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Cafe Society to discuss the Olympics

By Staff | Aug 19, 2016

The Cafe Society’s next session on Aug. 23 will discuss the Olympics extravaganza going on in Rio de Janeiro and what this profound international event has become in recent times. Always more than just a series of highly competitive contests, in which the athletes represent their nation, there are significant financial and political aspects. They often have much to do with national prestige and credibility and little to do with sports.

These informal weekly Cafe Society discussions, part of the Shepherd University Life Long Learning Program, are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. every Tuesday morning in the Rumsey Room of the SU Student Center. There are no fees or registration requirements.

Mike Austin, facilitator, commented, “Gone are the days when the U.S. fielded teams of amateur athletes whose motivation was simply to excel in their chosen field of endeavor to pursue the Olympic motto “faster, higher, stronger” or observe the Olympic creed in which the object is “not to win, but to take part.” There was a time when Olympic athletes who were paid or rewarded for their performances, when caught were humiliated and disgraced.

“The line between professional and amateur was obliterated in stages. At first amateurs were permitted to compete with professional athletes and those representing totalitarian or communistic states were simply considered to be professionals in employ of the state. The big change came with the advent of television and the games literally became nothing more than highly lucrative programming that commanded increasingly large portions of prime viewing time and attendant advertising revenue. The athletes were transformed essentially into attractive high performance actors with all the associated image building enhancements including publicists, agents and legal and financial advisors to help promote and exploit their brief moments in the lime light. Why else would you have popular events like beach volleyball, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming? Of course winning became everything the collection of gold medals, the only thing that really counts. Second place or also- ran finishes have a stigma that attracts little interests from sponsors or promoters.”

Austin added, “Successfully hosting the Olympics is a daunting challenge for any nation. They are caught up in the same set of promotional and fiduciary dynamics that the athletes face. In the case of Brazil, who won the right to host the games seven long years ago, huge investments in both financial and political capital were required to make the designated facilities viable for 33 venues and 306 events. The games, which will end on Aug. 21 after hosting over 11,000 athletes from over 200 nations, are forecast to cost $4.6 billion dollars, a full 50 percent over budget and those numbers are very conservative. When supporting public infrastructure is included, the costs are expected to exceed $20 billion.

“There have been numerous items in the news sensationalizing the myriad problems that Brazil has had to deal with as host. Other nations that hosted the Olympics in recent years have suffered similar fates. The U.S. in putting on the summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 experienced a terrorist bombing and major public safety issues that detracted from the games. But even though they lose money, empty the public coffers, are simply another form of public entertainment and suffer from blatant financial exploitation by business promoters, the games are entertaining and the average American takes pride in each and every victory. The daily medal count is closely watched. It still feels good to beat the Russians.”