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Sportsmanship: The Great Olympic Fraud
By Dave Zirin
Edge of Sports: Feb 25, 2010
It was called the "Own the Podium" campaign, Canada's efforts to win enough
gold medals to make Ron Paul defect. Its zeal for gold meant such sporting
practices as locking athletes from other countries out of the practice
facilities. Anything for an edge. This lockout included the luge sliders at
the whip-fast run in Whistler. As a result, a Georgian luger by the name of
Nodar Kumaritashvili had only one-tenth the practice runs as his Canadian
opponents when he lost control and sped to his death.
Poor sportsmanship doesn't always kill. But it has been evident at every
corner of the games, and not just from our neighbors from the North. There
was Russian skater Evgeny Plushenko, who, after earning the silver medal,
first climbed up to the gold medal spot. "I stepped on the gold medal
position because I forgot that I came second," he said. "To be fair, I felt
that I'd stepped on to my position. It wasn't planned, of course. It's just
that in my brain, I'd won."
He also decided to go "figure skating macho" by criticizing gold medal
winner Evan Lysacek's gold medal, saying, "If [the] Olympic champion doesn't
know how to jump quad. . . . I don't know. Now it's not men's skating. Now
Then there's the Russian ice pair, Maxim Shabalin and Oksana Domnina, who
performed a dance they called a "tribute" to Australian Aboriginal culture.
It was a tribute only if you consider Amos & Andy to be a tribute, as well.
Stephen Page, the artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Company, told the
AFP news service that their accompanying music was more African or Indian
than Aboriginal Australian and their body paint seemed as though "a
three-year-old child had drawn it on." "It looks more like they were trying
to emulate the token savage cave man," he said.
At least Shabalin and Domnina didn't use their "brown-face" makeup, which
they had used in previous routines.
Lest anyone think I'm picking on just the Canadians and the Russians, we
also had U.S. skater Johnny Weir say, after coming in sixth, that he lost
"not because I wasn't good enough, just that politically, no one was
thinking of me [as a medalist]."
Then there was South Korean gold medalist Lee Jung-Su, who slammed the U.S.
speed skater Apollo Ohno as "too aggressive" in a post-race news conference.
Even though Lee won the gold and Ohno the silver, Lee said, "Ohno didn't
deserve to stand on the same medal platform as me. I was so enraged that it
was hard for me to contain myself during the victory ceremony." In South
Korea, you can buy toilet paper with Ohno's face on it.
This range of ugliness—from the catty to the racist to the fatal—is
significant because it exposes the reality of what the Winter Olympics are
all about. The International Olympic Committee—that sewing circle of
monarchists, extortionists, and absolved fascists—likes to hide behind the
pretense of nobility. It claims to care not for profit or personal gain.
Just the glory of "Olympism" as represented in its Magna Carta: "the Olympic
Charter." That charter states: "The mission of the IOC is to promote
Olympism throughout the world and to lead the Olympic Movement. This
includes upholding ethics in sports." On the IOC's website, there is a quiz:
"The Ultimate goal of Olympism is to a) Organize the Olympic Games, b)
encourage new world records, c) build a peaceful and better world through
sport. It's perfectly understandable if you needed three tries to answer
that correctly. The answer is, of course, c—although that would certainly be
news to the family of Nodar Kumaritashvili.
What trumps these grand "ethics" is the reality of what makes the IOC go 'round:
television and corporate dollars. And if corporations can't come up with the
money, then cities and host countries pay through the nose.
This is why—despite the death of Kumaritashvili, despite the terrible
sportsmanship on display, despite the protests by Vancouver residents and at
times violent confrontations with the police—these games are being regarded
as a profound success. The IOC is claiming that more people will have
watched the games across the globe than any Winter Olympics in history with
a 47 percent jump from the Torino Games. In the United States, even American
Idol is eating the dust of Olympic fever. "Going for the gold" is no longer
about winning races but beating Simon Cowell.
For athletes, the costs of training for the Olympics means that losing are
not an option. As a result, we have petulance. We have spectacle. And we
have death. We also have something that is no longer the Olympics but
reality television, where as many titillations take place off the field of
play as on. An international sporting competition could be something to
treasure. In particular, having female athletes and a variety of different
events leading off sports coverage is very welcome. But in the hands of the
IOC, it's all a gigantic fraud.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Bad Sports: How Owners are
Ruining the Games we Love" (Scribner) Receive his column every week by
emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]
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