Would Pierre de Coubertine, recognized as the father of modern Olympics, be proud or ashamed of the Rio 2016?
The French educator, who led the efforts to establish the International Olympic Committee and functioned as its second president in late 1880s, was very much in favour of creating an international platform to showcase athletic supremacy as a way of encouraging young people to aspire to be as good as the champion athletes in their respective branches of sports.
Fast forward 130 years, is the Olympic motto “citius- altius- fortius” (faster-higher-stronger) still the main passion, or have the financial benefits or the political clout that come with medals overtaken the lofty ideals of perfection in athleticism?
It is not anything new but the comments about the political ingredient in the competition among nations represented at the Olympics were the most widely circulated in the international media this year.
The fact that dozens and dozens of Russian athletes were barred from competing in the 2016 games due to the doping scandals, of course, had a lot to do with state-organized scheme operated by Russian authorities. But how can we be sure that other countries’ athletes, mostly from those ruled by authoritarian governments, were not given similar treatments by their own governments? In other words, was the banning of many Russian athletes from Rio 2016 just a few weeks, and in some cases days before the beginning of the games more of a targeted public relations exercise to destroy the image of the government of Vladimir Putin or was it really to save the honesty of the athletic competition at the games? International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it is definitely the latter.
But what about a member of the same IOC, an Irish citizen, using his position to allegedly make millions of dollars over the years by channeling tickets to second tier ticket markets? Is he just one spoiled apple in the basket or is he the one that happened to appear on the surface and immediately thrown away?
At another level, this year’s Olympics saw some trade in nationalities of athletes clearly for the sake of some borrowed national pride: Quite a number countries, among them United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey, have given their citizenship to Jamaican or other Caribbean or African sprinters, most likely athletes who would not be able to qualify for the games under their own flag. And whether they have given them only citizenship or also some financial benefits is clearly a quite justifiable question.
As for the brouhaha caused by the scandal of the alleged gas station robbery claimed by the four US swimmers, as much discussed in the media as the embarrassment they brought to US Olympic establishment was the potential loss of the money they make by losing sponsorships due to the incident. As speculated, swimming sports equipment maker Speedo and Ralph Lauren fashion house announced shortly after the incident that they were dropping Ryan Lochte from the list of their sponsored athletes. How much should we be saddened by the fact that the Olympic spirit of athletic perfection is now nurtured more by the prospect of generous sponsorships than the aspiration for glory of the gold medal?
Of course, all these less than pure aspects of the games cast no shadow on the brilliant and historic successes of athletes like Usain Bolt with his triple-triple gold ending his Olympic career or the four Olympic medals of Canada’s young Penny Oleksiak won at the age of just 16.
At the end of the day, as Canadians, we should be proud of the successes our athletes who came out from the games without any controversy and with unblemished success.
But there is room for concern for the future of the Olympic movement. We have recently seen during the operation to cleanse FIFA, the international body managing the soccer world, that decades of fraud and wrongdoing had taken deep roots within the organization.
The hope is that the Olympic movement can be saved from falling into a similar trap.