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.
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26 responses to “Olympic Fever, Chills & Diarrhea

  1. The 1976 Montreal games were just paid off a few years ago. The cost is crazy, the security is a nightmare, and corporations have far too much say about what goes on in the games now but I still love the Olympics.

  2. Wow you are a commie…all worried about the homeless instead of the time honored tradition of the Olympics. I mean…CURLING…you just don’t get to see Curlers everyday do you? No, seriously, curling was invented by a bunch of drunk Scotts wasn’t it? I don’t get curling as a sport, I really don’t. I mean if curling is a sport, how come distance spitting is not a sport?

  3. Ooooh – don’t even get me started on the Olympics!

    Everything in Vancouver is all Olympics all the time now – but I don’t know if anybody really cares. There is very little true buzz around, unless it’s about how much the damn thing is costing us and suggestions as to what the hell we should do about all those homeless drug addicts and mentally unstable people hanging around just a few blocks east of the downtown Olympic venues.

    I drove up to Whistler two weekends ago on that new improved highway (the cost of which, by the way, our BC government is apparently not counting in the Olympic tally because they say the improvements were necessary anyway). The highway is a lot of fun to drive, with great scenery, and really is much better than it used to be, but I won’t be able to drive it too much longer, because they’ll be pretty much closing it soon, unless you have a pass or something to get you through the checkpoints. There will be no point in going to Whistler anyway, because there will be nowhere to stay for a reasonable price and nowhere to park if you do find a room (unless you have a parking pass) and tickets for events were next-to-impossible and very pricey to get in the first place. But if you did happen to get tickets to see something, the only way you’ll be able to get to the Whistler venues will be by bus – but they won’t run all day.

    Wow – imagine what I’d write if I actually DID get started!

  4. I love the Olympics but always breathe a sigh of relief when Dallas is passed over as host. Part of the fun of the Olympics is seeing the video tours of the host city and I don’t care to see a bunch of cowboys dancing at Billy Bob’s or whatever other local crap they might show. And I’d hate to think they would show the Zapruder tapes over and over.
    I have to disagree with you about the elitist athletes though. I’m sure there are many, especially in certain events such as rowing, sailing, equestrian stuff, but they always do stories on the hardships of many of the athletes. A famous example is Tanya Harding. She was really poor. Also Home Depot always runs ads about how they give jobs to Olympic athletes and they show actual athletes working there. If these people were rich, they would not be working at Home Depot. Also it always makes me sad when a winner is interviewed and they say, “I wish my parents could have afforded the trip.” You gotta be really poor to not be able to attend your child’s Olympic performance.
    While it is very expensive and a hardship on most citizens of a host city, I really love the Olympics and will continue to support them

  5. Like Geewits, I love the Olympics, and the videos of the host country are really interesting. Although I think the money spent on the show has gotten way out of hand. As has the inclusion of so many of these sports – team sports that already have their own major championships should not be included. It is not good for the athletes who are too exhausted for all the travelling and games they must include in their schedule. And they already have their own World Cup and Stanley Cup and World Series and PGA Tours – they are PROFESSIONALS.

    And I would also disagree about the “elitist athletes”. I know two Olympians and they were in no way well off financially. They relied heavily on sponsors to help get them to their various meets and for their equipment.

  6. Dr. Monkey – I know. I used to love them, too. It just seems like another TV extravaganza to me now though.

    Cedar – What about bowling, bridge and chess and wushu or Basque pelota? It’s worth putting up with a little curling and spitting for these SPORTS isn’t it?

    Pinklea – But, isn’t this going to put Vancouver on the map? Bring in tons of money from Olympic tourist? Finally get all those project done that the city has been putting off for years? Finally get all those ugly people off the streets and tucked away into prisons and other dark corners where no one will be bothered by them anymore? Isn’t this going to be a huge boon for ya’ll?

    Geewits – I know you’re a big fan and I can remember how really fun it was to watch all the events. The Olympics have been elitist since ancient Greece. They had all sorts of rules about who could participate which left out all but the cream of society. I don’t think it’s changed that much. To make it to the Olympics you have to train for hours every day – not just 2 or 3, but 6, 8 or more. How do you hold down a job while doing that? And you need a coach devoted to you and only you. You have to pay such a coach and I’m sure they don’t work cheap. You need equipment, depending on your sport. You need clothing. You need ice time or pool time or gym time or hills full of snow. All that costs money. A lot of countries take care of all these expenses for their athletes. They pay them to train. Canada isn’t one of them. I don’t know what arrangement the US has with their athletes. Maybe I’m cynical, but all these sad stories of kids working at Home Depot (free advertising for Home Depot) or their parent not being able to afford to come –I’m not sure I completely believe them.

    Violetsky – I don’t know why hockey and baseball and golf are in there either. And see my note to Geewits about the elitist athletes. How did these people you know get sponsorships in the first place? Some kid off the street isn’t going to get endorsed by corporations until he’s gotten some significant wins under his belt. Having had a kid in figure skating, without even getting both feet into the competitive stage I can tell you, it’s bloody expensive already. This is just with group lessons. I can’t even contemplate buying her private ice time for 10 hours a week and paying for a coach to be there with her all that time. It’s completely inaccessible. I’ve also known a couple of rowers who went to the Olympics. They had full time jobs and trained whenever they could. Their coaching fees were split between the whole team so it wasn’t too bad. However, they also totally bombed out at the Olympics. The friends you know – did they come home with a medal? One of the reasons Canada never does too well is because our athletes don’t get the level of training other country’s athletes do.

  7. I partially agree with you here. Personally, I’d rather we didn’t spend the 6 billion dollars at all. Obviously it’s “surplus” in that we can blow it on something as blatantly frivolous as Olympics. It would be better if it got spent actually helping Canadians, but I’m going to go the extra step and say that it might be best if it didn’t get spent in the first place.

    I have never been a fan of the Olympics. It’s a grossly over-hyped marketing engine. Far too many of the “sports” are subjective (i.e. they’re judged on things like “artistic interpretation” – that’s not what olympic competition was ever supposed to be about… what’s next? Olympic oil painting? Olympic short story writing?); far too many of the sports are more like activities than real sports (golf, beach volleyball, ping pong); and it’s far too political… in short, it’s bollocks that costs a boatload of money for which we get nothing.

    Montreal only recently finished paying for it’s go at the Olympics. 30 years to pay off that debt, and for what? Imagine how much better Montreal would be if they funneled that billion-ish dollars into social programs, or simply didn’t spend it at all.

    In fact, some might argue that we are demonstrably WORSE off for the Montreal olympics because the Olympic Lottery was started to help pay for it. The Olympic Lottery was the first legal big lottery in Canada (it became Super Loto, and I don’t think it runs any more). That lottery started our country’s addiction to lotteries, an addiction that definitely hurts people at the low end of the income spectrum.

  8. Violet – the reason they allow “pro” golfers, basketball players, hockey players, etc. is because it is very difficult to draw the line between “amateur” and “pro”.

    Traditionally, US and Canadian NHL players weren’t allowed to play in the Olympics. This created 2 problems.

    1. some of the potential players would delay their entry into the NHL in order to get on the Olympic team.

    2. East block players, technically employed by the army, were considered amateurs even though their army job was effectively playing hockey at a world level.

    The reason Russia did so well in Olympic hockey is because they could field pro players for years while North America could only run out its second-stringers.

    Ditto for other sports.

    With regard to funding athletes… It does not injure me in any obvious way when Canada doesn’t win any medals. It simply doesn’t affect me or anyone I know. And while I can understand that an athlete feels a massive sense of accomplishment when they win a gold in some competition, I fail to see why my tax dollars should pay for it. It simply doesn’t make sense to me to provide resources to a person who chooses not to get a job but to whack a ball, or dance on skates, when there are people starving in the streets, running around with untreated mental illness, losing their retirement in company bankruptcies and any of a huge list of other social problems and issues that are way, way more important than someone bringing home a gold medal at a political “sports” event.

  9. The “highway improvements” are of very dubious benefit. It would have made infinitely more sense to run passenger trains to Whistler and ban private cars.

    As it is, Whistler will be absolutely packed with cars. Security would also have been cheaper if private vehicles were excluded.

  10. Governments love to have their athletes compete internationally; especially if they bring home a slew of medals. It spurs patriotic fervour which in turn makes the citizenry more apt to accept policies and programs that they would not else have accepted. Hitler recognized this and his propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, used the ’36 Olympics to showcase the Third Reich and the Aryan race to the world.

    Happily, Jesse Owens sorta put a spanner into the works on that front 🙂

    Other governments have used the Games as such as well. The Soviet Games, the ones in L.A., Munich in 1972 and the most recent games in China were all used for propaganda purposes by the national governments quite effectively.

    All that being said, I like the Olympics. I do wish that they were less politicized and that some of the wonkier sports were let free, but all in all, I think they provide a peaceful forum for representatives of nations to compete in their disciplines.

    And like some of the other commentators, the athletes are not “elitists”. They work incredibly hard to get where they are and some nations (Canada was one until very recently) provide little or no assistance. They sacrifice normal lives, family and career to excel at what they do.

  11. Probably the first time in history that “Olympic Fever” and “Diarrhea” were mentioned in the same breath. I wish TSN would have coverage like that.

  12. Good post. I’m wondering if it would be closer to Olympic tradition to have the homeless people strip down and pose, instead of relocating them. Er, probably not.

    Then again, maybe homelessness can be the next Olympic sport! Finally we’d start spending money to fix it!

    – RG>

  13. Squid – Ya, other cities have said the same thing about hosting the Olympics – that it was hell before, during and after and that they’ve never seen any real benefit. However, this will be London’s 3rd time, so there must be something about it they like. As to the idea of providing money for someone to “whack a ball”, I guess that’s considered their job along with being ambassadors for the country. I’m pretty sure the government pays a lot of people a lot more money for doing a lot less.

    Milan – As Pinklea (a Vancouver resident) has mentioned above driving around during the Olympics is going to be a nightmare. Not very forward thinking of them, was it?

    Trashee – Peaceful forum?? With all the battles, infighting, protesters, terrorist threats, drug scandals?? And ya, I do understand that it takes a hell of a commitment to become an Olympic athlete and if everyone is telling me that everyone with some ability has the same chance of being an Olympic competitor as everyone else; rich or poor, then I’ll have to take your word for it. I still don’t understand how an inner city kid whose family is low income or on welfare would even begin to become skilled as a figure skater for instance. What are the odds against her ever getting lessons to begin with? What are the odds of her getting to the Olympics as opposed to the kid from the upper middle class family who can afford the best coaches from when the kid is 5 years old?

    Chris – I’m always happy when people appreciate my titles. I often work really hard at them.

    Grouchy – Ya, dumpster diving competitions. The cardboard box luge and sleeping competition. Marathon running from the police.

  14. London is a city that has been there for over 1000 years. That longevity probably means that the Olympics can’t really hurt it much.

    And yes, although the government does pay some people for doing what amounts to nothing, that does not justify paying MORE people to whack a ball. As a society, I think we really have to stop idolizing people who excel at what are often little more than children’s games (even if they are played at a level that a child can’t reach). They aren’t improving our condition… all they offer are fleeting feel-good moments, and even that’s a reach.

    I’d much rather that our country be known for turning out top-notch scientists, engineers, business people, literary masters, and thinkers than a bunch of ball-whackers and pole-jumpers. It means a lot more to me to know that insulin as a treatment for diabetes was discovered by a Canadian than to know that we won a gold medal in the last Olympics.

  15. Squid – note that lots of scientific/technological advances DO come out of things like athletic competition and human space exploration. They learn things about the body to optimize performance, but as a result we also learn much that is useful to the human condition. A by-product, if you will.

    Still, I can’t stand idols or competitions, particularly when the biggest sport being played is watching.

    – RG>

  16. Squid – I don’t understand why this wouldn’t be everyone’s preference. But, the insulin docu-drama was really boring and never captured much of an audience whereas the Olympics will be an extravagent extravaganza; a spectacular spectacle with an opening ceremony that will outdo every other opening ceremony ever in the world with more fireworks and billions of dollars worth of light shows and adorable young children singling patriotic songs. If it were actually about athletic achievement I could understand spending “some” money on it.

    Grouchy – Lots of technological and medical advances come out of war, too. In fact, lots of medical advances came out of experiments in concentrations camps. I think you could study sport and athleticism without putting on a $6 billion show.

  17. And that whole “Amateur” thing is a load of crap. This had nothing to do with the original Olympics. In fact, the ancient Greek Olympic champions earned the equivalent of a rock-star’s salary.

    No, the “amateur” status was a recent creation on the 19th century. The upper-class twits participated in “gentleman” sports for fun. They didn’t want to mingle working-class athletes who did sports to earn a living.

    And by the way, I think ANY sport that can’t be measured with either a ruler or stopwatch is NOT a sport, and should be banned.

    I.e. Figure skating, with all the politics and judging, and people winning by 0.025 points out of 6.

    Hmph. What a joke!

  18. Yeah. We are getting the summer Olympics in 2012. Woo. Hoo. (Actually, I should be more enthusiastic since my husband looks after the 2012 domain names so the Olympics are contributing to putting food on my table. But even still. Meh.)

  19. Um, I’m going to do my best to get the hell out of town when the Games are going on … my mild agoraphobia is going to go into overdrive. :S

  20. Friar – “ruler and stop watch”? Hey, that’s what I take on all my dates, too!! Ar-ar-ar… Anyway, I agree there are way too many events, making the whole thing longer and more of a production than it needs to be.

    Loth – That’s going to be some show in 2012 from the sounds of it. And your man is doing domain names. Wow. If I knew what that meant I’d probably be really impressed. Actually I’m still impressed that of all the people in the UK, he (way up in Edinburgh) is doing this…whatever it is.

    Quack – Well Ottawa ought to be pretty damned dead during the Olympics with all the government types taking advantage of their status to head for the west coast.

  21. Yeah, I used to love them too but I notice I am not as pumped as I used to be. I like Friar’s criteria of stopwatch and ruler. Maybe there should be a movement to bring athleticism of that sort back to the Olympics. I have always thought boxing was stupid at the best of times and why we have a “sport” where people beat each other senseless in the Olympics (or at all), I do not know. I used to figure skate but I don’t think it should be an Olympic sport, especially because the Canadians always choke when they get there anyway.

    Yes! Let’s pare down the sports and get back to fundamentals. After all, the motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius — “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Curling, this is not.

  22. I love watching the amazing athletes, even if they are an elite. I am getting a lot of fun out of watching the hockey stars trying to be figure skaters, for instance. But there is not the same exitement over winning. I just wish that the athletes didn’t get seduced by performance enhancing drugs, poor things.
    We can and do spend just as much money on even stupider things.

  23. Mary – It makes me crazy that there’s all this money out there and yet everyone is crying the blues about the economy. How do we justify spending 6 BILLION dollars on this show when people are homeless or about to be homeless because they have no more job? When people can’t get the medical care they need because of lack of health care funding. When our schools don’t have enough teachers or books or when schools are closing because we can’t afford to keep them open? It really is obscene in my opinion – I don’t care how lovely those 2500 athletes are to watch — and I agree, they are often very nice to watch.

  24. dang, i had NO IDEA about how much money was going to the olympics. jeebus. i am like you, watching it as a kid and it was super exciting.

    watching last year it seemed as if it was more cut throat and not like it used to be.

  25. Leah – I don’t think people pay much attention to the money spent on this. I really don’t know how it can be justified given everything else that’s being cut back.