The modern Olympics were created to showcase a country’s social and economic worth in a balanced, competitive forum. If the Soviet Union could win the most medals, proving their citizens as the strongest and most athletic competitors, it would prove in a way the success of the communist system.
This Olympic Cold War competition served its purpose at the time, but with the rise of the BRICS, the IOC took to placing events in developing nations, picking future economic winners and tying them to the Olympic tradition. Beijing 2008 was more than just a sporting event, it was a symbol of China’s acceptance into the WTO earlier that year and represented the country’s future as an economic giant.
While the Olympics helped re-introduce China to the world in 2008, many Chinese citizens who could care less about the Olympics lost their homes for the sake of ‘progress.’ However, progress should never be seen as building a place for Games while disregarding the rights of citizens.
Despite protests during the last World Cup in Brazil, the criticism of Rio 2016 has centered around issues for visitors and athletes, and not around the political crisis affecting Brazil’s middle class and poor communities, debt issues or the President’s impeachment process. While Dilma Rousseff awaits an impeachment hearing and members of her Worker’s Party await trial on charges of corruption, the Olympic Games seem to be a party where the people of Brazil are paying for another international event while losing their social services to benefit a few.
The Olympics will likely lose a lot of support in the future if the Brazilians take a hard stance against their own elite and international interests spending local tax dollars to hold sporting events mere kilometers away from some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world. There should be mechanisms put in place when Olympic bids are granted to diffuse social and political quagmires once games are set in place.
The ideas around corporate social responsibility should be taken seriously by the IOC when countries implement policies that hurt their citizens in preparation for the games. Chinese citizens having their houses torn down for the sake of a three week sporting event should be acknowledged and compensated by corporate event organizers, including the IOC itself.
In the event that local political leaders and elites are operating contrary to the public interest, the project should be immediately halted and an inquiry into reducing further damage to the local community should be instituted. There should also be a minimum economic standard for eligible host countries, ensuring that the event would not draw public funds away from social spending.
No country should host the Olympics unless there is a guaranteed positive economic result from the Games. Sporting events should not simply be excuses for spending more money on useless infrastructure. Similarly to the investigations taking place around FIFA, a thorough and comprehensive review of the IOC should take place regularly to avoid future scandals and influence peddling. With some positive actions, the Olympic games could become an event that can represent the public as a whole.