The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees will not be sending athletes to the Olympic Games, scheduled to begin on July 24th in Tokyo. Instead, they have called upon the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Summer Games for one year, citing concerns for both athlete safety and the safety of the general public amid the coronavirus pandemic. Their calls for postponement have been echoed by Australia’s chef de mission, Ian Chesterman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as countless athletes and fans around the globe.
Yesterday, IOC President Thomas Bach released a public statement affirming the IOC’s intention for the Games to go ahead as scheduled.
“Cancellation (of the Olympic Games) would not solve any problem and would help nobody,” it reads in part. “Therefore it is not on our agenda.”
On the one hand, what the actual fuck?
On the other, why am I not surprised?
I don’t need to impress upon you the gravity of the current global health crisis, the reality of which hit home for Canadians weeks ago, when COVID-19 reached beyond the headlines and into our lives with a ubiquity that is difficult to understate.
But it’s possible, if you’re not an elite athlete, a news junkie, or a diehard fan of the sport, that the enduring, next-level shittiness of the IOC may actually come as a surprise to you. Rest assured, in the world of athletics, a tonedeaf, profit-driven, careless statement like the one Bach made on Sunday is in no way out of the ordinary.
The Olympic Games are terrible. From the needless, wasteful infrastructure projects prerequisite for hosting the games, to the draconian restrictions on sponsorships placed upon athletes during the most profitable windows in their otherwise financially thankless careers, to the IOC’s nauseating coziness with authoritarian regimes and ongoing willingness to turn a blind eye to systemic doping practices, the modern Olympic Games have proven time and again that they value their brand and bottom line far above the environment, athletes, workers and communities that brand is built upon.
None of this is news. For decades, the shamelessness of the IOC has existed in plain sight, its coverage a familiar contrarian drumbeat alongside the breathless inspiration porn churned out by broadcast media in the run up to the Games. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the prestige of the Olympic brand has held. Athletes decry unfair treatment at the hands of the IOC while simultaneously branding their bodies with images of the five rings.
At a certain point, this all has to stop; I would argue that point is now. Our fetishization of the Olympic Games as the “ultimate athletic competition” isn’t just arbitrary, it’s unethical. It’s bad. It’s throwing your lot in with an organization that has, time and again, knowingly placed their own bottom line above the health and well-being of the public.
Athletics offers innumerable alternatives to the Olympic Games in terms of international championship competition: the World Championships, the World Marathon Majors, the Diamond League. Hell, the Olympic marathon is consistently one of the dullest, least exciting championship races there is.
In the same way that we don’t have to indulge a predatory and abusive coach in order to produce great athletes, we don’t have to indulge a predatory and abusive organization in order to celebrate athletic achievement at the highest level.
In refusing to send athletes to the Tokyo Games, the COC and CPC made a good call. A better call would be to turn away from the Olympic Games altogether, and for good this time. Our world, and our athletes, deserve better.