Monday, April 30, 2012

The Business of the Five Rings

There's no denying it - the Olympics are big business. Every two years, billions of dollars change hands over that international spectacle of sport, from logos that resemble Lisa Simpson giving head to sponsorship agreements that cover entire cities; just ignore the fact that much of the money comes from the tax coffers of already strained governments, governments that hardly seem to hesitate at the prospect of building mountains of money when day-to-day services go unfunded. Don't think about that - look over there! Haven't you heard that the world is going to be watching?

I can remember, back in 2000, my irritation at the fact that Beijing won the 2008 Summer Olympic Games over Toronto, because dammit, I wanted the world to be watching - that, and perhaps it would have motivated the city government to start work on a desperately-needed transit expansion that is even more desperately needed twelve years later. Nevertheless, in retrospect I'm pretty sure that the IOC did T.O. a favor - even though people can get pretty worked up about the supposed "prestige" of their city hosting the Olympics. Here, let me repost this video I shot in Daley Plaza in 2009 when Chicago was defeated in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

For the past little while news of London's preparations for the 2012 Games have been filtering onto the internet, news like dedicated VIP lanes for Olympic officials or the widening of London's panopticon with face- and plate-recognizing CCTVs or a 5,000-volt electric fence separating the Olympic zone from the rest of London. It's practically an extended commercial for the high-tech security industry. For me, though, it was the news of the SAMs that did it. That's surface-to-air missiles, for the shooting-down of enemy - in this case, read "terrorist" - aircraft, and in order to ensure the security of the Games, surface-to-air missile batteries are being installed on top of apartment complexes surrounding the Olympics site.

Protecting the Olympics is, of course, not a new thing. I'm told the Canadian Forces had units around Vancouver in case someone tried to attack the Games back in 2010, and in London the centerpiece of the defensive efforts is going to take the form of an aircraft carrier positioned in the River Thames. It's just that for me at least, the whole "install missile batteries on top of residential buildings" factor pushed it into farce for me. Well, maybe not farce. It forces me to the conclusion, though, that there's something dreadfully wrong with how we conduct the Olympics today.

It's not about the sports anymore, if indeed it ever was. The Olympics are all about advertising. Sponsors advertising their products for the people in the stands and the ones watching at home. Security companies advertising their solutions to keeping vast public events safe. Cities advertising that they are safe. The sports are just window dressing, the stuff that gets the people in the door so that the money can change hands.

Can we break this cycle? Right now, it seems, there are a great deal of people who have a vested interest in the Olympics, and no shortage of cities falling over each other to beggar themselves by hosting a Games. What sort of solutions are there? A specially-designated Olympic Island, say, to which the games return time after time? A circuit of predetermined cities across the continents that pass off Games from one to the other? I don't know. It is, after all, big business - and big business doesn't change until it has to.

1 comment:

  1. I think the Olympics are great. Just not in my back yard! Although to be fair, I visit Vancouver after the games were over, and some of the stuff they got in preparation for the games, like the Canada Line, are great!