Should we be surprised that a growing number of people are cynical about the Olympics? Not for a second.
Russia has been nabbed as a flagrant and systemic cheater on the world’s greatest stage. The country’s doping scandal, which resulted this week in a ban from the 2018 Winter Games, is the product of a culture that increasingly rewards a perverted vision of what the Olympics are supposed to be about.
Russia conceived of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as part of an elaborate vanity project. More than 50 billion dollars were spent. A kind of Disneyland for sport, with grandiose stadiums, was erected in a place where next to no winter sports tradition existed.
With a view to letting the politicians puff out their chests and strut their stuff, national pride hijacked the whole deal.
The Russian leaders came to believe that they had to win the most medals at home in order to make up for a sub-par performance in Vancouver in 2010. They stoked the propaganda machine so as to justify the expense of the Games to the people. They had to prove just how powerful Russia is and that their sporting system is the envy of the planet.
How best to ensure that success? Cheat. Russia would win at all costs.
Not what the Olympics are about
That’s what’s most disturbing about this whole mess. Winning has become the most important thing about the Olympics, and an increasing number of countries are subscribing to that reality.
But where in the Olympic Charter does it say anything about a prize being awarded to the country that claims the most medals? How and when was it decreed that the Olympics are meant to revitalize the economic fortunes of the host nation? Why are lavish stadiums built in unlikely places considered an enviable legacy? When did the success of a country’s sports system become the measure of the people who live there?
These things are not what the Olympics are meant to be about.
And by allowing this narrative to flourish, while hesitating in dealing with the monster of doping, the International Olympic Committee came dangerously close to putting the future of the Games in peril.
The number of cynics was allowed to multiply.
“I was surprised that they did it,” Dale Henwood, the president and CEO of Canadian Sports Institute Calgary, says of the IOC ban on Russia.
“It’s a step in the right direction but there’s a long way to go. If they’re willing to institutionalize doping, what else would they do to cheat? And…