The Olympic credo is "Faster, Higher, Stronger." Yet, how many sports are now in the Olympics which do not align to the credo? Why are eSports on the cusp of inclusion? Why is anything that first appeared in the X Games now in the Olympics? Being able to fly into the air and complete aerial tricks on a snowboard is athletic and takes talent and is something that I could never aspire to do -- not ever. I can scream down a descent on my bike at 60mph without thinking twice, but there's no way in Hell I would ever try to flip around in the air multiple times while heading down the snowboard half-pipe. Crazy! But, this is just one example of many of a sport that has no business in the Olympic Games.
Here's another way to think about it. If the Olympics are not the epitome of a sport, then that sport should not be in the Games. It's not a perfect distinction, but it is close. For example, cycling has the Classics, the Tour de France and the World Championships; hockey has the Stanley Cup; baseball the World Series; golf the various Majors; tennis the various Grand Slam events; basketball the NBA Championship. It is absolute stupidity and nothing but nationalistic ego stroking for the USA to win the gold in basketball at the Olympics when we flood the team with the best the NBA has to offer. Why watch? It is a foregone conclusion, for one thing. Even those sports with annual or bi-annual World Championships can still put the Olympics above that event in terms of prestige and honor.
And, speaking of basketball, it looks like 3-on-3 basketball will also be in the Olympics. What's next, "21" or H-O-R-S-E? Where does the silliness end?
The commercialization of the Games has become their undoing. Peter Ueberroth managed to turn a profit with the '84 Los Angeles Games by selling promo time to sponsors for big bucks. Up to that point in time, any host city operated at a huge financial loss given the exorbitant cost of building the necessary infrastructure and competition venues. The cost of tickets and food and merchandise could not come close to making a dent in those costs. Ueberroth adopted a model which showed there was a different way. Unfortunately, a little of a good thing became a lot of a bad thing. As I said above, I don't even know what I'm watching anymore. Athletes care more about image and schlepping logos than ever before. And, why not, when big bucks are at stake. I would, too. This isn't a self-righteous rant. But, make no mistake. Today's athletes represent themselves and their sponsors, not their countries. When some athletes pull out of some events because those events don't fit their schedule, when athletes swoop in, compete and then leave the Games just as quickly, there is a bastardization that has taken over the Games and crushed the Olympic Spirit.
Maybe it has been this way for longer than the past 30-35 years, since the Summer Games in L.A. I think the gluttonous beast that is the Olympics has evolved into this grotesque version of itself for myriad reasons. Some are listed above. Opening up all the sports to professional athletes is another.
The cost of the privilege to broadcast the Olympics has risen nearly tenfold since 1984, yet viewership is down and continues to decline. NBC is hemorrhaging money for this year's Winter Games. Fewer and fewer cities are lobbying to host future Games. The Olympic machine has lost touch with not only its soul but with its audience. Fewer and fewer people care. I wouldn't be surprised if we are seeing the beginning of the end. Unless the powers-that-be take a big step back and figure out a way to undo this mess, it can only get worse until it is no more.
The Olympics used to be a way for the world to put its differences aside and marvel in the spectacle of the feats of the best athletes; at least for a little while. The politicization and commercialization injected into the Games over the decades has served as a more vicious 1-2 punch than any Olympic boxer has ever delivered. It is sad. Really sad.
I do not fault people for tuning in and for celebrating the victories of their favorite athletes. For a shrinking number of folks, the Olympics will always be a grand event, and for which the two years between Winter and Summer Games cannot pass quickly enough. Part of me envies them. Most of me does not.