By Lucy Haslam
As the Tokyo Olympics come to a close, it’s easy to reflect on the golds, the comradeship and the escapism we have all enjoyed, yet this glamourised smoke screen hides the continuous spout of offences committed by the IOC (International Olympics Committee). The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to be held in 2020 but the health risk posed by COVID-19 threw them into 2021; a year we thought would be much safer, one with declining case numbers and far fewer restrictions. Sadly, this is not the case. Only 23% of the Japanese population have been vaccinated and the nation is continuing to average 3,840 new cases every day. Even a medical mandate, signed by 6000 of Tokyo’s medical staff, wasn’t enough to stop the IOC’s profit train. Around 80% of Tokyo’s population voted against hosting the Olympic games, citing health as a major risk factor. This statistic has been either been acknowledged and ignored or ignored all together by the IOC who see no reason why the Olympic games cannot continue in a poorly vaccinated country with an ageing population. Some sagacious advertisement has seen the proliferate labelling of the Tokyo Games as the “Recovery Games”; the games that will help the country move away from the tragedies of the 2011 Tsunami and the nuclear meltdown, yet the softball competition began in Fukushima awash with nuclear waste.
It is only through digesting these statistics that the IOC’s true intention is revealed. They clearly function as a profit-making and profit-driven institution, one who cares little, if not at all about the host country it imposes itself on.
What about the economic growth? Or the premise of a thousand new affordable houses? And brand-new sporting facilities for local communities? Surely, arguably, we can see some good in the IOC as they promise to catalyse economic change and pump funding into local channels. The research, however, is resolute and unequivocal; as with the exception of Barcelona in 1992, no Olympic games have raised the rate of economic growth in the host country. The conclusions the IOC report and promote, are intangible and immeasurable. How are we expected to believe that affordable houses are being built whilst local citizens are being displaced? Together the Seoul (1988) and Beijing (2008) Olympics saw 2 million people displaced. The very foundations of the ‘Olympic Effect’ are flawed. Where someone is suffering, someone else is always benefitting. Rio, for example, didn’t build a single community sports facility, but the city’s riot police got the very best new Kevlar-plated armour and tasers.
The IOC have long been a bastion of opaque processes and bad decisions. With this in mind, and in a desperate search for legitimacy, the IOC have now embraced environmentalism. A sustainability report published in 2020, highlights how the owner of the Olympic games will track its progress towards 18 sustainable goals, looking across 3 spheres of responsibility. Credit where credit is due, this is a step in the right direction, but the history of the IOC remains unclean. In an attempt to make space for new stadiums and their accompanying developments, thousands of natural habitats have been destroyed with no mention of relocation. The pandemic has been favourable to the reduced carbon footprint pledged by the IOC, but there are no guidelines in place for monitoring future emissions. Ironic; the winter Olympics relies on the very snow that may not be there soon. No need to worry though, China has promised to create 300 tonnes of fake snow if the winter cannot provide.
I am aware that this piece has become slightly mocking in tone, maybe even slanderous, with a very obvious bias and so I just want to clarify that whilst the IOC has made its fair share of mistakes, it is the external mechanisms of the institution that prohibit the IOC from launching real change. The committee does not learn from its mistakes, nor does it engage with critics. An entirely self-determined operation, such as the IOC, tolerates no critical voice.
We must also not forget that the IOC would not exist without its loyal customers: us. As a country, we inject money into these incredibly intense sporting events and push our athletes to bring home the very best. This culture is arguably very damaging (see Simone Biles' latest withdrawal from the Olympics), but it reinforces the IOC’s power, just as the IOC encourages the toxic competition.
If we really want to inspire children and initiate new sporting programmes and facilities maybe we need to look a little closer to home. Convince a government that supports the IOC to instead support the health of a nation. In the words of David Goldblatt: “Ask the Finns, who abandoned the state-sponsored pursuit of medals and spend the money instead on active transport and accessible facilities. They barely win anything anymore, but they have the most active and healthy old people in the world. In Britain we have a sack of gold and an obesity crisis.”