National Security & Defense

Make the Olympics Great Again

Torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, April 21, 2016. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)
Take the Games away from the multinational bureaucrats.

The Olympics are an orgy of corruption and dishonesty. For public officials, hosting the Olympics means being the center of attention and being able to throw themselves lavish parties at the taxpayers’ expense. For the International Olympic Committee — which is a “not-for profit” organization — the Olympics mean huge revenues and enormous bribes. For locals they mean traffic, and for sports fans they mean wondering how many of the athletes are cheating.

The last four Summer Olympics have cost, respectively, $51 billion, $10.4 billion, $1.7 billion, and $44 billion. The Rio Olympics will end up costing about $15 billion, and — as with all Olympics — Rio’s Olympic supremos say that hosting the games will be a huge boon to Brazil. But, according to the New York Times, “there is strikingly little evidence that [Olympic games] increase tourism or draw new investment.” Cities and countries that host the Olympics tend to end up far in the red, and generally have to be bailed out by taxpayers. Experience says that, financially, the Olympics are a boon only to the people who pay themselves to run the Olympics.

Likewise, the IOC seems to organize Olympic games principally for its own benefit. Besides the money it gets directly from the games’ hosts, the IOC’s members have time and again proved happy to sell influence to whoever offers large bribes, good presents, and attractive prostitutes.

In fact, I’d say it’s a safe bet that, any given Olympic year, the country that has been chosen as host is the country with the largest slush fund. That’s certainly the way it appears to an outsider. The governor of the Nagano Prefecture in Japan euphemistically admonished the city of Nagano for its “illegitimate and excessive level of hospitality” in securing the 1998 Winter Olympics. Six IOC members were caught accepting gifts and enormous bribes from Salt Lake City to secure it the 2002 Winter Olympics. The BBC reported allegations that London officials had bribed IOC members to secure the 2012 Summer Olympics. ABC News reported allegations that Russian mobsters had delivered “bags of cash” to IOC members to secure the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Guardian alleged that six IOC members had taken bribes from Qatar during its attempt to secure the 2016 Olympics. French police are currently investigating similar accusations concerning the successful bids by Rio and Tokyo, respectively, to host the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

And the IOC’s corruption goes beyond selling Olympic hosting duties. It seems that dictatorships provide the best kickbacks, and the IOC is happy to suck up to them. Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 and will again in 2022. In 2008, the IOC did its best to stop distribution of a film showing pro-Tibet anti-Communists protesting the Olympics. It will again in 2022. To suck up to China, the IOC forces Taiwan to participate under the name “Chinese Taipei.” To suck up to the Islamic dictatorships, the IOC canceled a moment of silence at the 2012 London games intended to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the ’72 Munich games. To suck up to Putin, the IOC declined to ban the steroid-ridden Russian Olympic team from Rio, just two years after giving Putin a massive, Olympic boost to his personality cult.

Then there’s the incredible level of doping — not the IOC’s fault, just another symptom of the sick man of international sports. And even ignoring steroids, Olympic athletes have cheated for decades by masquerading as amateurs. Traditionally, of course, the Olympics were an amateur athletic competition; in the Nineties, the IOC finally did away with the amateur requirement because cheating was so ubiquitous. The worst culprits were the Communist countries, which simply lied about their full-time, state-paid athletes being soldiers or workers. But things were also bad in the West, where athletes were paid through nominal sponsorship deals.

It’s dubious for an athlete to claim to be an amateur when training for the Olympics is his full-time job.

Anyway, it’s dubious for an athlete to claim to be an amateur when training for the Olympics is his full-time job. If it’s an unpaid job — a labor of love — then, technically, it doesn’t affect anyone’s amateur standing. But competition among people who’ve been training for the Olympics since adolescence is very different from competition among weekend warriors. Lifelong polishing sucks the fun out of amateurism. For lifelong polish, we’ve got lots and lots of major leagues.

So, to fix the Olympics, I propose this: Let an industrious American corporation, governed by American anti-corruption laws, start a new Olympics, with these rules: No taxpayer money, ever; only private sponsorship. Invite only democratic countries to participate — it’s the unfree countries that do the bulk of the cheating; more importantly, it’s past time to stop letting repressive governments use the Olympics to build their domestic reputations. Most importantly, require that every athlete have a full-time job. Make them prove it with pay stubs. Then the games, in addition to being fair, might actually be entertaining.

These would be Olympics worthy of the name. This is an opportunity waiting to be seized. Who invented the Ultimate Fighting Championship? Who invented Netflix? Sounds like a job for those guys. Or any other sports-and-entertainment-minded entrepreneur with a little time on his hands.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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