Do We Still Need the Olympics?

Maybe I’m the only one wondering this (I’ve been known to think about esoteric things from time to time). A really quick search online indicated that others had written about why a specific city shouldn’t want to host the games, given the cost and other issues (like zombie stadiums…). But I seriously question the need to hold the Olympics in the way we currently do. I’ll stick with the summer games for my analysis. I think we can do without the Olympics because of three reasons:

  1. We already know who the “best” is
  2. There are better ways to find out who the “best” is
  3. The athletes deserve better

We already know who the “best” is

Let’s look at a few sports where the Olympics does not serve the goal of determining the best competitors. Golf and tennis are great examples – and absurdly golf just got ADDED to the Olympics. These sports have well organized governing bodies who work to ensure that the best competitors have ample opportunity to show their skills. No young up-and-coming golfer can say he/she hasn’t had a chance to make an impact or move up the rankings; there are qualifying tours, mini-tours, tours in different geographies. And the best come together often, whether on the PGA Tour, the relatively recent World Golf Championships, and even at the international team level with events like the Ryder Cup.

This pattern repeats itself in many other sports – volleyball, wrestling, weightlifting – where one event shouldn’t be the defining criteria for the “best.” Not to mention the difficultly figuring out pro versus amateur in many of these sports.

There are better ways to find out who the “best” is

Some folks – myself included – like the Olympics because it is often the only time every four years where we get enthralled by certain sports. I remember as a kid just in awe watching water polo. But those sports can certainly follow the model of the other sports above and work through other channels like governing bodies, sponsors, and media to provide their “ultimate” competition. Similar to the “triple crown” of bowling or the grand slams in golf and tennis, sports can define their competitions. Think of how X-Games has done this (in both summer and winter editions). I don’t think anyone who follows soccer/football thinks the winner of the Olympics is the “best” since there are many other ways to assess that, both at the club level (Champions League) and international level (World Cup).

Another issue is the venues. Many sports already have iconic and optimal venues for their sports. Is it really fair to define the “best” in kayaking on a manufactured course hundreds of miles from a real river? Is the winner of the men’s golf event in Rio really going to think he is better than the winner of the Masters, played on the most venerable of courses?

The athletes deserve better

Athletes (and again, lets ignore fake differences between amateurs and professionals – at this level they are all really professionals) deserve to compete in ideally fair conditions. One way to do this echoes the theme already mentioned, declare the “best” over a series of meaningful competitions. But also give athletes the best competitive environment. Olympic Villages serve more like a dorm, hard to get optimum practice in, and stay healthy. The season may also not match the proper season for the actual sport. The Olympics are often moved around the calendar to match weather conditions at the host site so athletes may not be “in season” or if they are, we may not get the best athletes to compete in the games.

I have a hard time with my own conclusion here, as I feel very nostalgic for the games, and know they can be beneficial for a host country, and to help strengthen and heal international relationships (bring the world together). But given the issues others rightly bring up about the cost, and the discussion I provide here, perhaps it’s time to think of a better way.


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