OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Sydney 2000

A Letter

Dear Pierre de Coubertin,
(Founder of the modern Olympic Games)

Just wanted to give you an update on how your Olympic Games have evolved since you created them way back in 1896. You would barely recognize them. You would disapprove of what they have become. You would struggle to find elements of the original Olympic spirit and ideals.

You created the games with a specific purpose in mind. Physical exercise and healthy competition were supposed to instill values of discipline, respect and ambition. It was necessary to develop these traits in young men so that they would be successful leaders of European nations. The amateur ideal was at the very core of your vision for a new social movement that also incorporated displays of art and culture.

In 1894 you and the IOC decided who would be allowed to compete in the Modern Olympic Games. Your rules for participation were very exclusive. Simply stated, the competition was reserved for elite, amateur men. You defined “amateur” as one who had never competed for money, such as professionals or athletes who had ever been paid as an instructor. Pierre, you should see the kind of “amateurs” that are in your games these days! The term amateur isn’t even in the Olympic Charter anymore, and the phrase “shamateurism” has become quite popular.

Pierre, you would most likely be disturbed that in today’s games, women are actually allowed to compete! Imagine that! You were very against the idea of women participating in sports. Many people from your time thought that a woman’s participation in physical activity might displace her uterus and prevent her from having children, which is what women were meant for, right? Well Pierre, women are going faster, higher and stronger right along with the men, and their reproductive organs aren’t going anywhere.

You would also certainly be disappointed by how the Olympics have been transformed into a circus of commercial interests. Would you believe television networks pay hundreds of millions of dollars for broadcast rights? And the IOC sells sponsorship rights to all sorts of corporations? The Olympics have turned into a moneymaking and spending spectacle. The 1996 Atlanta Games were especially criticized for its excessive display of commercialism. Yes, it is sad Pierre, considering you wanted an event free of commercial ties.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you Pierre, but the Olympics have also taken on an inseparable association with politics. Athletes represent a lot more than their athletic talent. Now they symbolize their country and its political ideologies. The 1936 Berlin games were used as a platform to further German nationalism and demonstrate the Nazi party’s belief in Aryan supremacy. Needless to say, international understanding was not promoted at these games, as you would have wished. Amateurism pretty much died at these games. They were televised for the first time, spurning the ever-increasing drive of commercialism. To make matters worse the German government directly sponsored its athletes financially, further challenging the amateur code.

Basically Pierre, the Olympics as you had envisioned them have deteriorated into a state of disrepair.

Now it’s not all bad. Some of the changes have been positive, such as allowing athletes of all races, classes, and both genders to compete. There are still some elements of honour and inspiration, but they are too often overshadowed by looming billboards, drug scandals, cheating, boycotts, and bombings.

If I were you I’d be pretty disgusted with the IOC. It is somewhat ironic that its members were supposed to preserve the ideals of your games and protect them from the very things that it later pushed the Olympics towards - commercialism and politics. And how international peace and understanding is supposed to be achieved by nations competing against each other is beyond me.

For the loss of the true Olympic spirit, designed to challenge the mind and body, and promote respect, camaraderie and honour, I am sorry.


Sincerely,
Meagan Fitzpatrick

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