The Tokyo Games Prove That the Olympics Are Less Relevant Than Ever

Yves here. Now that I am in a TV watching household, which still seems strange, I did manage to see, or more accurately, hear, some of the Olympics. They seemed not just less exciting but even less interesting than in the past, and I attribute at least part of that to the jingoistic coverage. The sportscasters would get worked up in a head to head event like the 400 meter freestyle when a US competitor looked set to win a medal, but when a Chinese swimmer was about to cinch a gold, you’d have thought they were giving a weather report (and not the Weather Channel at a hurricane either).

I am also going to stick my neck out on the Simone Biles controversy. First, since in gymnastics more than any other event, the participants take incredible risks and perform individually, the idea that they are treated and in one event, scored as a team is bizarre. But this practice has been solidified by the institutional “big money” character and what it costs to train an elite athlete. So I have zero sympathy for anyone who tries the “Biles let down her team” canard. If she broke her neck and wound up paralyzed, would any of her supposed team members change her bedpan? Or even send money to pay for her care?

Second, I’m bothered by Biles attributing her decision to stand down for most of the Games to “mental health”. Tactically, it was an astute move, since it shut most people up, and the last thing she probably wanted to have to do was to try to ‘splain herself. But longer term, I’m not sure she did competitive athletes a service.

My impression is not enough people have actually looked at some key Biles performances. This was her very first qualifying event, where she landed well off the platform on one of her tumbling runs:

This was the vault that led Biles to decide she needed to pull back:

The floor event fail must have been upsetting, but not dangerous. By contrast, it’s astonishing that Biles landed on her feet when executing a vault that was so different from what she intended.

To get back to my initial beef about “mental health”: readers commented about golfers, some of whom always had remarkable sang froid during competitions, versus others who were less consistent. Gymnastics, unlike other Summer Olympics events like swimming and track and field, are flat out dangerous. These sports demand an intense level of concentration and ability to block out distractions just to preserve life and limb.Not being able to always stay at that level is not a “mental health” shortcoming, any more than not being able to tumble like Biles is a “physical health” failing. I’d be happier if she’d used words like “concentration” or “focus” since they appear to more accurately describe what was happening. But it appears she needed to throw down a more brightly-colored flag to get the time and space required to regroup.

By Sonali Kolhatkar, the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

The coronavirus pandemic is resurging around the world once more, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19. Yet, athletic teams and players are competing in the Olympics, the world’s most prestigious games, as though it were 2016. The one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stemmed from the deadly new virus spreading across the globe, but apparently this is no longer a relevant concern even though infections are still surging. Perhaps the event’s organizers and stakeholders felt that the cost of a second postponement or outright cancellation was simply higher than the lives it will inevitably cost to go ahead as planned. Or perhaps it was mere hubris?

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said just before the games started, “overcoming the hardship of the coronavirus and to be able to hold the Games, I think there is real value in that.” But the event itself has been a hardship both in terms of public health and public funds, and we may look back on this year’s Olympics—held during a pandemic, extreme poverty, and a violently changing climate—as a perfect symbol of the increasing irrelevance of state borders, the subservience of humanity to nature, and the moral bankruptcy of our modern global economy.

In a world where international travel is commonplace, the coronavirus knows no borders. In 2020, the virus rapidly spread across the globe, and in 2021, its variants are impacting places far away from where they first mutated. It is no wonder that there is widespread opposition among the Japanese public to holding the games in the face of a deadly disease. A majority of those recently polled in Tokyo were convinced that the Olympics could not be held safely. “Gold medals are being given priority over people’s lives,” said anti-Olympics activist Misako Ichimura, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Hundreds of people connected to the games have already tested positive for COVID-19, including more than two dozen athletes. Japan’s medical association just announced a national emergency over rising cases of infection. The situation is so serious that patients are being turned away from hospitals struggling to keep up. Rather than proof that the Olympics are a symbol of victory against the virus, the games are a stark demonstration that the virus may be the one walking away with a gold medal.

In dollar amounts, the Tokyo games are the most expensive on record by far. Originally expecting the cost to be about $7.4 billion, the Japanese government’s price tag has now exceeded $20 billion. This includes the nearly $3 billion cost of a one-year delay. The single biggest line item in the Tokyo Olympics budget was the building of massive new venues where the games are being played, and which now sit largely empty and are a disgraceful display of wasted public resources.

Aside from the impacts to public health and finances, the Olympics do little to further global cooperation. White supremacy, anti-immigrant hate, and pandemic-related racism have surged all over the world in the past several years. Although enthusiasts would like to believe that the Olympics are a celebration of athletic achievement and a time to set aside rivalries and come together to revel in the heights of human achievement, the games are first and foremost a display of crass nationalism. Olympians are defined by the country they belong to, and their wins and losses are proxy wins and losses for their respective nations. The Olympics would be an entirely different institution if athletes competed as individuals, detached from the stamps on their passports. It is precisely the borders that separate performers (for they are indeed performing for a global audience) from one another that generate the tension and excitement among audiences.

Instead of unity, the games are all about showing off: the nation hosting the Olympics strives to display greatness and takes pains to hide pesky things like wealth inequality and homelessness. The individuals and teams competing with one another feel pressured to strive beyond their capabilities because the whole world is watching them succeed (or fail). The entire event is a grand exhibit of mass braggadocio, being held at a time when a global pandemic is surging, inequality is staggering, and the effects of climate change are all around us in the form of extreme heat, raging floods, and deadly wildfires.

It is standard form for host nations to sweep away homeless communities, fuel gentrification, and waste public resources to present a rosy picture for viewers and visitors at the expense of local residents. That is precisely what happened in 1984 when Los Angeles hosted the games, and that is what has happened in Tokyo ahead of this year’s games. A Los Angeles Times analysis concluded that “It’s become as reliable a part of the Olympics as cost overruns and allegations of corruption that the Games displace some of the host city’s most vulnerable residents.” It is no wonder that increasingly cities are choosing not to host the games.

Looking ahead to the 2024 Olympics in Paris and to 2028 when the games will return to Los Angeles, the residents of those cities should expect to pay a similarly steep price for the supposed prestige of hosting the international event. In LA where I live, the stakes are higher than ever. Even before the pandemic, skyrocketing housing prices dramatically increased LA’s unhoused population. The losses of the past year and a half have worsened the situation to untenable heights, and city officials earlier this year resorted to violent police sweepsof homeless encampments. Instead of investing in resources for the unhoused or regulating the housing market, the LA City Council recently passed a resolution effectively criminalizing homelessness and banning many outdoor tent living situations. It is as if the city is offering a preview of what is to come ahead of the 2028 Olympics.

In addition to fueling nationalism, sucking up public resources, and hiding social ills, the Olympics are a show of corporate PR. No matter how much fans may tout the “Olympic spirit” as central to the games, for global corporations, the Olympics are a perfect opportunity for large-scale advertising and sponsorship, and this year companies have invested billions of dollars into the Tokyo Olympics. But with the pandemic raging, even corporate sponsors are now too embarrassed to revel in the spectacle, downplaying their participation and disappointed in the low audience numbers their products are being received by.

Here in the U.S., television viewership of the Olympics is significantly down, much to the disappointment of NBC, which bought the broadcasting rights. Like the Japanese PM, the American TV platform was betting on the Olympics being a welcome distraction for a populace weary of the pandemic. “After everything the world has gone through… I do think that people are craving the shared experience,” said the NBC Olympics executive producer.

While it is possible that viewers today have many more choices of what to watch on streaming platforms than during past Olympics, it is also possible that many have simply lost their taste for a spectacle that relies on a facade of perfection when so much disaster is unfolding.

It is no wonder that some of the most prolific news coverage of the games has not focused on this year’s gold medal winners but on the American gymnast Simone Biles’ brave decision to withdraw from several Olympic events because she decided to prioritize her mental health over winning at all costs. It is as though Americans find a hardworking woman who has chosen self-care over competition to be a much more relatable figure at a time when our mental and physical resources are being exhausted.

Like Biles, perhaps we ought to focus on fixing our own problems rather than investing our scarce resources in a spectacle that costs us more than we can afford to give.

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56 comments

  1. Questa Nota

    One positive aspect of the Tokyo games for me was seeing the joy and unfiltered emotion of so many athletes. In this era of manufactured, stage-managed, filtered, handled, scripted and otherwise manipulated imagery, that was a pleasant reminder of how life can be so fulfilling.

    Seeing the camaraderie among so many of the athletes was an added benefit. They could appreciate and celebrate the great performances of their peers and not be shy about expressing that. I have hope for a younger generation that is less patient with the strictures of the modern world and look forward to seeing what they can do next in all phases of life.

    1. a fax machine

      Cynically, I haven’t had the luck to see that. All I get when I look it up is that guy on the whose who cried when he lost, since that’s one of the few photos NBC won’t DMCA. Seeing people be happy is nice, but the entire internet is built around drama and encouraging suffering which is what people outside of the Olympics upvote.

  2. Arakawa

    Part of why few people are watching the Olympics is that the IOC is quite jealous of the footage for online streaming purposes. Seems like the philosophy is that they don’t care how few people watch it as long as the views are monetized properly. It’s not easy to find, often region-locked (for example, the videos Yves embedded in the post won’t play in Canada). I gave up and bought a VPN to get the NHK version of the coverage.

    1. chuck roast

      All in the spirit of Avery Brundage. International scammer, racist, anti-semite, criminal and bag-man. You can find lots of info on his various shenanigans, and I’m sure that most of it is true. But, you only get the real feel of the guy from fiction. Check out If the Dead Not Rise where the great Bernie Gunther yet again swims against the Nazi tide of murder and corruption. It’s the ’36 Berlin Olympics and Brundage is…uh…spreading the wealth.

      1. s.n.

        All in the spirit of Avery Brundage. International scammer, racist, anti-semite, criminal and bag-man.

        You left out his philandering.

        i’d be interested to see any links on the scammer, criminal and bag-man assertions.
        Ditto racism.

        I’ve read all the Philip Kerr novels, including If the Dead Not Rise, and enjoyed them, but these are certainly works of fiction and Kerr’s assertions about Brundage are undocumented.

        Brundage is definitely guilty of being a man of his times, and espousing now-unpopular political beliefs (He was an America-Firster, along with Lindberg, but delivered a speech of such extreme views that he was dumped from that organizatiion. I’ve never been able to find the speech, only read characterisations of it.)

      2. John Wright

        One story is that Avery Brundage and coach Dean Cromwell kept two Jewish sprinters (Marty Glickman (later sports announcer in the NYC area) and Sam Stoller) off the 4 x100 relay at the Berlin Olympics as a courtesy to the host nation.

        This did allow Jesse Owens to get his 4th Gold Medal of the games, but Owens wanted Glickman and Stoller to run.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marty_Glickman

        After the Olympics were complete, the US officials told Owens to stay and compete in exhibition matches.

        He refused, went home and was banned from “amateur” competition afterwards.

        BTW, similar banning from competition occurred for Tommie Smith and John Carlos after their Black Power statement at the 1968 Olympic games.

        This also involved Avery Brundage, so even 30+ years after Berlin, he was still influential.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommie_Smith

        As much as I enjoy watching some of the events and referencing the current times to my old slow track times, having the Olympics disappear, with their resource squandering and mistreatment of athletes, would, in my view, be a positive for the world,

        1. s.n.

          Brundage in later days stated quite openly that he thought the 36 Olympics the greatest ever [in modern times]. If Leni Reifenstahl is any guide, it must have been quite a show… [go to Olympia and you’ll see a monument commemorating the 1936 invention of the Olympic torch relay]. And one could argue that Brundage was consistent in advocating non-political & non-commercial amateurism throughout his career, right up to 1972. This involved rejecting calls for boycotts.. but it’s not mere coincidence that this probably dovetails with his rightwing views. What I don’t see anywhere is any evidence to support Kerr’s assertions in his novel that Brundage was deeply involved with the Chicago mafia, or that the Nazis bought his support with jade artifacts.ditto ‘scammer’, ‘bagman’ and ‘criminal’…. I suspect he was a more than willing supporter without payoffs…

          interesting tidbit about Owens:

          https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/327893

          What was Owens’ reception on his return to the U.S.?

          As far as Owens was concerned, he was snubbed not by Hitler but by Roosevelt, who never met the American medal winners or telegraphed congratulations. Owens still had to live in a segregated country: He had to live off campus at Ohio State and take the freight elevator to his reception at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City after the Olympics. In 1936, he campaigned for the Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon, perhaps in part because he was embittered by Roosevelt.

    2. juno mas

      You can get a similar result of a VPN by using the free Opera browser. It’s not perfect, since it appears to select randomly for location (country of origin) IP addresses. When I use it I consistently get a “home” IP from Europe (sometimes Canada). Rarely does it provide a South America IP. Just a thought.

  3. Matt

    Re: Simone Biles. It could be that she is suffering with mental health issues, and “the twisties” are for her a consequence of this. Anxiety, for instance, can have very deleterious effects on peoples’ abilities to manifest their skills. I guess we don’t have the full picture.

    1. juno mas

      Yes, Biles with her extraordinary speed, power, grace and pressure to produce astounding feats of singular gymnastic performance —every time out— likely needed a “Time Out”. I actually think it was good for her ‘team mates’ to have an opportunity to shine—which they did.

    2. Arakawa

      I think the reason the Simone Biles situation gets so much attention has to do with how well the story plays into the growing view of the USA as a once-powerful country that is now reduced to posturing and hyping itself (conquer and democratize the Middle East in 5 years! high speed rail in California! spaaaace! #1 prepared in the world to fight a pandemic!) and then choking when it’s time to back up the hype.

      It’s totally unfair to the actual athlete, but entirely by accident it holds up a mirror to the USA. Thus, rather than having the media treat it as another installment of ‘stuff happens, even at the Olympics’ and moving on to the athletes who did do well, we got the obsessive speculation and attempts to rationalize it away.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I have read that she was on some kind of special-exemption-permitted counter-anxiety drug, and the RussiaGov decided to get the Olympics to cancel her permission-exemption for that drug at the last moment in order to re-anxietize her and cripple her performance. As a targetted tit-for-tat measure of getting even with the U S for raising Russian athlete doping issues.

        While I don’t like the thought of our foreign enemies sneering at us about the symbolism of this, I believe we can turn such sneer-mongering to our long-term advantage, if we can somehow use it to retire the concept of American Greatness Exceptionalism and create a concept of American Okayness Ordinarianism. America Okay! We’re Number Whatever! Time to lay this burden down.

  4. XXYY

    There’s no longer any reason we should be should be surprised that billion-dollar initiatives and events are being prioritized over the needs and welfare of the population. Whatever else they may be, the Olympics are a massive, interlocking greed-fest of hundreds of the world’s largest corporations: Media, construction, transportation, hospitality, and of course anyone with enough money to buy the overpriced ads that, aside from taxpayers, pay for the whole thing. The idea that such a juggernaut would be derailed just to keep people from dying is naive in the extreme.

    I’m not sure what the Olympics should be or what we want them to be, but it’s easy to see what they have become.

    1. Arakawa

      The decision to hold these Olympics in summer as opposed to October because that fits the TV-sports airing schedule better is probably the ultimate example of money prioritized over sports.

  5. freebird

    In that video I see a big, strong, skilled grown woman doing tricks meant for little 70 pound teens. I hope she transitions into an new sort of life that suits her new maturity.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    Re: Simone Biles. It was me who mentioned golf, but I only mentioned it in the context of the ‘yips’ as they call it – nearly every sport that I know of has an equivelent. In cycling its usually called ‘the fear’, when in the aftermath of a crash a rider keeps losing his or her nerve at crucial moments. Even combat sports has it – I can’t recall what term they use, but its not unknown for fighters to freeze (just look at some old Mike Tyson fights and you’ll see what his glare did to opponents). Runners too – in the Sydney Olympics one gold medal favourite very visibly fell apart in the middle of the race. It was covered up by commentators, but for those aware of her background (she was known to have a fragile mental state) it was all too obvious. There is also a clip on youtube somewhere of a young Spanish footballer who again, visibly went to pieces when brought on for his first major televised game. He was having abuse hurled at him by his own manager and fans, it was only apparent the problem was psychological when one of his coaches intervened. Even the great Zinadine Zidane once puked up just before going for a penalty kick (which amazingly, he scored). The Brazilian Ronaldo allegedly had a convulsive breakdown before the 1998 World Cup Final appearance, he could hardly move during the game, it was painful to watch him struggle.

    This is a long winded way of saying that what happened to Biles is entirely natural and understandable, and shouldn’t be put down to mental health. Its far more common than most casual observers realise simply because its usually dismissed by commentators or fans as someone ‘having a bad day’ or ‘pulling up with an injury’. Its just that Biles is so high profile it couldn’t be dismissed. She is to be congratulated for being so open and honest about it – she could easily have just said (as many do) that they pulled a hamstring or something like that.

    As for the Olympics themselves, I’ve enjoyed my occasional glimpses, mostly because its a distraction in the morning from when I’m supposed to be working from home. I enjoyed the track cycling and especially the womens skateboarding (although given their ages, perhaps ‘girls’ skateboarding is more appropriate). Two local women to me are competing – one won a bronze and the other is fighting for gold on the last day in the boxing, so its nice to see all the banners out here supporting them.

    Unfortunately though, I did make one prediction before the Olympics which has proven correct. I thought we’d see a lot of records broken by seemingly unnatural margins, and thats exactly what has happened. Needless to say, the Guardian ran a detailed article on why this could be without once mentioning the most obvious reason – an 18 month period of little to no competition meaning that many athletes could train without fear of a drugs test. This for me as spoilt the enjoyment of many of the endurance and power events.

    1. Basil Pesto

      Not sure if you my link in the thread yesterday after you posted, but a few years back there was a great article in the New Yorker about the yips.

      this bit’s interesting:

      A feature that golf shares with other sports in which yip-like problems are well known—archery, darts, rifle shooting, snooker, basketball free-throwing—is that every action begins from a dead stop, with ample opportunity between actions for counterproductive cerebration.

      It seems like the twisties are a slightly different problem, but maybe a related one?

      and there’s this bit about performance anxiety, which I think differentiates the yips from ‘the fear’ (after one or two mishaps, I get that whenever I cycle over tram tracks at an even slightly oblique angle 😰)

      Athletes and sports fans have generally assumed that yipping and its variants are forms of performance anxiety, or choking. It’s true that nervous athletes often play poorly, and that yipping is most evident when the stakes are high, and that even serious sufferers are sometimes able to perform in practice or while playing alone. Yet many yippers are veterans of competition at the highest levels, who never showed a tendency to buckle under stress; many others are casual players who have trouble even when the pressure is low. Yipping also is usually extremely task-specific. Haney never stopped being a good putter. Knoblauch didn’t have a problem throwing from the outfield. Archers who can no longer hit a bull’s-eye often have no trouble shooting at bare bales of straw. If the yips and other sports-related movement problems are solely a matter of anxiety, why do they affect only certain motions? And how can a change of target, technique, or equipment sometimes make them go away?

      Happened with snooker player Stephen Hendry, too.it’s fascinating stuff!!

  7. The Rev Kev

    I will say this about Simone Biles and it is this. It matters what the sport is. With gymnastics, unless you are performing to your best, you can do yourself some critical injuries to yourself very, very easily so I am not prepared to criticism her judgement call on quitting. And just because she is loyal to her team members does not mean that she is loyal to the USA Gymnastics. But then there are other sports. Rowing for example.

    So back during the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens, the women’s eights rowing final was being held. The Australian team was way ahead and assured of a medal with only 400 meters left to go when one woman – Sally Robbins – just lay back and quit. It was awful and unforgivable and it led Australia coming last. The dreams of a medal win for the other 8 girls was crushed. And then it was learned that this was the seventh time she had done this in a race. So no risk of injury here for her – she just quit.

    So as I said, it makes a difference in the consequences of the sport that you are doing.

    1. coboarts

      Rev, I’m glad you’ve brought up rowing – Go Aztecs! The thing I love about the Olympics is the showcasing of the sports that are generally never seen, the club sports: gymnastics, rowing, swimming, track & field, sailing, etc. I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know what sports channels may carry now, but these are the sports so many of us participated in and remember the training, camaraderie, and competition so fondly. But for years the coverage of the events has been crapified like so much else. It’s not just the greed, it’s everything. I’d love to see them cleaned up; I’d hate to see them gone. And more to your point, letting your teammates down is not and never will be “ok,” at least with me.

    2. Hana M

      Excellent points, Rev Kev. It’s also key to remember the degree of abuse that taints women’s gymnastics. Rachael Denhollander,like Simon Biles,was a survivor of years of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and the physical and mental abuse perpetrated by the Karoli trainers. Her Twitter account details some of the horrors these gymnasts endured: “Hey America- ya’ll praising the “results ” of the old system- did you know that our elite athletes were systematically starved so severely that at competitions many of them would walk the halls of the hotels eating scraps of food from food service trays put out as garbage?” and “Julissa Gomez broke her neck on a yurchenko vault and later died from the injury. She was coached by Bela, Marta and then AL Fong. Christy Henrich developed severe anorexia from the abuse and died from it. She was coached by AL Fong too.”.https://twitter.com/R_Denhollander

      Netflix’s superb documentary “Athlete A” shows how this constant, systematic abuse was aided and abetted by the US Olympic Committee and covered up by key oversight and law enforcement agencies from the FBI on down.

      Gymnast and survivor Dominique Monceneau shared this: “I was 14 y/o w/ a tibial stress fracture, left alone w/ no cervical spine exam after this fall. I competed in the Olympic floor final minutes later. @Simone_Biles decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health—“a say” I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian” Here tweet includes a truly harrowing clip of her brush with death on the balance beam: . https://twitter.com/Dmoceanu/status/1420396388614037509

  8. marieann

    I have long thought the olympic games to be a waste of money….money that could be better spent on populations who need it. It is a media frenzy and I do my best to ignore it.

    In saying this I will admit I am not a sports fan of anything.

    I think it’s good that people take part in sports but the whole gladiator shows are such a waste….put the money into improving the lives of the kids who don’t have money for sports…or food.

    1. Antagonist Muscles

      How does Yves even concentrate while watching or listening to television?

      I can definitely concentrate with my music on, maybe with somebody else’s music on. I can concentrate as a passenger on an airplane, a subway, a bus, or a private car. I can concentrate in a roomful of noisy people or one person jabbering on a phone. But it is impossible for me to concentrate with a television on.

      Apparently, I have some amazing hearing and visual abilities. Does anybody else hear how jarring the buzz on a television is? Does anybody else see how distracting the flicker of moving images is?

      Nevertheless, y’all shouldn’t be spending hours watching televised sports. If you have an hour to spare to watch sports, you really ought to dedicate that hour to exercising or participating in some sport. Who cares if the professionals are much better at a sport than you are?

      The Olympics and televised sports in general are a practical waste of time. Go have a good time and play a game of tennis outdoors. Or take a swim. Anything is better than sitting around watching sports. I’m sorry for being the wet blanket here. I am not a total wet blanket. I remember watching the 2016 Olympics at the gym, but I can’t go to the gym anymore.

  9. Anthony Stegman

    In futball the World Cup is held every four years. Professional futball teams from around the world compete for the coveted prize. Every four years the Olympics are held. Professional athletes from around the world compete for the coveted gold medal. I have watched both the World Cup matches and the Olympics. In my opinion the jingoism, nationalism, and corporatism are far greater during the Olympics. To a great extent this is the fault of the United States. For the Americans the Olympics have been a Cold War proxy for decades, with the media hyping American medal counts in comparison to the Soviet Union in the past and China in the present. I stopped watching the Olympics long ago. I simply can’t stomach them.

    1. QuicksilverMessenger

      Yes, and to add- at the Olympics, the US contingent also wins quite a bit of the time, so lots of opportunities for glorious sports jingoism. For the USA Men’s team at the World Cup? Not so much…
      But I think it’s not just us Americans who succumb to this. Look at the English when they made it to the Euro Final last month. OTP

  10. Anthony Stegman

    On a related note, the Buffalo Bills American football team is desiring a new stadium for which they expect taxpayers (somewhere) to pay the full or nearly the full cost. This is not at all unusual for an NFL team. The money spent on sports globally is astronomical. What explains this obsession with athletes and athletic activities when there are so many unmet needs (not wants or desires) around the world?

    1. Geo

      “ Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators. Here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary *familyblogs* bang their *familyblogging* skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America! You are free to do what we tell you!”
      – Bill Hicks

  11. Michael M

    My lack of interest in the Olympics is due to three things: 1) the monetization by NBC of the viewing; 2) the total nationalization and restrictions in the presentation of the games in the US (I used to watch it to see the best of the world’s athletes in action); 3) and foremost, the incident with Norway when they fined the team for wearing shorts and not bikini bottoms. The last is so hilariously wrong, that it exemplifies everything that is so wrong about the spectacle. It begs to ask why the men are not required to wear thongs. After all, from what I’ve read, the original games were played in the buff.

    The Biles issue is a non-event in my mind, as every athlete has to do what he or she must to protect themselves. The countering response is just stupid bs, and should be treated as such.

    I think the purpose of most spectator sports is to create a tribal unity within the group of spectators, (as Kurt Vonnegut termed it, “a false karass”), and distract people from reality.

  12. MonkeyBusiness

    According to Wikipedia (probably not that trustworthy), there were around 4 thousand homeless people in the entire Japan last year. Even if the actual number is double or triple that, it’s still a pretty small problem in my opinion, especially when compared to the scale of homelessness found in other countries. The Japanese government could have printed money and made the problem disappear for a long time instead of sweeping it under the rug.

    1. Rainlover

      Homelessness in Japan is just far more hidden due to the shame of it. DDG living in an internet cafe. Multiple you tube videos will come up. Very sad to see the blight of these young people’s lives.

  13. skk

    After a nasty 3 days of symptoms of COVID-19, PCR test confirmed, and stuck away from the spouse for a few days more, I’ve been watching the Olympics via VPN into BBC IPlayer. Sonali Kolhatkar and I must be watching different Olympics. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the rad sports of climbing, BMX, skateboarding. and 3on3 basketball. And tabletennis and field hockey which rarely get a look in on TV.

    I agree with the first poster about getting great joy watching the joy of the competitors. That and the camaraderie of the competitors – especially in the new ‘rad’ sports.

    The meaningless of national boundaries also stands.. There were the UK commentators whooping with joy about ‘British’ competitor 13 year old Sky Brown – who’s born in Japan, currently in Oceanside CA but also lives in Japan, Japanese mother and Brit father – which nationality is she again ? Of course it doesn’t matter to me and of course she should pick the team to play for based on her best chances of getting in.
    The ones who appreciate sports in itself can easily look past the ‘silly-to-us’ nationalism and balance that insanity with our own insanity of watching human being excel in ‘kinda-useless’ activities and not get into a snit about it.

    Who bears the cost, financial and otherwise of this ? well apart from the Japanese people via their govt, there’s the massive sums and efforts spent on training for the events by the athletes and families themselves – shouldn’t they be spending their efforts fighting ‘ White supremacy, anti-immigrant hate, and pandemic-related racism ‘ ? I’d say it takes all sorts of efforts to fight this hatred – to my mind, the multi- racial camaraderie, the ‘Hate Won’t Win’, heart logo, created by so so many athletes as they get introduced, the taking-the-knee, has reached a lot of minds and perhaps hearts.

    And that’s a win. Now its back to the olympics for me.

    1. Lambert Strether

      I don’t “follow” the Olympics because I don’t have a TV and don’t stream or anything like that.

      But I have felt free to enjoy what I did see in a way the off-putting pomp and cr*p-eating announcers of previous Olympics did not. I agree about the “great joy watching the joy of the competitors.” Joy is a good thing to be about. I especially enjoyed the two athletes who agreed to share a gold medal. This may have happened before but I certainly don’t remember it. I would like more Olympics with this sort of feeling. Let’s scale back a bit and remember it’s about the atheletes, perhaps? And not the ratings?

      1. Geo

        The nationalism and commercialism really taint the event and agree if the focus was simply on the athletes it would radically improve the event.

        But, as with so many things, improvement doesn’t equate to profit and the games feel like another victim of crapification.

  14. fresno dan

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/07/the-olympics-are-stupid/
    Stripped of any strong impulse to scream, “USA! USA!” — or whatever wannabe-American land you’re from, Johnny Foreigner — what exactly is the point of the Olympics? Am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat because it’s time to find out who rules the world of handball or kayaking? I don’t watch those sports between Olympiads, and I’ll be damned if the marketers will dupe me into watching them now. If 396 of the S&P 500 members were blowing most of their ad budget for the year pumping up the international stamp-licking championship or trans-galactic bow tie–tying contest, would I pretend to care about that? Maybe you would, sucker.
    …..
    Be honest: You don’t actually care who the best shot-putter or high-jumper in the world is, so the average Olympic event is merely senseless hype of useless skills; unless you get transported back in time and recruited to join Robin Hood’s Merry Men, archery isn’t going to be important for you. Being the fastest runner on earth is of no practical value in everyday life. Even if you someday find yourself having to dash away from bad guys, your foot speed won’t help you if the bad guys are skilled archers. As for curling, it was clearly invented by medieval druids for whom “pushing a rock” was the most interesting entertainment activity they could imagine. It’s just Stonehenge shuffleboard.
    =================================================
    I looked up the sports of the summer olympics. Look it up yourself and ask yourself, how many of those events would you actually watch AT ALL, and how many you would only watch during the olympics.
    Watching someone swim or run or throw a discus is pretty boring. I guess it is mildly interesting to know how fast the fastest human can run 100 yards – but not that interesting, otherwise such races would be shown weekly.
    I will grant gymnastics is interesting to watch. But try and tell apart the best, versus the 5th best gymnist while they are in the air. That is why this amazing human talent is distinguished pretty much by…how much they bounce when they land. Really…that is what is important? The fact that humans set up some “judges” to determine completely subjective criteria for judging a performance only tells you how contrived the whole deal is.

    1. fresno dan

      AND:
      Aside from the impacts to public health and finances, the Olympics do little to further global cooperation. White supremacy, anti-immigrant hate, and pandemic-related racism have surged all over the world in the past several years. Although enthusiasts would like to believe that the Olympics are a celebration of athletic achievement and a time to set aside rivalries and come together to revel in the heights of human achievement, the games are first and foremost a display of crass nationalism. Olympians are defined by the country they belong to, and their wins and losses are proxy wins and losses for their respective nations. The Olympics would be an entirely different institution if athletes competed as individuals, detached from the stamps on their passports. It is precisely the borders that separate performers (for they are indeed performing for a global audience) from one another that generate the tension and excitement among audiences.
      ===================================
      Imagine…NO tallies of gold medals by nation states, I wonder if you can.

  15. Keng

    I generally agree with this article and have not been watching much of the Olympics this year. Last night they were on so I watched the women’s 10 m platform diving final and was glad I did. The winner, a 14 year old from China, set the scoring record and two of her five dives were perfect.

    The diving was remarkable but I was truly amazed by the young woman’s focus throughout the competition. Only after seeing the score for her last dive did she allow herself to smile and celebrate.

    The announcer mentioned that had the Olympics gone on last year, she would have been ineligible for being too young

    1. MonkeyBusiness

      Apparently that young lady also has a mother who needs constant care after a serious accident, hence her desire to do well in the Olympics. As you said, we are talking about a 14 years old here. Just an amazing amount of maturity, focus and pose.

      Anyway, this story has a happy ending, because no doubt she will be showered with money by sponsors, etc. Her money worries are over.

  16. CanCyn

    A few notes on this…
    1) Re gymnasts as team members … there are both team and individual competitions. The bronze that Biles won on the beam was for her as an individual not a contribution or part of the USA’s team bronze. So much controversy for gymnastics with the Nassar crimes and other abusive coaching, standards for body size, sexist costumes and make-up and fake smiles to be held at all costs when competing. It Is long time since I’ve been able to enjoy the sport, much like figure skating.
    2) In general, ever since they allowed pro athletes to compete in the games, I have been disillusioned. I pretty much just pay attention to the track and field. It comes closer than anything else to the historical/ancient olympics.
    3) The over-commercialization and the money spent to host the games has also taken away much of the enjoyment of the games for me. Why not build two (winter/summer) permanent venues on each continent and just let different countries be the host? So much cheaper! Great tourist venues between games.
    4) Agree that the shared gold was lovely. Nice to see athletes from different countries congratulating and consoling each other too.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are missing my point.

      The idea of a “gymnastics team” is bullshit. or more accurately a phony construction (“the Squad” is another). They compete individually. Period. The fact that they do one round where their scores are added together does not change the fact that each performance is individual and independent of the others.

      1. Bijou

        Have to agree with Yves on this. I love sport, especially Rugby, which is brutal and honestly I should not enjoy it. But that is a team sport, where everyone is reliant upon each other. The “team” gymnastics competition is no such thing. It’s ultra-nationalism, as opposed to sane patriotism. It would be a team sport if the gymnasts had to hold each other up and do cartwheels on their team-mates feet or whathaveyou, like Cirque-du-Soleil.

  17. Pat

    I ignored the games for a few days, but I do love certain sports and can appreciate a few others.
    A friend actually subscribed to Peacock in order to be able to watch everything. They have loved watching the early qualifying events there because so many of these events are feeds from elsewhere and the commentators are not American and all about the sports.
    For me, the things I remember are the last 50 meters of the women’s 1500 where I finally got to see everything I have ever been told a runner should do, and later found out that this woman is a wonder who is running in every one of those longer races and even won the gold in one after falling and still qualifying in one of her earlier heats.
    Watching the brilliance of a 14 year old diver who has achieved a level of perfection as we currently know it and realizing that she will probably be stretching that perfection level for years to come.
    Seeing the winner of the women’s canoe sprint break down in sobs. That she was American was not what mattered. Her relief and joy was.
    I could go on, but truth be told I have always hated the rah rah America first approach to the Olympics. Our spotty support of athletes has always meant that it was one of our most absurd ideas, America has little to do with the achievements of most of the athletes who are competing in Tokyo or any other Olympics. Hard work and sacrifice, families and sometimes communities find the money for equipment and coaching and travel and…especially if the sport isn’t one of those that have endorsements. It would be nice if it was a celebration of that regardless of country.

  18. C

    NBC’s coverage has flat-out sucked. Much consumer confusion how to watch these Games, especially since the live events are in the opposite timezone and cable-cutting is a Big Thing. Me, I don’t mind replays or knowing the final outcome. I was hoping to watch a wide variety of events – from T&F to rowing on my own time and I was subscribing to Peacock. Very little in replay material is being shown there.

  19. Tom Bradford

    I’m another with no interest whatever in the Olympics, and have seen no more of it than has been shoved down my throat by the evening news which turns it into a preening fest of National self-congratulation for every medal “we” win and which “we” should celebrate and be proud of. I personally have done no more to aid and support “our” medal winners than I have any other of any nation, and have no claim to any ‘pride’ or investment therein.

    To my mind anyone who does their best deserves a gold medal, and good on ’em. But it’s nothing to me.

  20. cnchal

    > . . . the American TV platform was betting on the Olympics being a welcome distraction for a populace weary of the pandemic . . .

    The media deal was in place long before the pandemic.

    > . . . “After everything the world has gone through… I do think that people are craving the shared experience,” said the NBC Olympics executive producer.

    That is called shelacing the turd. This time around the Olympics are a big money loser and the NBC Olympics executive producer has to smile while the income statement has a gaping hole.

  21. timotheus

    Cannot bear the sight of athletes wrapping themselves in their respective flags after a triumph, as off-putting as soccer players crossing themselves or thanking their chosen gods after scoring goal. I can remember when we were taught that that sort of thing was NOT DONE. Oh well.

  22. James Simpson

    It has long been a source of puzzlement to me that anyone would regard an athlete or sportsperson as admirable for what they choose to do. After all, it’s a matter of spending huge amounts of time, physical effort and money on something that benefits no-one in the pursuit of personal glory. As other commenters have stated, these are both boring and pointless activities. Why should they attract attention? Let them do it alone if they wish but stop pretending it’s worthwhile. This is apart from the many excellent reasons to end the Olympic games permanently.

  23. a fax machine

    Many younger people just don’t care about these activities anymore. Olympic shooting is completely divorced from any sort of non-Olympic comp shooting, equestrian sports have little appeal outside of the British commonwealth, the eight different fighting styles have less viewership than the WWE, biking is for France, swimming is for white people and running is for kenyans. It’s not American Football, it’s not their basketball team, and it’s never anyone they know or could have known. It’s for rich people doing rich people things. As Americans become less wealthy, the support for this falls out completely.

    The basic idea that your country is overseas competing in a sanctioned event. Before we lived in a globalized world, the idea of interacting with other non-Americans had more value than it does presently when we can just go online and talk to each other.

    Which is where the kids are: on Amazon’s Twitch.tv watching videogame competitions. Computers are cheaper, anyone can compete at any time, and there’s endless meme opportunity. Anyone can put $500 into a game and train up to a comp level within a year, assuming they are serious (this includes NC’s commenters!). Meanwhile, Olympic teams have become completely divorced from the reality most Americans experience.

    It’s hard to be excited about the .22 Olympic-spec airguns those things are not even regulated as guns in the US. For a teen that wants to train and get serious about comp events, why would they train for an incredibly specific, niche tournament that happens once a year outside the country where guns are (usually) banned or train for a tournament using full-size mil-spec weapons that happens at least 3-4 times a year? The latter can even get them a job. Being an Olympian gives them, at most, a medal. Also compare the average athletes’ experience at such events: a US gun comp is part gun show part NRA wankfest part state fair, whereas the Olympic Village is an enclosed hotel where nobody can talk about guns or play with them openly, let alone get in their car and drive somewhere nearby where they can casually shoot them and blow things up. While Olympic Shooting is the one sport where these problems are the most pronounced, they exist in every other sport as well although to a lesser degree.

    nb: my comment applies more to the USA than most other countries, so your mileage will vary.

  24. SouthSideGT

    When I was a kid I followed the Chicago White Sox religiously like any other fan. Players back then I’m sure you know were athletes sure but they had off season jobs. Playing and watching and following baseball was just fun for everyone involved. But then big business/capitalism ruined it like it ruins everything on the planet. Even the planet. Same with the Olympics. I’m sure the IOC used to believe in the “Olympic Movement” but big business/capitalism has joined forces with nationalism and ruined it. “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” It certainly hasn’t worked out that way. Despite Larry Nassar Simone Biles preserved her own dignity and should be left alone by the rest of us.

  25. arte

    Were the Olympics not so exciting, or interesting, this time?

    Well… it was somewhat odd watching tennis and such without spectators the first week. But I somehow found myself watching an on demand stream of the men’s climbing qualies – with no commentary – and gradually really got into it. Watched the men’s final, with some actual commentary this time, and the scoring system made it absolutely nailbiting.

    Subsequently, as I couldn’t get enough of this climbing stuff, I watched women’s qualies as well, quickly realizing that the women’s side of the sport is also well developed and that the level was really quite high. I thought I was starting to get some idea of what is easy and what is difficult for the elite athletes in the sport.

    And then, and then… Janja Garbret started bouldering.

    Best Olympics ever. Or at least since Usain Bolt 2008.

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