Essay on History of the Olympics
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While watching the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City this year I became interested in how the games started and what they were like in previous years. The Olympic Games as we know them have only been around since the first modern Olympiad, which was held in Athens in 1896. However, the tradition of athletic competition has been around longer than history itself.
Athletics in Ancient Civilization
Athletic competition was always an integral part of life for the members of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Physical fitness was extremely important, and children would start being trained to compete at a young age. Kings, pharaohs, and nobles spent much of their time training and preparing to…show more content…
The events the athletes participated in were all related to war tactics, such as boxing, wrestling, etc. These small tournaments were the beginning of what would become the ancient Olympics.
The Ancient Olympics
Long before Nike was a sponsor and NBC had the television rights, the Olympics were very different. The ancient Greek Olympics were religious festivals designed to celebrate the gods. The competitors trained rigorously not for their own personal glory, but instead to impress and please their gods through a demonstration of strength and agility. To win an Olympic contest was regarded more highly than winning a battle and proved the individuals virtue.
There are many legends related the beginning of the ancient Olympics. One such tale is that of Hercules winning a race at Olympia and he decreed that races should be instituted every four years. The most popular of the legends tells of Zeus originating the games after he defeated Cronus in battle. Records of the ancient Olympics date back to 776 BC, which was when the first official Olympiad was held. From then on they were held every four years in honor of Zeus, in accordance with the four-year time periods which the Greeks called Olympiads. The majority of the events were held at the Olympic stadium near the temple of Zeus just southwest of Athens.
The ancient games were the most sacred of events, defined by solemn opening
As the Summer Olympic Games staged in Rio de Janeiro come to a close, the estimated $50 billion-plus spent on sporting venues has become the source of growing criticism by city residents who maintain that their needs were sacrificed for the political prestige that comes from hosting the Games. Unfortunately, this same scenario has played out in other host cities, but the problem is especially pronounced in developing countries that lack the infrastructure and financial resources required to contract massive sporting venues and support thousands of international athletes for just a 2-week period. In response, there have been increasing calls for the construction of permanent homes for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. This essay reviews the relevant literature to provide a brief history of the Olympic Games and to analyze the arguments in support of establishing a permanent home for them, followed by a summary of the research and important findings about the Olympic Games in the conclusion.
Permanent Home For The Olympic Games
On the one hand, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro can be regarded as an enormous success, at least for the International Olympic Committee which reaps a multi-billion dollar fortune every 2 years. On the other hand, though, the politicized manner in which host cities are currently selected and the enormously onerous financial commitments that must be made to secure a winning bid have attracted criticism from all quarters, with many observers arguing in support of permanent homes for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. To determine the viability and rationale in support of this move, this paper reviews the relevant literature to provide a brief history of the modern Olympic Games, followed by a description of the current strategy used by the International Olympic Committee to select host cities. Finally, an analysis of the arguments in support of establishing a permanent home for the Games is followed by a summary and synthesis of the research together with important findings concerning these issues in the conclusion.
A Brief History of the Modern Olympic Games
The Olympic Games were first staged in Olympia, Greece in 776 BCE and were intended primarily as a religious festival honoring Zeus (The real story of the Olympic Games, 2016). The ancient Greeks continued to stage the Olympic Games for more than a millennia until 393 CE, but it required another 1500 years for the Olympic Games to return to Greece and the first modern international games were held at Athens in 1896 (The real story of the Olympic Games, 2016). Founded 2 years previously in 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin (Lubin & Delevigne, 2010), the purportedly non-profit International Olympic Committee (IOC) became the Games’ highest authority which coordinated the Athens Games and established the Olympics’ goal which is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination or any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” The overarching mission of the IOC is to “promote Olympism throughout the world and to lead the Olympic Movement.” Notwithstanding the foregoing lofty goal and mission, the IOC has been increasingly criticized in recent years for its executives’ profligacy and money-fueled favoritism as discussed below.
The Role of the International Olympic Committee
Since their resurrection over a century ago, the Olympic Games been marred by national and international politics and the manner in which host cities are selected by the IOC (Johnson & Johnson, 2003). Indeed, in sharp contrast to the original version where there were no corporate sponsors and winning athletes received a laurel wreath only, the modern international Olympic Games have become a multi-billion dollar industry today (Johnson & Johnson, 2003). It became possible to generate even more revenues from the Olympics when they were divided into the Summer and Winter Games in 1908 alternating every 2 years and host cities have expended more than $50 billion for these 2-week events in recent years (Cole, 2014). In addition, far more countries participate in the modern Games than a century ago when just a couple of dozen nations fielded Olympic teams (Lubin & Delevigne, 2010)
The current strategy that is used by the IOC to select host cities for the Games is set forth in Rule 33 of the Olympic Charter which stipulates in part:
- The IOC Executive Board determines the procedure to be followed until the election by the Session takes place. Save in exceptional circumstances, such election takes place seven years before the celebration of the Olympic Games; and,
- The national government of the country of any candidate city must submit to the IOC a legally binding instrument by which the said government undertakes and guarantees that the country and its public authorities will comply with and respect the Olympic Charter.
This rule means that hosting cities must commit to billion-dollar investments fully 7 years before the Games are held with no corresponding guarantee of their ability to satisfy these commitments, an eventuality that is becoming increasingly severe in cities located in developing nations where the infrastructure may be inadequate to support these investments (Wassong, 2008). As a result, the current selection process of host cities has translated into severe economic hardships for many residents of host cities and the $6 billion-plus revenues being earned by the IOC together with the commercialization of the Games themselves may represent the beginning of the end for the Olympic Games unless and until a more cost-effective and less politicized strategy is introduced (Lubin & Delevigne, 2010). Indeed, when Avery Brundage assumed the leadership of the IOC in 1952, he clearly defined the amateur nature of the games and cautioned that “the death knell would ring for the Olympic Movement if the doors were opened to commercialization” (cited in Short & Barney, 2016, p. 3). Unfortunately, the doors have not only been opened but they have been burned down entirely as the IOC and the Games have been transformed into the so-called “Olympics, Inc.” as discussed below.
Rationale in Support of a Permanent Home for the Olympic Games
Because many of the venues that must be constructed for just 2 weeks of Olympic competition and have little or no further applications for host cities, these investments, currently estimated at more than $50 billion for each host city, would be better spent on a permanent home. For example, based on their analysis of the impact of the Games of former host cities, Short and Barney (2016) report that, “Former Olympic host cities from all over the world are dotted with abandoned buildings, from a swimming pool in Athens filled with rainwater and garbage, to graffiti-covered bobsled tracks in Sarajevo, to a fenced-off beach volleyball venue in Beijing” (p. 3). Given these undesirable outcomes, there have been growing calls for establishing a permanent venue for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. In this regard, Short and Barney (2016) conclude that, “Moving the Olympic Games to a permanent location is a good idea and the benefit of one site could eliminate corruption and high environmental and socio-economic costs” (2016, p. 4).
A major part of the current problem is the IOC itself, where executives enjoy generous salaries and substantial perquisites and are highly motivated to play bidding host cities against each other in order to reap the most financial gain for themselves. As Lubin and Delvigne (2010) point out, “It’s enough to make you look twice at the IOC, which is based conveniently in tax-haven Switzerland. Although the IOC is a non-profit organization, employment (‘membership’) in the organization is a cushy job with many benefits” (p. 4). These criticisms of the IOC’s selected practices combined with the exorbitant price for hosting the Games has caused other observers to support a permanent home for the Olympics. For instance, writing in the Charleston Gazette Mail recently, Chad (2016) made the point that, “Why do we continue the farcically costly endeavor of building new Olympic facilities in different locales every four years to run a two-week sporting competition for the entire world?” (p. 4B).
The research clearly showed that the arguments in support of a permanent home for the modern international Olympic Games just make good business sense. Furthermore, this alternative strategy would also eliminate the hardships that are currently being experienced by many residents of host cities and would place a governor on a runaway IOC that has lost sight of their original goal and mission of the Games. Because there are no signs that the IOC has given this alternative approach any serious considerations, it is reasonable to conclude that the international community must come together to force this level of change on a purportedly nonprofit organization that is exploiting the universality of sports to their own advantage.
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Works Cited / References
Chad, N. (2016, July 18). Couch slouch: Time to give the Olympic Games a permanent home. Charleston Gazette Mail, 4B.
Cole, S. G. (2014, Spring). Olympic pain and glory. Herizons, 27(4), 15.
Johnson, C. D. & Johnson, V. (2003). Understanding the Odyssey: A student casebook to issues, sources, and historic documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Lubin, G. & Delevigne, L. (2010, February 17). Olympics, Inc.: Inside the secretive, $6 billion world of the International Olympic Committee. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/olympics-inc-inside-the-business-of-the-ioc.
Short, J. R. & Barney, R. K. (2016, August 17). Should the Olympic Games have a permanent venue? CBCRadio. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-17-2016-1.3724261/should-the-olympic-games-have-a-permanent-venue-1.3724289
The real story of the Olympic Games. (2016). Penn Museum. Retrieved from http://www. penn.museum/sites/olympics/olympicorigins.shtml.
Wassong, S. (2008, Annual). Clean sport: a twofold challenge in the contemporary history of the modern Olympic Games. Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, 84-90.