Olympics should focus on athletes, not politics

Arash-Tadjiki-cartoon Colby Patterson
Arash Tadjiki

Arash Tadjiki

In a perfect world, [the Olympics] would be all about the athletes,” began NBC commentator Matt Lauer during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics. This statement was followed by endless remarks about the politics between Russia and the United States, the controversy over homosexual athletes and the world’s expectations of the host country.

No, it is not a perfect world, and the games have never been about the athletes. The games are about whatever the media thinks will make the most money — and apparently crashes, family deaths and international drama top the list.

The U.S. announcers for both the 2014 Sochi and 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing games said multiple times that the host country’s efforts to put on a good show were “ambitious” — and when an Olympic ring in the opening ceremonies failed to open, the commentators claimed that that is what happens when the country takes too many risks.

Then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered the United Kingdom’s prime minister by questioning how prepared London was for the 2012 Summer Olympics. It seems the competition runs much deeper than the medal count. Rather than appreciate the hosts for their accommodations for the world’s athletes, those commenting can’t help making standoffish remarks about which Olympics were the “best.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin used the Olympics as a political statement as well, to attempt to spread Russia’s anti-gay policies. While laws in Russia concerning homosexuality are strict — Russia’s Bill 44554-6, for example, bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” — as Julie Chu, the U.S. flag bearer for the Closing Ceremonies said, “it has been a non-factor.” Also, considering the controversy over the multitude of laws being passed back in the U.S., the amount of pre-games discussion about LGBT rights during the opening ceremonies is a little hypocritical.

When commentators do find time to discuss the athletes, the focus tends to gear toward tragedy. On NBC’s website, highlight reels of crashes are generally among the first links listed. If there have been deaths at any point in an athlete’s personal life, it will be mentioned in interviews. Nate Carlisle of The Salt Lake Tribune listed 52 athletes, coaches and commentators whose losses had been publicized during the Olympics, regardless of how recent the death was.

Despite the Olympics being a media holiday, the athletes who are supposed to be the stars of the event aren’t compensated much for the worldwide show they’re putting on. U.S. gold medalists are paid $25,000, but the athletes need to earn most other funds from endorsements.

After so much speculation over the quality Sochi was going to offer and the social media outburst about the conditions in the Olympic village, Marylin Sowles, who was traveling with the team, mentioned “how kind and friendly everyone has been to us.” Michael R. Payne, former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee, called Sochi “quite possibly … the best-organized Winter Games ever.”

For those hoping to actually watch an Olympics for the athletes, it may be best to keep the coverage on mute.