Take the games out of the Olympics

This coming September, millions, perhaps billions, of people around the world will watch their country's athletes perform in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney.

But I will not be one of them. For the first time since I was 12, when I watched the Canadian equestrian team win the country's only gold medal on the last day of competition at the 1968 summer Games in Mexico City, I have decided that I will not watch any Olympics coverage on TV, nor make an effort to follow coverage in the papers.

The reason for my decision is simple - the modern Olympics have become a scandal-ridden, drug-infested, consumer product designed to be a cash machine for the various parties involved. And I'm not interested in supporting it any longer, even if just as a spectator.

Let's be honest - if the only problem of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was a scandal-ridden administration, the Games could probably survive. After all, the United States has moved along quite nicely, thank you, even though its chief executive has had a second term that could politely be described as "problematic." But the Games' problems are much worse than who got what free gift from which bidder, and mainly fall into two areas: the failure of the IOC to adequately address the drug issue and the commercialization of the Games, which have more in common than might be expected.

While it is true that the IOC has taken some steps to address the use of performance-enhancing substances by athletes (including expanding the number of people who actually see the doping test results), the measures are more cosmetic than substantive. Worse, the new moves do little to dispel rumors that the IOC has looked the other way on more than a few occasions when top-level athletes have had positive drug tests.

The truth is the IOC knows many of the world's top athletes are bending or breaking the rules, and it fears the kind of scandal that erupted when the 1998 Tour de France instituted tough drug testing on all competing cyclists. (Several top riders were disqualified and several others dropped out, probably to avoid being caught.) Not to mention how sponsors might react if their star spokesmen or spokeswomen were caught cheating.

Meanwhile the TV networks, desperate to attract audiences, have forced the IOC to add competitions over the past few years that can only loosely be defined as "sports." (If the networks could get the IOC to have a "Survivors" competition as part of the Games, they would in a heartbeat.)

It all adds up to a farce, and a sad one at that.

The only solution is to shut the whole mess down, wait a few years, and start again. The downside to this solution is that the many athletes who don't cheat would lose their chance to compete in the Olympics, perhaps forever. But they might lose that chance anyway if the Games continue to be run in their current fashion. Better to shut down for a few years and fix things, than wait for the Games to collapse inward from corruption and rot.

Perhaps we can learn from past mistakes and create a fairer version of today's Olympics. If not, I suspect that I'll be joined by millions of other nonviewers, tired of scandals, unsure of the honesty of results, wishing the whole thing would just go away.

*Tom Regan is the associate editor of The Christian Science Monitor's Web site, csmonitor.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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