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Maxed Out: Want to send a message to the IOC? Don’t watch the Games

Showing your disapproval of the Olympics going ahead despite the pandemic is easy — just don't watch.
Canadian Female Athlete celebrating.

Blow up your TV.

Too drastic? Don’t blow it up. Just select a different station. Avoid any of the NBC feeds, especially if you abhor the jingoistic U.S. coverage. Avoid CBC, especially if you abhor the jingoistic Canadian coverage. Choose wisely, Grasshopper.

The one-year-delayed summer Olympics™ in sweltering, COVID-riddled Tokyo begin on Friday. The quadrennial Extravaganza of Excess will be different this year. No spectators except for the anointed high rollers—politicos, Olympic™ Family, International Olympic Committee (IOC) royalty, assorted bagmen—will fill the stands. Piped-in crowd noise from past Games will provide white noise for TV audiences who would otherwise be moved to boredom by the mindless piffle voiced by commentators. Podium finishers will hang their own medals, sanitized of course, around their own necks. Audiences who believe Greco-Roman wrestling should only take place between sweaty Greco-Romans will be teased by the additions of surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing—modern-day figure skating with largely subjective judging, save the clock in climbing.

And the powerbrokers of the IOC will sit smugly, if nervously, and watch the billions roll in—dollars, not spectators. With over 70 per cent of the Firm’s budget coming from broadcast rights, following the money will lead you to the television as the grease that keeps this rickety wagon rolling.

And that leads us to personal choice. As viewers, or non-viewers, the power to deliver the coup de grace to the Olympics™ is in our hands. Which is why it’ll never happen. Sport is spectacle and there are too many people in the world that’ll watch anything—snooker, darts, golf, I’m looking at you—to fill the empty hours and provide vicarious thrills while they wolf down Doritos and light beer.

That the IOC is a corrupt organization is no longer considered news. That it lives in a sepia-tinged, Eurocentric, royalty-bound past is obvious. That its total control over the fate of the Games, and the host countries, is contractual. That it is all about the money is—because of the undeserved patina of “sport”—harder for too many people to accept.

“I hate the IOC but I love the athletics,” people say. “It’s all about the athletes.” Were that it was so.

The Olympics™ is about money. Athletes are the lipstick on the pig. The IOC cares not at all for the athletes. Slave owners cared more about slaves if for no other reason they had to pay money for replacements. Athletes work the fields voluntarily, for the glory, for the potential money, for sponsorships, for jobs as Olympic hangers-on when the glory days are a memory and the adult reality of making a living sets in.

If the IOC cared about the athletes, would they hold the Games in a city wracked by COVID-19 and embroiled in yet another state of emergency? Would they hold high-endurance outdoor sports in a country with heat and humidity so high this time of year if they cared about the athletes? In 1964, the last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Games, they were moved to October because the heat of July was considered too dangerous. But to do so this year would pinch the upcoming 2022 Winter Games. Yeah, but at least the IOC was concerned enough about marathoners to move the long run to Sapporo, 800 kilometres north of Tokyo and noticeably cooler.

Already COVID-19 is snaking through the Olympic™ Village. But, hey, no problem. As host country Japan is on the hook for providing medical services. The Games’ organizers have requested 200 doctors to, wait for it, volunteer. They’ve also asked for 500 nurses. Without going into the absurdity of a wealthy, money-making machine demanding volunteer professionals, the Japanese medical system, like virtually every other around the globe, is already stretched to the limit dealing with COVID-19, atop the day-to-day medical needs of an aging country. But when you’re the IOC, you care no more for the host country than you do for the athletes.

If they cared, they’d at least acknowledge the fact that fewer than a quarter of Japanese people believe the Games should go on. And this notwithstanding the billions of dollars the Japanese government has already ponied up for them. Earlier this week, Toyota announced it would abstain from running any Olympic™-themed ads on Japanese television during the Games and the company’s CEO will not be attending the opening ceremony. While this is a high-profile gesture, considering Toyota is a worldwide Olympic™ sponsor, it has to be recognized as one driven by enlightened self-interest.

Still sitting on the fence—as of writing this—is the Canadian government’s undecision as to whether to send a federal delegation to the Games from the Great White North. Weighing the right thing to do, not attend, with the nascent murmurs coming out of vote-rich Quebec to put in a bid for future Olympics™ is likely to make that fence a comfortable perch until the last moment.

Despite my indifference to elite athletes, I understand their motivation to be a part of the Olympics™. I also understand the unfortunate nationalism surrounding the contests and moment-by-moment medal count. Heck, even self-effacing Canada wants to Own the Podium. But the athletes themselves are beginning to rumble about mutiny. Many believe they should be invited to the gravy train; that is, compensated directly by the IOC. Many chafe at the warnings they’ve been given to avoid any overt political statements, although the raised-fist salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos is about all most people remember from the 1968 Mexico City Games.

But in an era rife with social empowering movements and quick to indict individuals and organizations much more inclusive and socially conscious than the pure white, male IOC, how is it the IOC skips the intense scrutiny and collective cancellation it so richly deserves? Two answers: the esteem of sport and the mesmerizing quality of television.

As Han Xiao, a former U.S. Olympian and member of the pro-Olympic™ movement is quoted as saying about the Games in the New York Times, “You need a group of people who want to change it, and outside of some extraordinary public pressure, it’s very difficult. Because everybody turns on the TV those 16 days.”

And therein lies both the problem and the solution. Every hour you don’t watch is a blow for reform. Your choice.