We have become so attached to the question “Where is the IOC?” a scenario that we can no longer let go of, even when it has ceased to be true.
How does the Olympic movement deal with (start ticking your fingers then move on to a neighbour) doping, human rights, mental health, child athletes, black money, transgender participation, washing sports, influence peddling, commercialism and climate change?
What is behind the Olympic movement? When does this house of cards fall?
Mapping the paths to Olympic collapse is no longer a reality check. It is the fulfillment of a wish. It is the people who have a limited interest in a moral calculation who continue to claim that one comes so that they can defer the treatment of a moral calculation.
The IOC may have had some issues around 2016. This was the lowest point of its last phase of decline.
He crashed into the Vladimir Putin Memorial Games in Sochi in 2014. After institutional highlights in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012, he didn’t have the sense to hold off an unsavory host. Remember Marcel Aubut, boss of the Canadian Olympic Committee and bagman of the International Olympic Committee, gushing about Putin when the Russian president walked through Canada House: “Great Games. Probably the best of all time.
It turned out that the Russians were the best at one thing: cheating. In light of recent events, this mistake looks like complicity in something much darker than replacing urine bottles.
This led to four consecutive Games that multiplied the opportunities for disintegration – from apathy in Rio; from the edge of the abyss in Pyeongchang; the pandemic in Tokyo; of another form of complicity in Beijing.
The IOC’s solution in each case was to duck behind the participants. ‘Cause what’s an invasion or some mass incarceration when you know that guy practiced for years freaking out on skis? Look at his face. You tell him he can’t flip ski when that’s all he ever wanted to do.
You might not like any of this. You should not. But you have to admit it’s an awesome jerk. It involves all stakeholders (one of the IOC’s favorite words, nowhere more applicable than here).
There are the people who organize the Games. They take the heat;
There are the advertisers who profit from the Games. They provide seed capital;
There are the athletes and the sports organizing committees. They make sales, but sometimes act like a muscle when someone needs to lean on them;
There are broadcast partners, who do the public relations;
Finally, there is the non-aligned media, which claims to hold everyone accountable, while also providing all publicity for free.
The impression left is that of a struggle for the soul of Sports Church. In fact, it’s a bunch of cultural elites jostling at the free basement buffet.
Among the people who would be most devastated to see the Olympics go away are those who spend a lot of time shouting that if the Olympics don’t happen, maybe they have to go. This is how fiction is maintained.
Slightly above all of this are the high priests of the IOC. Geriatric gold medallists, petty royalty, silky aristocrats.
They do a lot of things. But their main directive is to maintain the perception that there is nothing sweeter in life than being able to call yourself “an Olympian”.
That’s it. That’s the secret.
This impression is supported by the grandeur of the Olympics themselves. Like a tent pole at the box office, it’s not about quality. It’s a matter of size. It’s about flattening the sharp edges so that they appeal to more and more people (hence the surf). It’s about reaching as many customers as possible.
If that is the goal, the last eight years have been the most difficult in the history of the IOC. How do you grow an already gargantuan event when everyone is told it is in fatal decline? How do you make everyone forget that you were the first to put your arm around Putin and reassure everyone that he was pretty good?
You don’t. You don’t even try. You boil it down to one goal: to protect the word “Olympian”.
The last three weeks in Beijing seem to date back 300 years already. When you think of them now, what impression is left?
It is an undifferentiated horde of athletes gushing on television, crying on the podiums and waving flags at the finish lines, while progressive citizens of their home countries cheer them on. So, mission accomplished.
The brand is nowhere near as sterling as the first time the Olympics were held in Beijing in the summer of 2008, but it’s still a monolith.
It’s like PJ O’Rourke’s take on how the world sees his country: “Every American embassy comes with two permanent fixtures: a giant anti-American protest and a giant US visa queue. “
Today, the realities on the ground are changing again. Europe is on the verge of conflagration. COVID-19 is ending as a cultural phenomenon, if not a virus.
The Olympic cycle through host countries that were de facto dictatorships is over. If it didn’t, there would be a ton of trouble ahead. But the IOC has already dodged its worst associations with Russia. His best defense: “Hey, you can’t say it wasn’t worth trying.”
The focus is now shifting from governments without budgets to hosts without baggage. The next Games are in Paris.
In two and a half years, assuming we’re not in the middle of World War III, with restrictions removed or limited, with everyone eager to get out, what kind of party is possible?
The current plan is to do the opening ceremony by having athletes float on barges on the Seine and meet at the Eiffel Tower.
It doesn’t just sound good. It feels like the kind of night people lie about being.
Then it’s Milan, then Los Angeles and, if the COC gets its way, Vancouver again. This is the roadmap for an Olympic renaissance.
With the tanks rolling towards Kiev, it is not necessary to think about it now. But it is not necessary. The Olympics can slip out of the public eye for two years – an absolute eternity in global attention span.
Barring the arrival of a real apocalypse (always possible), people can only see the world in apocalyptic terms for so long. A heavy dose of geopolitical reality is more likely to pull the West out of decades of myopic weariness than to push it deeper into self-indulgent melancholy. That it’s a depressing thought doesn’t make it any less true.
Most people crave the good times, especially after the bad. The IOC ensures the party. All he asks in return is your loyalty and your money.
As long as people have a bit of both to offer, the Olympics don’t come any closer to the edge. From Paris 2024 – and whatever the turn of the world then – it can begin to reestablish its hold on the center.