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Updated: 2018.9.27 05:17
 
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A Timeless Tradition
[ Issue 160 Page 7 ] Thursday, March 29, 2018, 03:54:15 Simeneh S. Gulelat Staff Reporter simeneh@kaist.ac.kr

Still Shining Brightly or Tarnished?

The conclusion of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games has once more brought to the forefront the discussion of the Games’ relative merits and shortcomings. Does the Olympic flame still burn brightly or is it being smothered by corruption?

The modern Olympic Games are considered as the gold standard of elite athleticism, and rightfully so. Representatives from hundreds of nations pour in by the thousands every two years to showcase their athletic talents and parade their countries’ names on the world stage. The Olympics is one of the only — and perhaps the only — occasion where sovereign nations gather on a common stage to leave behind their differences and celebrate global goodwill and fraternity. During its original conception in the Hellenistic days of Greek antiquity, the games served as not only a means of religious celebration but also a bridge between the various Greek nation states through healthy competition, drawing crowds from all corners of the Greek empire. The Greek populace celebrated their shared identity and history through recurrent participation. Fast forward two thousand years, a revival had taken place in 1896 that catapulted the Olympics into a venue of global solidarity for the modern age. Many nations have dealt with the demons from their past and stood together — aggressor and victim, colonizer and colony — in the spirit of pure sportsmanship. In fact, some of the most enduring displays of international solidarity have been showcased on the Olympic stage repeatedly.

Behind the masterly athleticism and international camaraderie, however, a set of hidden problems plague the inner workings of the Olympic architecture. Every two years, a myriad of social, political, and financial problems rears its head amidst all the fervent enthusiasm. History stands to remind us that the Olympics has sometimes been a battleground for political confrontation, most notably between the Western and Eastern blocs during the Cold War. However, this has been far from the case in recent years. Even though the Olympic Games of today are still somewhat awash with political undertones, they are still the only instances of wholesome global harmony shared by nations from all corners of the world. Sometimes, they serve to bridge people estranged by the façade of politics and war. For example, the now-complete 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang enabled North and South Korean athletes to be able to compete on the same team — a reminder for the Korean people of a shared identity that is trampled on by political discourse.

Today, much of the criticism about the Olympic Games stems from how the event itself is organized and the burden the host nations drown under, particularly in regards to finances. The world has witnessed time and time again how previous vibrant host cities subsequently fell into states of economic decay. Amusing as it may be though, few among those that took the mantle in the past have voiced nothing but excitement when given the chance to host the Olympics.

The recurrent truth is that the Olympics doesn’t always work, but it can if correctly organized and host countries appropriately chosen. They present a great opportunity for the host nation to broadcast its culture and bolster a favorable image of itself in the global scene; but on the flip side, it drags with it a plethora of socio-economic complications. In all those now-abandoned Olympic villages in Athens and Rio where once stood dozens of world-class stadiums and apartments now linger ghost towns of rusting iron and rotting concrete. Part of the financial balance in hosting the games comes from the surge in tourism and visitors who are willing to dump foreign exchange into local businesses. Not to mention the chance of employment for thousands, and the income tax they will be paying back to the government. For example, the Sydney Olympics in 2000 brought some 150,000 new jobs to Australia.

The Olympics are a godsend for countries that are rising global powers in particular. A country capable of spending millions of taxpayer dollars on defense has a more efficient prospect of exerting soft power by channeling just a spoonful of that money into hosting the Olympics. If the Olympics are done right, not only does the host country get to flaunt its prowess, but also can it seed economic opportunities for its own citizens as well as serve as a confluence of world culture. When Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, it opened itself up to the world at large, attracting the attention of foreign investment.

In addition, the lasting cultural imprint is undeniable. Although the financial drudge of the Games may be crippling to the short-term economies of the host nations, there is no need to abandon millennia-old traditions because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) fails. It’s not a matter of whether having the games is outright bad, but a question of how to have them. Rather, the IOC, which oversees the games, ought to seek new, conservative standards that preserve the spirit of the games while shaving off the extra baggage that prompts unwanted spending.

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