“The important thing is not to win, but to take part” – Pierre de Coubertin
The Olympics are supposed to represent the pinnacle of honest international competition via sport. The winners (and most medalists in general) are memorialized forever, but just making it, and competing, can be enough to make many participants’ lives complete, and give people around the world hope and happiness.
The sports that are showcased come in countless variety, and the national teams that participate can be made up of 1 person, or over one hundred. The Olympics are truly The World’s Games, and ideally, all is put aside for the sake of honest competition.
However, at least here in the United States, we risk losing sight of the most honest Olympic point: At a basic human level, we’re all in this together.
Yes, there are people out there who do not want the best for the world, and some of them are world leaders. Yes, bad stuff happens all the time on our planet and much of it is done by man. Yes, there are plenty of negative things to focus on.
But then there is the other side of the coin, and The Olympics certainly try to embody that 180 degree flip. There have been scandals, corruption and cheating to be sure, but if any one thing hopes to represent the positive side of existence through head-to-head competition, it is the Olympic Games.
This effort to remain positive must be constant because of the importance placed on winning around the world. This is especially true in our capitalist economy, where money and funding can quickly fog otherwise clear issues. Other countries may suffer from too much government intervention, or a number of other ailments, but if the US suffers from anything, it is the corruption of ideals via commercialism.
In some cases, this actually benefits our athletes. A few get wealthy, and many more are able to make careers out of their sports. An even larger group of athletes are able to train and go to the Olympics, and without sponsors, this might not be possible. It also benefits the sponsors, and the biggest names from McDonald’s to Coke scramble to stay involved.
At the same time, this commercial sports culture changes how the Olympic Games are shown on TV, and in the media, and I’m beginning to think it has actually colored our modern perception of the Games in a negative way.
When I watch the Olympic coverage on NBC, I see they have 4 different channels carrying different events. And on each channel, the US is usually heavily involved. Short features run on athletes, and almost every match, game, bout or content has at least one US participant. When you do see other teams playing, it is most often in a sport where the US is heavily favored, to provide context for later rounds. Once the US is eliminated from contention, coverage often seems to drop precipitously, unless one Chinese athlete can make another one cry during an event… then we’ll show that.
The ad dollars are probably highest when the US is playing, and we all know NBC paid big money for the rights to the games, so they have to make it back. Plus, sponsors want their athletes showcased in their countries. Finally, and most simply, people just love to watch the US! The last one makes the most sense, and it’s sales 101 to give the people what they want.
All of the above means that we get very little of everyone else, and when the Olympics are involved, that is a real disappointment. This is probably where you could attack me for being anti-American, but that would be laughable. I’m not anti-American at all, I’m just pro-Olympic Spirit. If it’s any other competition, I can see the focus staying on the US, but this is the Olympics, and it’s supposed to be different. That’s the whole point.
Whenever the US is involved, I’m going to cheer for them. No doubt there. At the same time, if the two Koreas are throwing down in Judo, or India is playing the Netherlands in Men’s Field Hockey, I WANT TO SEE IT! This is what the Olympics are all about: EVERYONE coming together and playing lots of different sports with lots of different winners.
When it comes to that India – Netherlands games, I don’t even care who wins… I just want to see a great game. If it weren’t the Olympics, I probably wouldn’t say that.
Oh, the World Field Hockey Championships are on? So what? So is preseason CFL football.
Oh, Field Hockey is on in the Olympics? Heck yeah! Let’s watch that!
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching Rogers and Dalhauser play beach volleyball every single night, and I’m glad we get to see all the preliminary swimming races, but I just wish we were getting more of that from other places. Would 10 minutes of Handball highlights at 10pm kill NBC? Or do we really need another report from Ryan Seacrest on Michael Phelps’ mom? The latter two seem like nice enough people, but neither of them will be leaving London with a medal, so no.
And then there is the commentating, and announcing, especially on taped events. Part of what makes announcers great is their ability to react, live, to what is happening, with stimulating context. They thrive in a live environment and by virtue of watching it live, they are as surprised, or elated, as the rest of us. But when many things are taped, and presented as live, commentators try to act surprised, but it’s almost impossible.
Look for the difference tonight between Andrea Kremer’s great interviews straight out of the pool, and other commentators. Her reactions, and interactions are very real, and they are excellent. The tape delay announcers suffer by comparison. And the worst thing is that many of us already know what’s going to happen, simply because we own computers, so the entire “live” night time experience is ruined from the get go.
The solution is to get away from such a US-centric approach, and to embrace the true spirit of the games. It is to tell the stories that develop, not the ones that have been developed. Keep showing a heavy dose of the US, but show other countries too. Show sports in which we don’t excel, and dedicate time to the athletes from all over the world, and not just a few select US families.
Someday, I want lacrosse to be played in the Olympics, and I know that outside of the US and a few other nations, it will still not be a hugely popular sport. Yet I am confident that people across the world would give it a shot, watch, pay attention and care, and do it all simply because it’s the Olympic way.
I believe other countries would embrace our sport for two weeks every four years, so until that day comes, and beyond, I know we should do the same, not only as lacrosse players, but as Americans who support the true spirt of the Olympic Games.