The international sporting world has been thrown into chaos with the revelations that the Russian government covered up—if not sponsored and encouraged doping—the results of a number of drugs tests across most sports of the summer and winter Olympic Games.
Initially, it seemed that Russia would receive a blanket ban and not appear in the Rio Olympic Games at all but, displaying their usual moral fortitude, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) instead left it up to the governing bodies of each sport to decide—a display of back passing unrivalled since Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the fate of Christ.
The truth is, though, whether the IOC had been willing to take a harder stand on this or not, the Olympics have been tainted for decades, if not longer. It's not merely a matter of the numerous drug scandals that have plagued the Games, the rot goes deeper than that.
So, what to do? Can the Games be saved? I am not sure they can, but if they are then here are the major issues that need to be resolved—and some possible solutions.
For some people, human rights abuse seems to be a relative term, where they condemn one country and ignore the misdeeds of another—or, worse, claim equivalence between monstrous regimes and far more civilised countries. Even if you try and use an objective measure, though, it can sometimes be difficult to find a country without something to be ashamed of (see Australia and their refugee camps).
Maybe that's why the Olympics very rarely ban countries on the basis of human rights abuses, because they are worried about where they'd need to draw the line. Be that as it may (and I strongly disagree that we can't measure these things), the Olympics does more than just turn a blind eye towards human rights abuse, it actually enables it.
Validation of tyrannies
A wild claim? Maybe. But, being asked to a Games is a significant honour. It brings prestige to the host nation, a chance to strut their stuff on the world stage. It confers legitimacy on their government of that nation, a tick of approval for their methods. So, when the IOC allow a country like China to host a Games, they are creating an environment where human rights abuse is rewarded.
More than that, the IOC doesn't seem to do anything about the trampling of human rights that often occurs during the hosting, whether it is thousands of workers labouring in almost slave like conditions, or homeless people being swept off the streets and trucked away to God knows where.
Think I am exaggerating? Look up the Munich Games of 1936 to see the uses hosting a Games can be put to. The IOC must apply stricter criteria to who is allowed to host—however difficult that might be.
An Insufferable Burden
Another concern is the burden hosting a games puts on countries, especially developing ones. Very few countries have the infrastructure in place to host a games, which means massive building projects. And, because most sports aren't equally popular, often after the Games these stadiums and structures are left barely used. In countries where people live in difficult circumstances it's hard not to believe the money could have gone to better use.
One solution I have seen bandied about makes a great deal of sense to me. In this age of digital broadcasting and instant communication, why do the Games need to be held in one place? Why not hold different sports in places where they already have the necessary infrastructure? Instead of playing ice hockey in Dubai, why not have that in Canada where the stadium will be packed? That shares the burden—and would mean much bigger audiences. And, if you were concerned about losing the coming together aspect, why not have a celebration in the lead up, or even at the end and present all the medals there?
It's All About The Money
But, by far the biggest problem the Games have is the sheer money involved. From the money for the taking in getting the building contracts, the tourism boost, the merchandising, the Games have become a cash cow for everyone involved. The IOC is not above this, to them the sponsor is king—try wearing the wrong t-shirt with a non-approved brand on it.! As long as there is that much at stake, corruption will follow.
I think two things could make a massive difference. Firstly, limit the amount of sponsorship and one donor can give. This might mean Games on a smaller scale, but so what? I'd rather smaller Games about sport, than massive ones where you can almost see the line of people lining up to feel their pockets.
And, take the Games back to their amateur roots. The decision to remove the rule that professional athletes could not compete was a huge mistake. It sent a message that the Games were not simply about sport as something worth doing in and of itself.
Oh, and finally—if a government is shown to be violating the spirit and laws of the Olympic Games, perhaps by the systematic covering up of doping amongst it athletes—don't mess about. Ban that nation from competing in the next Games. Why should governments get away with sins that individuals would pay the price for?
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html