Originally Published: August 15, 2008 6:24 p.m.
China is being accused of using the 29th Summer Olympic Games for political purposes and for reneging on their promise to improve human rights, allow personal freedoms, and refrain from media censorship. The criticism is warranted. But rather than merely criticizing the Chinese, the media should include their co-conspirators, the International Olympic Committee (IOC).The IOC has had numerous opportunities to hold China to the promises it made when the Olympics were awarded to Beijing. Instead, the IOC has chosen to be China's apologist. But that shouldn't come as any surprise. The two entities are bedfellows.The five Olympic rings allegedly represent the five continents of the world. But they could just as easily stand for politics, professionals, money, corruption and drugs.The politics associated with the Olympics are everywhere, from the decision to award the Games to the competitions. Pick a sport - gymnastics, skating, basketball - and the controversial scoring decisions of Olympic officials would make Tim Donaghy blush.For this year's Games, Iraq was in, then they were out, and then they were in again. The IOC didn't care about the athletes who spent a lifetime preparing for the games, only about their own power and decision-making authority.And exactly why is this the last year softball will be an Olympic sport? Forget the lame excuses - there are too many athletes per team, not enough countries play the sport, etc. - the real reason is the U.S. dominance in the sport.And like softball, baseball is also holding its Olympic swan song in Beijing. The IOC, once the self-anointed bastion of amateurism, is upset because the U.S. refuses to send its best players to the Games. That would require MLB to shut down for a period of three weeks just when the pennant races are heating up, something the pooh-bas won't do for financial reasons, never mind the potential liability to the players.Professionalism isn't a recent phenomenon in the Olympics. Athletes have been "professionals" - training year 'round while someone else, the government or the private sector, pays the freight - since the modern Olympics began in 1896. And in earlier times, the aristocracy in England pretended to be "amateurs" in order to avoid competing against the lower classes, who played for money and prizes.Still, the spin doctors wanted us to believe otherwise. But ever since the U.S. sent its "Dream Team" of NBA players to the 1992 Games in Barcelona - after being robbed of a gold medal in the '88 Games in Seoul - most people with any common sense understand that the Olympics are about the best athletes money can buy.Money has always been at the forefront of the Olympics. The cost of the Beijing Games is estimated at $43 billion. When Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984, the first "privately funded" Games cost a mere $546 million (and returned a profit of $222 million). For those of you counting at home, that's a whopping 787% increase in 24 years.Corruption goes hand-in-hand with money. From buying the votes of the IOC members, to pocketing funds from deals associated with the Games, we have become immune to the corruption inherent in the Olympics. And lest you think it only happens on foreign soil, several IOC members resigned in the wake of bribery charges stemming from the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.Which brings us to drugs. On the eve of the Beijing Games, IOC President Jacques Rogge said cheating will always be a blight on sports and predicted there would be 30 to 40 positive tests during the Olympics. The question isn't if athletes in these Games are using drugs, it's who and how many. And regardless of how many are caught, you can assume others are using and either got lucky or had the advantage of chemically advanced agents and knowledgeable personnel on their side.Does that mean the Olympics aren't worth staging or watching? Not at all. Watch to your heart's content. And feel free to appreciate the pageantry of the Games and the accomplishments of the athletes. Just don't assume there's anything resembling a purity of ideals associated with these Games. The Olympics are merely representative of sports - indeed, society - everywhere in the world. It wouldn't be fair to expect otherwise.(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.)