The 2016 Rio Games Opening Ceremony was the apotheosis of a rotting tradition that has lost the slightest resemblance to its so-called ideals. The Olympics are a TV spectacle justified by dollars now, using fake and dubious values to obscure the obvious.
Some moments that gave my ethics alarms twinges last night—
- Political propaganda. It’s sporting event, not a PSA for climate change regulations. Shut up and play. Or perhaps “Shut up and cheat” is more accurate.
- Speaking of cheating, the ceremony featuring Tom Brady’s Brazilian model wife as a special effect was jarring, but maybe that’s just me.
- NBC, thanks to using tape delay to maximize ratings, also subjected its audience to eight commercial breaks in the first 65 minutes, about a third of the time.
This was all just yucky frosting on the unethical cake, however. Before the Games began, the continuing corruption of the Games was again approved when the IOC announced that 270 Russian athletes would be allowed to compete despite a major doping scandal last year that indicated that the Russians routinely cheated, and that there was no reason to presume that any Russian athlete wasn’t. Never mind: the desire for ratings—the US vs. Russia!—and/or bribes paved the way.
Meanwhile, the swimmers are competing in raw sewage. Ocean water along Rio de Janeiro’s famed beaches are contaminated with bacteria and viruses, so much so that the World Health Organization warned athletes participating in open water sports to not swallow water, to cover any open wounds during competition and to wash off immediately after exiting the water. Why is the US subjecting its athletes to this kind of peril? Why are any of the nations?
I don’t watch football players damage their brains while the NFL pays them to do it, and I’m certainly not going to cheer young athletes risking brain eating amoebae so NBC can sell beer for Anheuser Busch.
When did the Olympics start churning my stomach? It may have been when the U.S. started using NBA stars in the basketball competition, and relishing the opportunity to beat amateur Angolan players 154-12. Yecchh. It may have been when I learned how the female gymnasts were kept sprite-like long into their teens by inhibiting their puberty, and how many young gymnasts were sexually molested on their way to Gold. Or when I listened to some of my scuzzier male friends explain what they liked about watching them….
Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie revealed feelings similar to mine, and listed his “Incomplete List of Why Nobody Really Gives a Shit About the Olympics Anymore.”
His list included in part…
- The end of the mostly-fake-but-still-compelling fiction that participants were “amateurs” who competed out of mere love of the game.
- A fuller understanding of just how much cheating went on among the athletes. First, it was the massive revelations about juicing by Iron Curtain teams but post-Cold War, it became clear that many Western athletes (Ben Johnson! FloJo! Marion Jones!) who won our hearts were faking it too (except for Carl Lewis, the greatest track and field Olympian yet one who was never fully embraced by the crowds, either).
- The disturbing spectacle of the Games being hosted by tyrannical and/or bankrupt countries and cities that wasted huge amounts of money on conspicuous consumption.
- An endless stream of scandals implicating national-level Olympic Committees but also the IOC itself in just terrible, terrible behavior.
- The IOC’s insane attempt to control and regiment all aspects of the Games on the Internet, including a prohibition on GIFS, Vines, and other home-brewed content. Apart from all the scandals, the IOC is the athletic equivalent of Metallica, busting the balls of its most-fervent fans in the hope of squeezing a few more nickels out of a dying franchise.