Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Why I'm Boycotting this year's Olympics

Short answer? Because it's a cesspool of corruption. But by that measure I should also be boycotting American politics, professional sports and financial investing. 

No, there are a multitude of reasons. I just finished reading Daniel James Brown's bestseller, Boys in the Boat, a fabulous read about the University of Washington rowing team who raced for gold at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, and in it Brown deftly interweaves events on both sides of the Atlantic, including the enormous efforts Germany took to promote its less unseemly side. In short, the whole event was a ruse - a propaganda stunt - to show the world just how civilized the Germans were in the midst of increasing international scrutiny. And to a lesser extent, that's what the Olympics have been ever since. Whether it's the Sochi Winter Games of 2014 or the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, the Olympics have become - in the words of reporter Binyamin Appelbaum from his 2014 New York Times piece - "a debutante’s ball for emerging economies." You can bet if Chicago had won the right to host the 2016 Olympics, they would have steered people clear of the poor, crime-ridden areas of Chicago and diverted funds (what funds? Illinois is broke!) from wherever politicians could get their grubby little hands on. You can also bet that my family and I would be someplace other than Chicago for the next two weeks. (Would someone have paid good money to rent a 90 year-old bungalow fifteen miles west of The Loop?)

CBS news recently published an on-line piece called "Why hosting the Olympics is a Terrible Idea," and in it they describe the familiar plagues associated with hosting an Olympic games, from stifling debt to environmental disasters to taking funds from more important concerns. Cities are beginning to take note. While eleven cities bid on the 2004 summer Olympics, only five offered to host the 2020 games. True, sometimes concerns about an upcoming Olympics are overblown, but the bottom line is hosting the Olympics is expensive, and according to aforementioned New York Times piece, there's no evidence to suggest that the economies of host cities benefit from the brief, worldwide attention.

Which brings us to an interesting Op Ed piece in the Washington Post about holding the Olympics in the same city every four years. Paul Glastris cites a recent study by the University of Oxford that concluded "every Summer and Winter Olympics from 1960 to 2016 experienced massive cost overruns averaging 156 percent." Glastris concludes that rather than allowing cities to make the same rookie mistakes every four years, we should "pick a city or country to be the permanent host — one each for the Summer and Winter Olympics." The International Olympic Committee will likely come to a different conclusion.

And then there are of course other issues, from the 2002's Olympic bid scandal, this year's Russian Olympic ban, the refusal of countries to boycott Olympics hosted by oppressive regimes, the disparity of investment between rich and poor countries, the taking advantage of the poorer among us. The whole enterprise is a reminder of the world's haves and have-nots, and the Olympics should be anything but that.

So I'm boycotting this year's Olympics. Sure, I remember long summer days in 1984 when I'd wake up, leave the TV on from morning until night, fall in love with Mary Lou Retton and watch Carol Lewis kick butt and take names. Fond memories. But it's 2016, and reality is simply this: I've got other shit that needs to get done.

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