Olympic Fever, Chills & Diarrhea

How come we have so much money for the Olympics in these tough economic times when businesses are going bankrupt and people are losing their jobs and social program funding is being slashed?

  •  The provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have contributed $1.5 million
  • Quebec and Ontario have contributed $5 million
  • Ottawa has made a 654.65 million dollar “investment” into the games
  • Official sponsors, Canada Post, Royal Canadian Mint and the Vancouver Port Corporation have tossed in $23 million

Security alone is going to cost $900 million. No one can come up with a full tally of what the games are finally going to cost. There is a lot money going into infrastructure which isn’t being included in the actual Olympic tally:

  •  $1 billion is being spent on highway improvements
  • Close to another billion on the trade and convention centre
  • $2 billion on the Canada Line Skytrain

 Then there are a few million here and there for other things such as:

  • $47 million for the 2010 Winter Games Secretariat
  • $300-million “Olympic bonus” that unionized government employees got for signing a four-year contract that ends after the Games (and after the election).

 So far, the tally seems to be around $6 billion[1].

I don’t remember getting to vote on whether I wanted that money spend on luge or homeless shelters. Do you? (Oh, but don’t worry. There won’t be any unsightly homeless people in view during the games. They’re being “relocated”, which means that once the security fences go up, any shiftless poor people that are still around will be arrested.)

Olympics Then & Now

The original Olympic games were just a 190-meter footrace held every 4 years in Olympia Greece. Then, around 700 BC, they added boxing, wrestling, equestrian events and a pentathlon (which involved jumping, discus, javelin, running and wrestling).  The whole thing was over in 3 days. And everyone competed naked[2]. The closing ceremony consisted of slaughtering 100 oxen and having a big-assed feast.

Around 400 AD the Emperor at the time cancelled the Olympics because he reckoned they were too pagan in light of the nation’s conversion to Christianity.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the Olympics were revived. The first modern Olympics was held in 1896 in Athens and featured cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling and athletics (12 track and field-type events) There were 241 participants representing 14 nations.

Today’s summer Olympics feature almost 11,000 competitors from over 200 countries. There are 33 sports, 52 disciplines and nearly 400 events[3].

The winter Olympics (that are going to cost us over $6 billion) feature only 2,500 athletes from 80 countries competing in 84 events in: snowboarding, hockey, figure skating, curling, speed skating, Alpine skiing, cross country skiing, ski jumping, biathlon, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton.

Pros & Cons

People say Olympic money is well-spent as it’s going to bring hoards of people into the country who have piles of money to spend; and that tourism will increase for years to come because of it; and that the new infrastructure will be good for all sorts of things in the future.

People also say that competition is good and healthy and inspirational and brings the country together and forges important ties with other countries and puts us into the international limelight which will be good for all sorts of things in the future.

Maybe I’m not seeing the big picture clearly because to me it looks like the Olympics are more about the promotion of political ideologies and commercialism these days than about sport. Between the boycotts, threats of terrorism and violence, the rampant drug use, the IOC scandals and the flogging of Olympic kitch[4], the whole athletic competition angle seems to get lost.

Also, I wonder how much the Olympics are about showcasing this country’s best athletes versus just showcasing elitist athletes — those who have the money to train hours every day and to hire personal coaches to work exhaustively with them.

Anyway, the Torch Relay[5] begins this Friday, October 30th in Victoria. This party alone is costing half a million and, from the sounds of it, there will be more protesters and journalists in attendance than regular citizens.

I don’t know… back when I was a kid the Olympics were exciting. We used to huddle around the TV every spare minute we had to watch the competitions. As time went on, all the craziness, corruption and Las Vegas glitz sort of spoiled that. These days, I’m wondering how we justify spending such obscene amounts of money on this particular reality show.

[1] The 2012 summer Olympics in London are so far estimated to cost the equivalent of $15.5 billion Canadian, but with more than 2 years to go, the tally is far from complete.
[2] Hence the origin of the word “gymnasium” from the Greek “gymnos” meaning naked
[3]  Air sports, Bandy, Baseball, Basque pelota, Billiard sportsBoules, Bowling, Bridge, Chess, Cricket, DanceSport, Floorball, Golf (new in 2016), Karate, Korfball, Lifesaving, Motorcycle sport, Mountaineering and Climbing, Netball, Orienteering, Polo, Powerboating, Racquetball, Roller sports, Rugby union (new in 2016), Softball, Sport Climbing, Squash, Sumo, Surfing, Tug of war, Underwater sports, Water skiing, Wushu
[4] Television revenues are contributing around $650 million to the Olympic pot.
[5] Interestingly, though the ancient Greeks kept flame going throughout the Olympics, there was never an Olympic Torch Relay until the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Hitler decided it would be a great symbolic connection to classical Greece as the Aryan forerunner of his view of the German Reich.