Seven Tests Facing the Olympics
If the Games are to thrive past 2000, underlying problems like drug use and weak leadership must be addressed
THE recent Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro attracted 161 heads of state, making it the largest gathering of nations in world history. The previous record of 160 countries occurred four year ago in Seoul during the XXIVth Olympiad. Both records will be broken on July 25, 1992, when athletes from 172 countries will march in the opening ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics. Sixteen television corporations on six continents will beam the 200-minute ceremony to approximately 3 billion people.
Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896, there have been 37 winter and summer Olympic Games, with three cancellations because of war (1916, 1940, 1944). Barcelona will be 38. After 1992, double Olympic Games in the same year will change to every other year. The next winter Games will be in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994; the summer Games of 1996 will take place in midtown Atlanta; and Nagano, Japan, will host the winter festival in 1996.
The founder of the modern Olympics, French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), was a historian, an educator, and an idealist. He perceived that in the last years of the 19th century the world was ready, and even eager, for some kind of international, elite-level athletic competition. The Games provided this. But such competition was only half of what he wanted.
Coubertin believed that great art, great music, and lofty literature, while accentuating humanity's exotic differences, underscored the biological truism that we are all far more alike than we are different. But the message, he felt, was not universally understood. He was convinced that the Olympic Games could make this essential point about mutual understanding, trust, and even compassion more dramatically than any art or science.
But for nearly 100 years now, this double message of the Olympic Games has been poorly understood by the print media, and television announcers. Of course, the past 37 Olympic Games have not been unvarnished "fields of dreams." In the early days, they were not unqualified arenas for great athletes. Like all institutions, the Olympic Games have been imperfect. But the Games, in full view of the world, have gradually become the largest peaceful gatherings of humanity and the greatest sporting events in all
history. Having witnessed eight of these events, my assessment is that more "Coubertinian good" emerges from them than dissonant notes of meanness and vulgarity.
Today, the Olympic Games face serious problems. These must be identified, addressed, and solved, or the Games will have difficulty surviving beyond the first decade of the 21st century.
As a careful "Olympic-watcher" these past 40 years, I believe that there are seven danger signals - ideological, technical, administrative, entrepreneurial, political, and personal weaknesses - that must be dealt with if the Olympic Games and their larger manifestation, the Olympic movement, is to surge through the millennial year 2000. Here they are, in order of urgency:
1. The doping or drug problem must be solved by the dissemination of unremittingly honest scientific information. In concert with this global distribution, a system of surveillance, security, and discipline must be instituted that will be consistent and near-perfect in its application.
2. The membership of the International Olympic Committee (ICC) needs an infusion of new people who are significantly better educated, who have even richer backgrounds technically and administratively, and who, above all, are scrupulously honest. The 1992 committee is light years ahead of the committees of three generations ago, but it is still not good enough. The same consciousness-raising is applicable to the administrative staff of the 172 national Olympic committees (NOCs) and 40 international sport federations (ISFs) around the world.
3. The IOC, the NOCs, the ISFs - this Olympic triumvirate - must get out of the business of business, but not until the year 2000. Eighty-nine percent of the several billion dollars earned by the Olympic triumvirate serves the athletes of the world. But the cost in time and effort taken away from more important tasks facing the Olympic leadership is too great. The Olympic entrepreneurial effort these past two decades has been honest and immensely beneficial to the athletes. But the wisest future course i s to gradually get out of the business of business.
4. The cost of the two Olympic Games in 1992 - Albertville and Barcelona - will exceed $5 billion. These are unconscionably high figures, indefensible in light of present world economics. Olympic Games in the 21st century will have to find ways of maintaining the current high standards at less cost.
5. The summer Olympic Games program of events has grown so large and unwieldy it's almost out of control. The worldwide Olympic movement is capable of preventing the future proliferation of sports, events, and disciplines. The men and women in charge of winter and summer Games are even capable of organizing smaller, yet better festivals by the year 2000.
6. There is a great need for more highly talented women inside the Olympic movement of athletes, coaches, trainers, scientists, technicians, and especially Olympic administrators at all levels. More than 50 nations in the world have never had a single woman in any of the above-mentioned assignments.
7. The "professional" athlete versus the "amateur" athlete dilemma must be put to rest. Only professional boxers, a small number of professional soccer players, baseball players, and some figure skaters cannot participate in the winter and summer Olympic Games. Yet the amateur fiction persists.
At the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, 90 percent of those who won gold, silver, and bronze medals were financially subsidized by schools, governments, sporting organizations, and business corporations. Sixty years later, in Albertville and Barcelona, it will be little changed - 99 percent of the champions are financially supported. In 1932 and again in 1992, thousands of competing athletes received no "outside-the-family" financial aid. They were and are "amateur," and almost none of them won medals or will this year. The amateur versus professional "problem" at the Olympic Games is no problem; it's a myth and "straw-man" that must be put to rest.
The Olympic Games and the Olympic movement deserve to celebrate their century of high-minded, "one world" thinking. No human institution is immortal, of course. But with orderly reform this particular institution can emerge into the 21st century in an enviable position to serve an even larger universal constituency.