Olympic lunacyby Barry Weisberg
The London Olympics is a certain sign that our species has got its head buried deep in the ground. Albert Einstein taught us that insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. In this case, to stage the Olympic spectacle once again, costing the British taxpayer US$18 billion, and to expect that somehow we will manage to address the grave ecological challenges we face, fits this definition.
The Olympics are part of our problem, not the solution. What the world needs are not more individuals dedicated to selfishly nourish their individual physical accomplishments and wealth, but collective social action to solve the growing threats to society. The corrupt Olympic Committee is nothing more than another secret corporation driven by profit. The Olympic brand clothing is made in Indonesian sweatshops. The Sports Industry of today has little in common with the place of sports in human history. An amateur was once an athlete that competed without remuneration. In basketball, US players such as Lebron James signal that on most events, many athletes are far removed from any amateur status. They are professionals who garner significant income from their athletic abilities. Today the worldwide sports industry is worth about US$500 billion, US$422 billion from the US alone. Little wonder that the US has “won” so many medals.
The Opening Ceremony was titled the “Isle of Wonder.” With forty-three former British colonies, it would be better known as the isle of colonialism. Important contributions to the world, such as the Magna Carta, were ignored. Instead we are entertained by a James Bond adventure with the Queen. In reality, as Noam Chomsky has recently explained in “How the Magna Carta Became A Minor Carta,” the promise of democracy and human rights is evaporating. The delayed broadcast of the Olympics by the NBC network, in the manner of Orwellian Newspeak, bought NBC the ability to editorialize the event rather than allow a viewer an honest real time experience. The militarization of London, with more troops than in Afghanistan, was defended as a legitimate response to the threat of terrorism. The militarization of urban space is a more important legacy of the games than the athletic records.
In a summer when the global evidence of abrupt climate change is startling, the negative ecological footprint of the Olympics is unfortunate. The attendance of an estimated 11 million people to and from the Games, the importation of food from an estimated eighty nations to feed the athletes and the observers, the huge amount of waste generated every day and dozens of other non sustainable patterns of consumption produces a devastating impact on the planet. The US imported 5,000 steaks, 2,500 lamb chops and 2,500 pounds (1,135kg) of ham).
A further backward feature of the modern games is the abundant folly of national patriotism at a time when the need for global people power should be paramount. One reflection of this was Danny Boyle’s portrayal of British history. It is hardly surprising that Boyle, who made a fiction of British colonialism in India, in Slumdog Millionaire, dubbed “poverty porn” by the London Times, presented British history at the Olympics as if colonialism never occurred.
The achievements of most athletes should be attributed more to the extent to which a particular country extends the Olympic training infrastructure than the natural ability of its people. It is no accident that the US has amassed 2303 medals. This is more a product of wealth than the personal accomplishment of most individual athletes. Is it really “fair play” to have an athlete from a poor country, who may not be able to afford a pair of shoes, complete against an athlete in a rich country who is the product of millions spent on training? The modern Olympics have lost the historic role for amateur athletes and are today a tool of country’s and corporations.
Barry Weisberg, JD, PhD (ABD) is the Global Cities Commentator for Chicago Public Radio and a visiting lecturer at Hong Kong University, China.
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Date:Tuesday, 31st July, 2012