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Corruption and the International Olympic Committee

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sports
Wordcount: 3332 words Published: 17th Mar 2021

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed in 1894 meaning they have been around since the first modern Games in 1896 held in Athens, Greece. 241 athletes participated in these games arriving from 14 different nations. This is in stark contrast to today’s Olympic Games which feature 12,000 athletes hailing from over 203 countries. Pierre Coubertin the founder of the modern Olympic movement, initiated the competition to promote generosity, cooperation and understanding internationally using sport as a vehicle. Regardless of political views, prejudices, social, racial, or class barriers the Olympics were meant to bring countries together in a moment of international cooperation. There is a general understanding that sports and politics shouldn't be intertwined, but in reality the Olympics have always had political roots. Politics come into play when deciding which nation should be given the bid to host the games, and which countries if any should be barred from participating. In this way the Games will continue to be used both by the the IOC and host nations as a method of exerting political pressure. The fact that sports are an innately neutral makes them perfect vessel for political business. The IOC is composed of 105 members from each participating country, that has become a mouthpiece for political turmoil. Countries boasting fascist, communist, racist and homophobic views have all been embraced by the IOC suggesting moral codes take a back seat to monetary gain. Because the Olympic Games are now seen as an opportunity to promote a countries wealth and splendor, the IOC has pursued maximum participation simply to increase their profits.

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Many people see the Olympics as a path to athletic glory and a way of bringing about international cooperation. In reality, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is motivated by financial gain, and has again, and again shown a complete disregard for the athletes as well as the cities and lives destroyed by the Olympics. In recent years, the IOC has maintained that the unjust era of the late 1990s, where buying votes was a necessary step in the pursuit of a successful Olympic bid is a thing of the past. Host cities are decided through a multi-stage bidding process over the course of several years requiring significant planning and financial contribution on the part of potential host cities. IOC members visit potential host cities to asses each cities plans. In December of 1998 the world awoke to the news of allegations surrounding widespread corruption within the IOC. It was widely believed that IOC members had accepted bribes such as cash, plane tickets, medical favours, and college tuition from members of the committee that had successfully advanced the Salt Lake City bid for the 2002 Winter Games. In addition to this, there were accusations of misconduct related to several previous bid committees. The athletic display and achievements of athletes are often overshadowed by corruption and greed on the part of the IOC and governments.

The Olympics provide an opportunity for host countries to showcase the best athletes and facilitates their nation has to offer, given this fact it should come as no shock that they have been inundated with the patriotism, manipulation, and propaganda that comes along with global politics. Attempts to politicize the Olympics have been documented as early as the Athens 1896 Games, during which the British forced an Australian athlete to declare himself British after winning 2 gold medals. Through careful examination multiple examples of politicization have can be found throughout the Olympics history. This includes the Nazi propaganda that became an pivotal part of the 1936 Berlin Games; the friction at the 1956 Olympics between the Soviet Union and Hungary in Australia, which came after the USSR had violently ended the Hungarian revolution; the unofficial and unlawful medal count competition between the United States and the Soviet Union just prior to the Cold War; the plethora of disputes stemming from South Africa’s apartheid laws from 1968 to 1988; the USA led boycott of of the 1980 Moscow Games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games in retaliation, culminating in the murder of several Israeli athletes by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games. Politics have always been at the center of the Olympics, for example the 1968 Mexico City Olympics during which Mexican troops fired on students killing hundreds during an Olympic protest. On top of this at these same Games American athletes staged protests to draw attention to the ongoing segregation occurring in the USA.

Towards the end of the 20th century the IOC began to attempt to actively encourage sport as a vehicle for peace. In 2014 the IOC changed the bidding process for the Games occurring in 2020 and beyond. The new process was supposed to create Games that “fit their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs while also reducing costs for bidding and providing a significant financial contribution from the IOC” (Hanson et al., 2017, p56). The process takes about 2 years meaning many cities drop out before all stages have even been completed. Stage one involves creating an outline, and the plan for the Games, while stage two and three place a higher emphasis on specifics such as legalities, finances, and political impact. In reality, despite these changes very little is actually being done to address the root of the problem, voter buying. The Salt Lake City Olympics for example have come under scrutiny for vote buying to win the 2002 Olympic bid.  After multiple investigations, including one launched by a former US Senator, 10 IOC members were fired or resigned, and several several bid committee members have been indicted. This extensive vote buying scheme included 1.2 million dollars in cash, jobs, paid medical expenses, shopping trips, all gifted to IOC members. The investigation into the Salt Lake City Games created questions about the 1998 Japan Games. The suspicious circumstances surrounding the $22,000 that was spent during the time the IOC members were visiting, and the missing records came under fire. Yamaguchi, a member of the Nagano Olympic bid committee provided testimony stating that they had not only paid first class air dare for 62 IOC members, but paid for their hotel stays, food, drinks and entertainment during their stay in Japan. It was also alleged that Nagano had paid for IOC members to travel in helicopters from the city of Nagano to Kyto, and entertained them with geishas.

When Rio was named as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil was on the verge of turning into an economic powerhouse. It was the first time the nation was politically stable, and industry was at an all-time high. During a press conference IOC head Thomas Bach told reporters that these Olympics would create a legacy for Brazil and change the worlds view of Rio. This was not the case, years after the 2016 Closing Ceremonies, the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee still owes $40 million to creditors. The economy has collapsed largely due to the money spent to finance the infrastructure for the Games. An unprecedented amount of locals were uprooted as their homes were destroyed during construction of Olympics facilities. This lead to political unrest and protests directed at President Rousseff creating instability resulting in impeachment hearings. Ongoing protests continued as more and more homes were demolished to build luxury condos, and various structures for the Olympic park. People were not given and option, if they did not leave, they were driven out by police who threatened them with force. Entire neighborhoods were leveled to make room for new buildings. Funding these Olympics meant cuts needed to be made in areas such as healthcare and sanitation, leaving swimmers to compete in untreated water contaminated with raw sewage.

Unfortunately, Brazil is not an anomaly. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were intended to show the world that Russia was a distinguished and innovative country. At first glance, Vladimir Putin's administration seemed effectual; they were able to create a winter wonderland in a city known as a summer beach resort destination. On TV, Sochi shone, the city was a demonstration of Russian will and might. In reality the ugly truth lurked just beneath the surface: Russia violated laws and demonstrated a complete disregard for human lives, simply to amaze the world. Migrant workers were brought in illegally to perform the more difficult tasks. Their passports were confiscated preventing them from being able to travel home. Many were harmed by incredibly lax safety regulations. Further allegations have emerged claiming that workers were only provided with safety equipment after being involved in an accident. In Beijing, around 1.5 million people were displaced to make room for new Olympic structures. They were given minimal compensation and were forced to move in some cases far from work, friends and family.

In the past the IOC has readily working alongside human rights violators, dictators, and tyrants. The Olympics have become a method for governments to demonstrate their power over oppressed nations. The 1936 Games were surrounded by controversy. The IOC fearing a mass boycott sought Hitler’s word that he would allow the participation of Jewish athletes. Hitler realized that the Olympics could be exploited to advance Nazi ideals both inside and outside of Germany. The Nazi regime began trying to erase its violent and racist policies by removing anti-Semitic posters and minimizing hate speech. They were able to use the games to present the media with a carefully crafted image of Germany as peaceful and tolerant. Two years after Hitler utilized the games as an exhibit of the Third Reich's strength, Germany attacked Poland. In addition, after the Sochi games, Putin started extending Russian territory in a showcase of Russian intimidation unheard of since the Cold War. The IOC has memorialized details of the Games introduced by Hitler. The torch relay was created to show the world the vast expanse of the German countryside, and promote the Nazi government as a strong political world power.

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Pressure from the IOC to create the largest and most extravagant games to date causes many countries to over spend. Montreal for example spent 30 years paying for the 1976 Games. The Olympic Stadium was supposed to cost $250 million but ended up with a price tag of $1.4 billion. The provincial government still provides a $17-million subsidy to the RIO annually, the body that maintains the stadium and surrounding structures. 30 years and millions of tax payer dollars seem somewhat unreasonable to pay for an even that only lasts two weeks. The stadium now remains empty except for the occasional trade shows. The Olympics were never simply solely about sports, but an important piece of international power dynamics. Projecting power is expensive, and as long as this remains true, the Olympics will always carry a high price tag.

The Olympics continue because the IOC is able create an idea that of hosting the Games can benefit a country both socially and financially. In actuality there is a very small profit margin, and what a country does get to keep is determined solely by the IOC, meaning that regardless of the amount spent to host, there is no guarantee of profit. The IOC has been granted tax exemption due to their status as a non-profit meaning they are able to keep and spend a majority of the revenue on themselves.  They just recently inaugurated a brand new state of the art headquarters in Switzerland. In order to win the Olympic bid countries must present elaborate plans for the IOC to marvel at, yet the IOC refuses to take any of the responsibility for the damages, displacement, death than ensue in order to construct these facilities. They allow corruption to run rampant within their organization throughout the bidding process. Despite this blame cannot solely be placed on the IOC, because the host cities willingly participate in this corruption for their own gain. For most of these cities and countries the Olympics have little to do with sport, and everything to do with political motives. Many cities choose to host the Games because of greed, and to showcase their cities infrastructure and development regardless of the cost to its actual residents. The notion created by the IOC that each Olympics should be bigger and more spectacular than the last regardless of the cost demonstrates the fact that human rights are not a priority for them.

The number of countries entering bids to host the Olympics has been steadily declining, prompting the IOC to propose Vision 2020. Vision 2020 details their plan to help reduce the cost of hosting the Olympics by allowing hosts cities to keep a larger share of the profit generated from local revenue sources.  They have also reduced the initial price of submitting a bid to host the Games. The goal is to increase bids by making the Olympics more affordable through methods such as utilizing existing venues, or sharing venues with nearby cities to reduce the need to construct massive mostly single use arenas. Lastly they plan to eliminate minimum seating capacities to reduce the size of venues and number of staff needed. The question is will these changes have an impact on the overall costs in reality? Truthfully these reforms look great on paper, but are no more likely to succeed than previous attempts. In reality motivation is the only thing that can change behaviour. The Olympics create overwhelming financial and political motivation to cheat. For athletes this may mean using performance enhancing drugs, but for bid committees, this tends to manifest as bribery, and over spending in pursuit of short lived international praise. Unfortunately, the Olympics have become a mockery of Coubertin’s initial idea of competition to promote international understanding. Coubertin believed that “The important thing at the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; for the essential thing in life is not to conquer but to struggle well” (Hill, 1996, p.27)

There is an ever growing belief that the Olympics are outdated and a mere shell of what they once were. Some of the blame at least my fall on the IOC and its leadership for allowing blatant corruption to occur at unchecked levels. These perceptions have only been exacerbated by the lack of bids for the Winter 2022 Games leaving the IOC to decide between Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a return to Beijing. Beijing was selected but will have to artificially produce vast amounts of snow for slope events, and lies around 144 kilometers away from the mountains upon which events will take place. The culture established by the IOC has shifted the focus of the Olympics from a celebration of amateur sport to celebrity and winning. In this way the Games have moved away from a balance of triumph and sport, and the true spirt of the Olympics.


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