Imagine that your house was burning…and you threw a party.
You invited all of your friends and neighbors. Rather than draw buckets of water from the river to douse the fire, you watched movies and drank cocktails until the place disintegrated to cinder and ash.
A dramatic analogy, I know. But that’s what it feels like. That we have a highly threatening, global situation and we’re throwing a giant shindig.
Now imagine what we could do with 50 billion dollars. That’s the estimated cost of what it has taken to build Sochi, Russia into a formidable Olympic sports complex – and the construction isn’t even finished yet.
It’s very difficult to be critical of something as huge and emotional as the Olympic Games. So many people are involved who are wonderful, well-meaning, spirited individuals. Athletes who show us dedication and determination, the feats of the human body, the pride of accomplishment. It’s similar to criticizing the Military-Industrial complex; we love our brothers and sisters who serve, we understand that so many of them do so out of a sense of civic duty, and earnestly want to make a difference. In a developed world burdened by an industrialized lifestyle, wrought with obesity, diseases from processed foods, and all the physical and psychological problems associated with sedentary (read: “couch potato”) behavior, athletes remind us how we can fine-tune our bodies, how we can live with health and vitality. How we can accomplish what seems impossible.
But the rest of the world suffers far different problems. A lack of potable drinking water. Little to no food. No sewage system. No education. No hope for the future. Sochi is one of the poorest places in Russia. As you no doubt have already heard or read, the Olympic complex, a massive, gleaming temple of money and power, sits right on top of slums so poor their residents share communal outhouses (some of which were destroyed to make room for the construction).
Many people will point to the development of this mega structure and claim that this is how we help the poor; that this helps to provide for their future. They’ll say that this new complex will bring tourism to the Black Sea region, creating jobs and elevating the socioeconomic status of the lower classes there.
Unfortunately, the facts don’t support the theory that such capitalism raises the living standards for the lower classes. According to a variety of long-range, in-depth studies, more than half of every developing nation influenced by this type of economic policy has suffered an increase of unemployment, poverty, and famine, rather than a decrease. Wealth gaps widen as we globalize, and more problems arise as we encourage frivolous global travel. And top ratings agencies like Moody’s don’t even think the games will result in an economic boom for Russia.
The build-and-expand theory of global economic growth is similar to the practice of eating cattle. Rather than feed grain to the cattle and then eat the cattle, we could eat the grain. Rather than dump billions into building and expansion to purportedly raise the quality of living for the poor, we could appropriate the money for the immediate concerns of those poor.
Imagine what 50 billion would mean to the people of Sochi who don’t have a toilet to flush.
Why do we do it?
We like to think that the Olympics is about uniting people, transcending race and creed and nationality with the common denominator of Sport. And for many participants, that is what’s truly in their hearts.
We know, however, that we can’t accomplish this kind of global, en masse event without money. We consider money, and the power that bears it, to be a necessary component. We accept the commercialism of the games as a means to an end.
But what if it was the other way around? What if the games were a means to money and power?
Tracing the Olympics back to its Greek routes, we can see the political influence exerted on the games, an attempt to unite city-states, and form political and military alliances which often led to war. READ MORE >> “The Real Story of the Olympic Games”
Today, our mega corporations function in similar ways to the city-states of Ancient Greece. Each modern polis today has its own personality, goals, laws (or lack thereof) and customs. Like ancient city-states, each corporation has its own gods, and speaks its own language. These are all called “Money,” or “Profit.” If we jump back two years to the London games, we can see who cashed in. (Hint: It wasn’t the regional small businesses, or the poor people “given jobs”.) READ MORE>> “Here’s Who Will Get Rich off the London Olympics”
Finally, for a very uncensored (but pretty hilarious) view of Sochi that’s far less tempered than mine, check out Deadspin. READ MORE >> “The Hater’s Guide to the Sochi Olympics”
I wish I had a blistering, bone-rattling conclusion about what this all means and what we should do about it. All I know is that this idea of such mega-celebration, such mass-scale frivolity in an age of myriad critical humanitarian issues is not a welcome diversion. It is far too overshadowed by the dominance of the money-market system, and the callous disregard of the world’s majority who struggle just to meet the demands of daily life. There was a time when we could say, “let’s have fun.” This is no longer that time, this is one gigantic misappropriation of resources.