We have been told that the ancient Olympic Games were founded by the son of Zeus, Heracles, but the first written records we have go back to 776 BC. Then a cook from Ellis, Coroebus, won the one event being featured– running 210 yards. The games were played every four years for about 1200 years until the Emperor Theodosius I abolished the games because of their pagan heritage. In the nineteenth century a Frenchman named Pierre de Coubertin began to revive the Olympics. He thought that it was necessary to restore French vigor and stamina after the Franco-Prussian War. In 1890 he set up a sports organization and pushed for a new Olympic Games. The international delegates finally created an International Olympic Committee with contestants chosen by their clubs and not their nations. The events were held in the Athens and the environs.
Now as we begin the Beijing 2008 games we are faced with several problems. One, Beijing is so polluted that it presents major problems for athletes, even if the city bans cars and factory pollutants for those several weeks. Then, one can not be insensitive to the fact that the People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian nation that has no respect for human rights, for religious leaders, for the people of Tibet and Taiwan. Some Chinese advocates are saying -keep politics out of the Olympics -but the Chinese regime is spending $40 billion to show case its achievements. It has already politicized the Games and the world is nodding.
Lastly, is the massive pervasive commercialization of this Olympics and other ones in recent times? We have insisted that this is a pageant of amateur athletes, but we allow an official Olympics bank, credit card, hamburger, car, sneakers etc. The commercialization of the Games is a violation of the very spirit of the Olympics. I propose that we should simply not allow the Games to be televised with sponsorship. If stations wish to cover the Games as a news event, then they can. But we will not have endless ads, or 24-7 coverage. Let us get back to the amateur nature of the Games, and end the control of the televison-sponosr nexus.
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.