Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The Olympics begin in Beijing in about a week and I’d like you all to make me a promise. It’s that you won’t say you wish that the political and business sides of the enterprise wouldn’t overshadow the sports.

At the least, that will show you are an actual adult who isn’t diverted by an event’s sizzle. Within the memory of living man, the O Games always have been more about politics and business than sports, and the trend in that direction only accelerates. First and foremost, it’s a bragging-rights show for the host country, a chance to push whatever agenda that land happens to be pushing. Be assured that China did not put up an estimated $40 billion for facilities and other Olympic costs to stage a track meet.

Also know that most of what immediate financial return the Chinese will get while strutting its stuff on the world stage will come from the U.S. of A. NBC paid $1.5 billion for the rights to televise the 2006 Winter and 2008 Summer Games, with the bulk of that aimed at the summer festivities. That’s more than the rights fees of the rest of the world’s TV networks combined, and doesn’t include the tens of millions of dollars that NBC will spend in China to equip and supply the army it dispatches to cover such things.

Further, six of the 12 “Worldwide Olympic Sponsors,” which are paying nine-figure tolls to use the five-ring Olympic symbol in their ads, are U.S.-based companies (Coca Cola, Kodak, GE, McDonald’s, Visa and Johnson & Johnson), as are many lower-tier sponsors. A lot of those bucks go to the host nation, which will reap other benefits from such deals. For instance, a recent New York Times story had it that McDonald’s and Coke will use its Chinese domestic ads before and during the Games to rally the masses behind the Big Red Machine. Remember that the next time you drive by Mickey D’s.

The fact that the Chinese government stifles political dissent at home and spends its international capital propping up the murderous rulers of Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Sudan, among others, didn’t deter the International Olympic Committee from giving it the largest gift it can bestow. Indeed, Beijing’s selection was in keeping with the IOC’s longtime predilection for rewarding regimes that make the trains run on time, no matter how nasty they are.

Exhibit A in that regard was Hitler’s Germany, which got to host the 1936 Summer Games. Der Fuhrer’s helper in that regard was Avery Brundage, the Nazi sympathizer who was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1929 to 1953 and of the IOC from 1953 through 1972. Japan and Italy, two other members of the original Axis of Evil, were similarly blessed, Japan with both the 1940 Winter and Summer Games and Italy with the 1944 winter event (none of which were held due to WWII). The Soviet Union got the 1980 Summer Games and Mr. Putin’s efforts to return Mother Russia to the good old days of dictatorship received an IOC attaboy in the form of the 2014 Winter Games for Sochi, on the Black Sea.

It will be interesting to see how China presents itself during its extended fortnight in the spotlight. It’s said to be taking drastic measures to clean up at least some of the air pollution that makes Beijing notorious. It also has announced that about 100,000 “security” people will be deployed around the city during the Games. While safety is far from a given anywhere during this terror-vulnerable era, no one would be surprised if that force also were put to work squelching grieving Chinese parents who might like to protest the state’s shoddy school construction that caused their children’s deaths in the recent Sichuan earthquakes.

It’s uncertain what the news media will be allowed to report while they are in the People’s Republic. As a condition for getting the Olympics the Chinese promised to allow unfettered press access in and around Beijing during the Games, but the pledge must have been asked and given with mutual winks. Already the government is playing games with journalists’ visas and declaring areas around town off-limits to the press at various times. Moreover, with 100,000 cops and troops ahover, Wang Q. Public might not feel comfortable baring his soul to foreigners carrying cameras or notepads.

I don’t mean to spoil the Games for you, though. I covered eight of those things and know full well that everyone at home sees thembetter than anyone who’s there, so enjoy.

You might even check out the sports once in a while.

BUSINESS NOTE: Two new books in my “For the Love of the…” series are out, one on the Buckeyes (Ohio State U. football) and the other on the Packers (Green Bay, of course). You can view them on the Triumph Books or websites, or, probably, at Barnes & Noble. Mark Anderson’s illustrations are brilliant, as usual. I’m sure you’ll agree they’re handsome items. Previous books were about the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Baseball Hall of Famers, and golf. These also are available.


Dan said...

The host country always is trying to showcase itself to the world. Although the Chinese Olympic architecture is spectacular--and I'm sure the trains indeed will run on time--I wonder whether the polluted sea and sky and the overt press censorship really will convey the impression the Chinese leaders desire. It'll be especially interesting to hear what journalists say about their experiences after they return home.

Marcisz said...

The trains will indeed run on time. Whether the trestles hold is another matter entirely.

mike levy said...

First off, I can't see why you'd do a book on the Buckeyes, when Florida (Go Gators!) beat their sorry asses in both Bastardball and Foopball. Re: the story...If you sell your books in China, the Red Menace will not pay any royalties. Why are multi-national conglams paying for rights to use the 4 o's? I think the Chinese are ploting to get the press over there so that they can murder them all. Glad your not there.

Mike Klein said...

Aah, the Olympics are such a mixed blessing. On the one hand, next to the World Cup and the Euro Championships, the Summer O's are the best tv event of the quadrennium with lots of compelling narratives as well as compelling sports. On the other hand, the IOC is corrupted not only by its own residual affection for various types of fascism, but by its one country one vote principle (though to be fair, the US gets votes for Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and American Samoa).

Still, the O's affection for authoritarian locales bodes well for 2016 candidate Chicago, whose mayoralty has been in the hands of a single family for a total of over a half decade.