I find it interesting that people are suggesting that the Georgian move on South Ossetia a few days ago occurred when it did because the Olympics are on and no one would notice because they would all be watching the sports. Meanwhile, at this particular moment, the highest ranking story regarding the Olympics on the BBC news feed is 15th in line. It seems to me that this year’s Olympics are not exactly the hottest thing going. There are probably a few reasons for that.

In any event, “Why boycott the Olympics?” you say?


Well, if I was a country, I would be unlikely to boycott the Olympics. I have disagreed with most Olympic boycotts in the past. The Olympics should be seen as a way for disparate views to be put aside in the international arena of politics to celebrate and engage in the one-ness that certain endeavors, such as sports, science, and literature, provide us.

This does not mean that all Olympic boycotts are bad. There will always be a certain amount of gray area in this regard.

But that is about countries sending or not sending their athletes to the Olympics. This blog, however, could boycott the Olympics without ruining our chances of world peace. But why?

Because it is in China, which was a really insenstiive, dumb decision on the part of the Olympic Commitee.

Because the Olympic Committee has so far rejected any African country as a site for the Olympics, which I view as Euro-centric racism.

Because it is boring.

Because to really see the Olympics you need to be special, to have expensive cable hookups, etc.

Oh, by the way, did you hear the US Women’s team creamed the Chinese? (Regarding the men’s completion, I watched a bit of it at the cabin, where people were wandering in and out, glancing at the TV, and all saying nearly the same thing: “Oh, the Globe Trotters went to the Olympics I see….” or words to that effect.)

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    August 11, 2008

    You forgot, “Because the ‘human interest’ stories cooked up about the competitors by the media are annoying and frequently take up more airtime than any actual sport.” And I always feel lazy sitting still while watching someone else be athletic.

  2. #2 student_b
    August 11, 2008

    Because to really see the Olympics you need to be special, to have expensive cable hookups, etc

    Thankfully we communists back in socialist Europe have state television which broadcasts the full Olympics free of charge and without commercial breaks.

    Not that I’m watching it, but just to taunt you. ;)

  3. #3 Martin
    August 11, 2008

    Well, I blogged my criticisms about this Olympics recently, but playing Devil’s Advocate I’d point out that much of the world would have similar problems now with the United States hosting. And of course the United Kingdom. That said, I think this Olympics is particularly evil, largely because of the forced evictions and demolitions inflicted on the people living in the way of the party.

    I don’t see any racism in rejecting African hosts so far, I think it’s more a case of “poorism”. The Olympics is a very expensive thing to run, and requires significant investment in infrastructure. Having said that, a stripped back, traditional Olympics would I think be very cool.

    I don’t really understand your comment that to see the Olympics is hard or expensive… it’s on live 12 hours a day on free terrestrial television, BBC1 and BBC2. If you don’t happen to live in a place where you can get BBC1, well, *pfft* silly you for not moving!

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    August 11, 2008

    Martin: I agree on the problems with the US hosting, but not with your point about Africa, for two reasons. First, 90 percent of the infrastructure for a summer Olympics venue is built new with investments from a variety of sources. (I’m making that number up, of course.) You could organize the Olympics in Greenland and it would not really matter too much, and second, South Africa had a serious bid and South Africa is significantly advanced beyond, say, Greece, in both infrastructure and overall technology.

  5. #5 Epicanis
    August 11, 2008

    My own objection to the Olympics isn’t really related to who’s hosting it, but the simple fact that it’s just another corporate sports and advertising franchise masquerading as some kind of altruistic worldwide peace-summit.

    The stranglehold that the Olympics’ “Intellectual Property” owners maintain (attempting to prevent athletes from blogging, forbidding displays of products brand-names that compete with Official Olympics Advertiser products, etc.) turn the whole thing into an obvious money-making project rather than the clean, honest sports competition that it’s promoted as.

  6. #6 natural cynic
    August 11, 2008

    It should also be noted that the Olympics have never been held in South America [Mexico City in ’68 is the closest]. Certainly part of the major reasons that African and South American cities have not hosted the Olympics is the lack of infrastructure and desire to spend the money to be the host. The only cities in Af. & SA that might be able to pull it off are Johannesburg, Capetown, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Pulo, Buenos Aires, Caracas & Santiago.

    Maybe the best reason to boycott is NBC. The delays in covering most events is inexcusable. And what makes it worse is living in the western time zone where the few events that are live in the east and central time zones are delayed three hours. Yeah, I’d like those dickheads to try that with football.

    But even though I knew the results, I just had to see the 4X100 free relay. WOW

  7. #7 Virgil Samms
    August 11, 2008

    “What Olympics?”

  8. #8 Martin
    August 11, 2008

    @Greg: I don’t know where on earth you’ve got the 90% figure from. The London 2012 bid is costing the British taxpayer around $20bn, and that’s in one of the biggest investment cities in the world. That budget is already set to run more than $10bn over the initial projections. Are you seriously suggesting that most African nations, even South Africa, could just swallow that kind of cost?

    Which brings me on to the next part – how do you work out that South Africa is more advanced than Greece? GDP per capita in Greece is $24k, in South Africa it’s $13k. Greece is a first world nation, the 28th richest country behind Spain and ahead of New Zealand. South Africa is 78th, behind such economic giants as Costa Rica, Panama, and Iran. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to see a South African bid, but I think you’re somewhat overplaying their weight. And that’s before we even start to look at the economic and internal problems of Mbeki’s government.

    As it happens though, South Africa is hosting the equally important World Cup in 2010, so with any luck that will give them a good platform on which to demonstrate their cpability to put on a performance on the world stage. I’ll look forward to seeing it, and hopefully attending.

  9. #9 CS
    August 11, 2008

    Greg- you may have a biased perspective on financing the Olympics as the ones hosted in the U.S. are generally some of the cheapest ones ever hosted and are primarily paid for through sponsorships and the event itself rather than with government support (the L.A. Olympics are exceptional in this case as they essentially used only existing venues). That is not the case in other places. Montreal took 30 years to pay off their Olympic debts. China spent in the neighborhood of $40 billion (U.S.) to host these Olympics, primarily in infrastructure improvements. Only the Winter Olympics are “cheap”, but there are the obvious issues with hosting one of those in Africa.


    > Because the Olympic Committee has so far rejected any African
    > country as a site for the Olympics, which I view as Euro-centric
    > racism.

    Are you are joking here? The Olympic Committee is racist because they picked an Asian country as host over an African country?

    Furthermore, the Olympics have never before been hosted in the two most populous countries in the world, accounting for some 40% of the world’s population. That is a pretty strong reason for hosting the Olympics in one of those countries.

    There are definitely good reasons for hosting one of these events in Africa, but I take serious issue with the implication that Africa is the obvious best choice. There are many good choices, including the current location in China.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    August 11, 2008

    I don’t know where on earth you’ve got the 90% figure from.

    Martin: I very clearly cite my source, right in the next sentence.

    I don’t know where on earth you’ve got the 90% figure from. It is a simple fact that technologically, and in terms of business infrastructure, SA is extraordinarily advanced, and Greece is pretty much third world. Have you been to either place? I’m not kidding. I’m not sure what GDP has to do with technological level, and infrastructure … the higest GDP in the world is reserved for countries where everyone is a peasant other than the Sultan’s family and the economy is run by expat oil people.

    South Africa is two countries, a mostly white, pretty well educated middle class with a cell phone in every pocket and two cars in every garage, owns the world’s insurance industry, a big chunk of the IT industries, and lots of other things, and a much larger deeply poor mostly no-white population.

    I admit that I have no idea how the Olympics are generally funded. But perhaps a new approach needs to be sought if we are not going to have the Olympics simply be something that rich countries get to buy (which seems to be the case so far, if tax rate and GDP are the measures we need to use to test for viability).

    As far as I know, the world cup hosting is being seen as a kind of test run for South Africa. After it is done and over (and it goes well, which I presume it will) SA will be more viable as an Olympics candidate.

    CS I’m not even close to joking. Asian supremacy is just as much a trope in racism as African inferiority!

    I had not realized that the US was so cheap. But, BTW, I’m not sure if being in debt is a measure of failure. How one measures the return may be quite complicated. For instance, the winter olympics in Lake Placid (near where I grew up) resulted in major infrastructural improvements to the local communities and the schools that could have, but never would have, happened otherwise. So there is a debt but to pay for something that should have been built (oh, and they got a nice prison out of it too….)

  11. #11 vjack
    August 11, 2008

    I like the idea of saying I am boycotting because it sounds more interesting that saying I simply find it boring or that I get tired of the pro-American coverage.

  12. #12 Martin
    August 11, 2008

    “It is a simple fact that technologically, and in terms of business infrastructure, SA is extraordinarily advanced, and Greece is pretty much third world.

    I’m just curious what basis you’re using for this. Let’s see…

    GDP:
    Greece 28th, S.A. 78th

    Human Development Index:
    Greece 24th, S.A. 121st!!

    UNDP Technology Achievement Index:
    Greece 25th, S.A. 39th

    Okay, respectable adopters of technology, but hardly leaving a nation like Greece behind. Then we have the security problems, the poverty (and don’t forget, this was right back in 1997). More to the point though, is the fact that the Cape Town bid was its own worst enemy. It was corrupted by personal interests, paralysed by internal tensions, and in danger of imploding. I just don’t see the oddity here, and I don’t see the racism.

  13. #13 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 11, 2008

    I’m with vjack here.

    Kids – “Dad the Olympics are on.”

    Me – “M’kay, but the Twins are playing the Yankees.”

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    August 11, 2008

    Martin: The Cape Town bid was cleaner by an order of magnitude than the Utah bid, yes?

    I’m not trusting these numbers. They have no specific meaning. I’ve already discussed the irrelevance of the GDP or per capita measures. Comparing a European country to an African country with fundamentally different cultures and approaches to economies is hard enough. South Africa is a hybrid, honestly.

    One year about five years ago, South Africa decided that having a few areas where cell phones could be used was insufficient. Today, cell phones … digital … work in almost every spot in the entire country. This cannot be said of Greece. Two years ago, South Africa decided that there should be free/cheap wireless internet everywhere. Today most people (who have computers) in many of the major cities have this. It is too slow to be very impressed with, but what other nation has decided, and made this kind of progress with, a progressive policy like this?

    Please don’t hold South Africa to standards that are not considered when other countries are looked at (I mean, really, China… do you think that was a clean bid? Have the Chinese done anything ‘clean’ in the last eight or nine thousand years?!?!?)

    Regarding ‘security problems’ I’m afraid you are falling into a tired and not well informed trap here. The range of ‘security problems’ in South African cities vis-a-vis any other region is similar. Things get bad, they get better. Select areas (such as happened in Athens for the Greek Olymics) can be isolated and fixed up as needed. I’ll take any random location in Cape Town over South LA any time of the day or night, but ‘security problems’ were not something that kept LA off the map. Or Atlanta, for that matter (though I don’t really know Atlanta having only been there a few times).

    My god, was that 1997? Well, you may have a point there. Hard to say. Since then, some things are better, some are worse.

  15. #15 CS
    August 11, 2008

    You referred to “Euro-centric racism,” which is what I was referring to. When you say “Euro-centric”, I am taking it that you mean the Western world (Europe and maybe America/Canada). Historically, Europe and America have not generally been kind to China and the Chinese have been the targets of “Euro-centric” racism (and even by the Japanese). I just don’t see the Olympics going to China is there is some Euro-centric bias. If racism is playing a role in keeping the Olympics out of Africa, it is less the “Euro-centric” kind than it is the “Everybody hates Africa” kind.

    As I said, the Winter Olympics are much cheaper than the Summer Olympics, so Lake Placid is not quite a fair comparison. Montreal ended up paying more than $2 billion over 30 years, but the size of the Olympics have grown since then. Athens spent over $10 billion, not including transportation infrastructure upgrades (airport expansion, etc.). China spent $40 billion. Nearly 1/2 million foreigners have/will have entered China for these Olympics. That is significantly larger than simply having a convention roll into town.

    With the size the Summer Olympics now are, we are talking about building much more than a simple “prison” here. A country must now be willing to commit huge resources to build the numerous and large venues, house the enormous number of athletes & visitors, build additional infrastructure to transport them, provide security/medical services, etc. At this point, financial considerations seem to be as important as anything else, including political considerations, when choosing host cities. South Africa will not be a serious contender unless they are willing to spend $10+ billion. If they are not willing to do so, the IOC will pick one of the other cities that are willing. A large, expensive new natatorium is far more appealing to everyone involved than using an existing high school swimming pool. Dedicated athlete housing complexes near the venues are more appealing than existing, but scattered housing that may be 1/2 or 1 hour travel time from the venues. Seriously, if you were offered your choice of a free stay at a four star hotel or Motel 6, all else being equal, which would you pick? So the question is this: is South Africa willing to spend 10, 20, or 30 billion dollars to host one of these Olympics? I think until they make such a proposal and are rejected, it is inappropriate to use the race card. (I honestly don’t know what their proposals have been, so maybe this has already happened?)

    The Winter Olympics are really a different case. They are vastly smaller: many less events, many less participating countries, many less athletes and spectators. These historical have been cheap and located in small cities. In fact, too small in a few cases; we are unlikely to see something like Lillehammer again (the town of 20,000 people was a bit cramped, it seems). If Africa had the geography/weather to support winter venues, I think it would be able to mount a serious shot at a Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, Africa just does not have the necessary winter locations. But because of the huge difference between Summer and Winter Olympics, it really is not appropriate to compare Cape Town (Summer) to Utah (Winter).

  16. #16 Martin
    August 11, 2008

    I don’t know Greg, you still haven’t really convinced me that the bid didn’t just fail because the Greek bid was better in the eyes of the IOC.

    Personally though, and no joke intended, I’d love to see a stripped back, third world African Olympics somewhere like Kenya. I don’t understand why an event that is supposed to represent raw, amateur talent has to require billions of dollars of high tech facilities anyway. Put it outside Nairobi, in the shadow of Mt. Kenya. Replace the Olympic village with tented camps, stop all the ridiculous pampering and egos, and have a proper, hardcore games. You probably wouldn’t see many records broken, but I think it would be far closer to the true spirit of the Olympics than anything we’ve seen in recent years.

  17. #17 CS
    August 11, 2008


    > I mean, really, China… do you think that was a clean bid? Have
    > the Chinese done anything ‘clean’ in the last eight or nine thousand
    > years?!?!?

    China is using these games to demonstrate themselves as an advanced country and as a source of national pride. They were willing to go to great effort and expense to make these Olympics exceptional. That made this a very strong bid, regardless of any possible improprieties.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    August 11, 2008

    Martin: Exactly. The Olympics can actually do some good.

    Oh, I didn’t mention one item of concern with South Africa: They are about 25% or so short on electricity. So they would have to build a few power plants, but they are quite good at that.

  19. #19 clinteas
    August 12, 2008

    //South Africa is significantly advanced beyond, say, Greece, in both infrastructure and overall technology. //

    Ahem,I dont think so ! Taking out of my head,Medicine,Infrastructure/Transport,Universities,Security,Tourism,social divides/Democracy…..This is a ludicrous comparison Greg,Greece is miles ahead of SA in ant field I can think of.

    As to the Olympics being held in Greenland,or Africa for that matter,I refer you to the problems this advanced country of South Africa is having in organizing the 2010 Soccer World Cup,there are huge issues with security,transport and the stadiums,and we will find that FIFA will end up giving the Cup to the US or Germany,because SA cant make it happen.

  20. #20 Christian
    August 12, 2008

    Boycott? Heck no! I’ll be blogging about the Olympics every other day for the next weeks. There is way too much happening to not blog: the arrests, the internet censorship, the rampant corruption, the media whitewash of the Human Rights situation in China…

    Today, the Chinese military has stationed actual tanks right outside the press center (for additional “security”) and the German SPIEGEL is reporting, that the Chinese government has filled up the unsold seats in some of the competitions with paid clappers. It can’t possibly get any better than that – so why would anyone want to bypass this historic opportunity to shine some light onto the cesspool of corruption that the Olympics have become?

    @Martin: I totally agree with you: Give the next Games to a (democratic) African nation and scale everything down: Less money, less advertising, less commercialization, less doping and more actual sports…

  21. #21 negentropyeater
    August 12, 2008

    Clinteas,

    I don’t know, I was in SA in April, and I think they are going to succeed in doing it. But organizing the Olympics is a bit more complcated than organizing the World Cup, and they definitely wouldn’t be able to pull it out yet.

    I think that was the whole idea, first the world cup, if it succeeds, and if Zuma keeps the country on track, then we’ll have the first Olympics in Africa within a decade or two…

  22. #22 Barn Owl
    August 12, 2008

    Boycotting the very public, very internationally commercial Olympics will certainly give you the most bang for your ethically superior, righteously indignant buck. If you dislike sports or find them boring anyway, it’s a win-win situation for you – no sacrifice. Pat yourself on the back, write about it in your blog, and collect your super social awareness points.

    However, why stop with the easy step, if you want to make a statement about human rights violations in China? Stop using and purchasing products from China, stop taking money to host Chinese students and researchers, remove your investment dollars from companies that have ties to China. Now things become more difficult, at least if you live and work (and plan to retire) in the US, because we’re definitely in the pockets of the Chinese, to the tune of billions of dollars. Oh noes! That’s teh diffykult!

    If you’re an avid sports spectator, but you can’t stomach the commercialism of the Olympics, try following the Pan-American Games, or the All-Africa Games. I know the PanAm Games at least get good coverage on Spanish-language channels available in the US, though I haven’t tried following the All-Africa Games or the All-Asia Games. The 2011 PanAm Games will be held in Guadalajara Mexico.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    August 12, 2008

    clinteas:

    I am obliged to remind you that until the day the Olympics opened, no one was sure that Greece was going to have their Olympic infrastructure ready. But today, you are saying that South Africa would have a problem that they have not yes had the opportunity to have, and we are forgetting the problems in Greece! Not fair.

    As for infrastructure, you simply don’t know what you are talking about! South Africa has one of the best road systems in the world, the (THE) best system of delivering clean drinking water in the world, a somewhat byzanitine but otherwise pretty impressive commercial transport rail system. South African ports are as a collection more modern than Mediterranean European ports. And so on.

    I think, with all due respect, that you are falling into the same trap of assuming that because it is African it is not as advanced as Europe, and of viewing any problem as inherent and difficult instead of typical! This is not a strictly Eurocentric view. Africans generally think the same way, both regular Africans and the South variety!

  24. #24 Julie Stahlhut
    August 12, 2008

    Last ones I watched were in 1988, plus a little bit of the winter stuff in ’92. The sports were fun to watch, but they accounted for such a minuscule percentage of the TV coverage that I gave up. Now that the games are summarized on the web, where the commercials and the jingoism are at least easier to ignore, I’ve dabbled in following them for about two minutes a day.

  25. #25 Doug
    August 12, 2008

    I’ve only watched about 15 minutes total, though at maybe six different 2 or 3 minutes duration. Each time the sicko GW Bush has been featured in someway.

    I’m all for a boycott for the reasons stated by all of you. It’s not really a tough decision though, the coverage as usual just plain sucks.

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