Two weeks ago Fintan O’ Toole wrote an article detailing his memories of watching Irish marathon runner Jim Hogan race in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. While Hogan eventually dropped to the ground a few miles short of the finish line, pleading for water, he nevertheless implanted himself into the mind of O’Toole and others as a hero through his integrity and determination. Ultimately Hero status transcends the idea of winners and losers, Olympic medallists or not.
Unfortunately the words ‘sincere’, ‘genuine’ and ‘honest’ are words no longer synonymous the Olympic Games. At least 120 athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics were previously suspended for doping, 31 of these athletes won medals. Russia, a country where state-sponsored systemic doping was found to be prominent in the McLaren report, were allowed to compete in Rio (roughly 60% of the Russian team competed). Olympic boxing is in absolute turmoil as most notably, two Russian boxers were awarded hugely controversial victories over Ireland’s Micheal Conlon and Kazakhstan’s Vasiliy Levit. As an IOC senior official stated “the corruption is alive and well and the decisions speak for themselves. It is clear that Aiba will not do anything about this.” Let us not forget about the allegations concerning Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland who faces charges of ‘facilitating touting, forming a cartel and of illicit marketing’. Twelve time Olympic medal winner Ryan Lochte lied to Brazilian police about being robbed during his stay in Rio. These instances and more have cast a shadow over the Rio Olympics.
While there have many positive headlines from Rio over the last few weeks, such as Usain Bolt’s triple treble or Annalise Murphy’s silver medal in the women’s laser radial sailing, it’s hard to ignore the growing disillusionment amongst the public towards the Olympics. Empty seats were a common characteristic of the Rio Games as officials gave away an estimated 280,000 tickets to Brazilian adolescents and children to improve event attendances. Ticket sales for the Paralympics are so poor that it is now being downsized.
As of last week only 12% of tickets were sold. While official figures have yet to be released by RTE, major American TV channel NBC suffered a significant drop in audience figures compared to previous Olympics in London and Beijing. It seems there has been a change in attitude toward the Olympics amongst many in the media and the general public. As the Olympics continues to attract negative headlines, it is difficult to view the short term future of the games optimistically. The Olympics should be an opportunity for competitors to display their hard work on the largest stage possible. It should be a celebration, a chance for viewers to appreciate the time and training sacrificed by the competitors. Of course you want your country’s representatives to medal, but medals do not decipher between success and failure. What I regard as a failure for an Olympic games is links to corruption, empty seats, ticket scandals and widespread doping. No wonder O’Toole described the Rio games as the ‘fake Olympics’.