or break world records. It’s as if the multi-billion dollar news corporation can’t afford to pay interpreters. Their message is clear – if it’s not the US, then it doesn’t matter. So, what could be a chance for people to ignore the national borders ends up turning into a frenzy of raising these borders even higher.
And any time athletes defy this nationalism, and give a voice to anyone other than the most powerful countries in the world, they are shunned and threatened with expulsion from the Olympics.
This year one athlete resisted the narrow role of being a walking flag for one’s country. Damien Hooper, an Olympic boxer from Australia, with a good chance to win the gold, entered the ring wearing a shirt with the Australian Aboriginal flag on it. Hooper is from Australia but has Aboriginal ancestors, from the indigenous tribes of Australia. To wear the Aboriginal flag was a slap in the face to governments of both Australia and Britain, who colonized the island, murdering over 90 percent of the indigenous people, and treating them as second-class citizens ever since. After the fight, when asked about it, Hooper said “I’m Aboriginal…I’m representing my culture, not only my country but all my people as well. That’s what I wanted to do and I’m happy I did it.” Hooper was immediately threatened with being kicked out of the entire games unless he swore he wouldn’t do it again. So, to the Olympic commission, nothing has changed – the lives of the Aborigines are still worthless.
But besides the nationalism of flag salutes and counting gold medals, the true flags to worship in the Olympics are those of the corporations. Beyond the gold medals, the real gold is in the billions of dollars won by the corporate sponsors. So far corporate sponsors have spent over 1.7 billion dollars in advertisements.
These sponsors have been able to dictate what logos athletes can wear, making them walking advertisements. McDonalds has exclusive rights to selling french fries, denying the sale of fries in and around the Olympic arena. These corporate sponsors have even gone as far as hiring their own police force of 300 officers to patrol the streets and impose fines as high as $20,000 for anyone wearing, using or selling logos not approved.
But the real Olympic gold has to go to NBC for holding the broadcasting rights of the Olympics. Not only do they only focus on events the US athletes are in, but they don’t even always show those events live. NBC has chosen to broadcast many events at times that will have the most people watching, so they can charge as much as possible for ads. Often viewers can only watch an event hours after it happened, already knowing full well the results that are announced all over the news.
Even though they are forced to be draped in the flags of countries and corporations, for athletes, the Olympics truly are about comradery and sportsmanship. And this shows in their respect for one another, embracing each other after each competition, regardless of whether they win or lose. For the athletes, the Olympics is the arena for people all over the world to come together and participate as one.
But despite what actually happens, the official message of the Olympics is about something else. Instead of unity and togetherness – it’s about separation, division and the domination of the most powerful countries. Instead of exciting competitions for medals, it’s about the competition for profits.