15th Jul 2012 3:49pm | By Oli Jones
The Olympics are just around the corner, lurking, like a mugger, ready to deprive us of things we’re used to and otherwise inconvenience us.
The corporate lockdown surrounding the Quadrennial International Sports Event has been making headlines all week.
First, The Olympic Chip Embargo surfaced, after a letter leaked to the media informed caterers that, due to a deal with McDonald’s, individual portions of chips could not be sold in the Olympic Park, unless accompanied by a slab of fish (yes, really).
The Chip Embargo was later relaxed to allow staff working on the park to get their hit without having to enter between the golden arches. But the bad publicity didn’t stop there.
On Thursday, the Daily Mail reported a perplexing list of items to be banned from the Olympic Park: bottled water, Che Guevara T-shirts, sports equipment, ‘excessive’ amounts of food, and DLSR cameras with disproportionate zoom.
Critics slammed the Games for “turning into a sponsored security show”. But are these actions a justifiable way of making sure the corporations backing the Games get a fair cut?
Or are they indicative of an organisation which has lost its way and an event whose sense of importance has become completely disproportional?
Dr William Penny Brookes, a Victorian-era social reformer, and father of the modern Olympic movement, created the Much Wenlock Games “for the promotion of moral, physical and intellectual improvement” in 1850.
Sadly some of the more colourful events – the wheelbarrow race and the ‘old woman race for a pound of tea’ – haven’t survived to today’s iteration.
The Games as we know them, were created when Brookes met Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed organised sport was a great tool for nation building. Together, Brooks and Coubertin created the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1886.
The transformation of the Games from a fairly modest, naive organisation, to a multinational making billions in tax-free yearly revenue, is largely credited to Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch.
A former fascist party member and a banker, whose only sporting experience came during a brief stint as a sports reporter for Spanish newspaper La Prensa, Samaranch was appointed head of the IOC in 1980.
He revolutionised the organisation, taking on international sponsors and allowing professional athletes to compete, leading to a boom in the price of the Games’ TV rights.
Samaranch took the Olympics from a point in the Seventies when the Games were such a financial burden on the host country that bidders were few and far between, to the point where were cities so desperate to host the Olympics, they were willing to go to extreme, and dubious lengths, to woo delegates’ votes.
From Amsterdam’s bid committee allegedly enlisting the help of two prostitutes for IOC members, to Atlanta’s bid committee paying the tuition fees of a fictional daughter of a Sudanese general, the gifts lavished on IOC members by bid committees were as diverse as the sports at the Games.
A 2006 investigation discovered that the Nagano delegation spent £3.2m on entertainment alone for IOC delegates, and, perhaps most amusingly of all, The Salt Lake committee doled out ‘immense amounts’ of Viagra to two delegates, according to Michael Joseph Gross writing in Vanity Fair.
Samaranch denied any knowledge of the corruption and implemented new ethical guidelines, though he personally remained under fire for questionable IOC appointments, including the Idi Amin’s former defence minister.
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