The rise, fall and future of the Olympics | Local columnists
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics do not appear to have aroused the interest of the United States. While disappointing from a historical and cultural standpoint, it gives planners and sponsors of the 2028 Olympics that will be held in Los Angeles plenty of time to take note and adjust their awe-inspiring visions.
The Summer Olympics are a good vantage point to see how much the world has changed since 1960, when Tokyo last hosted the Games. While the official Olympic motto was changed on July 21 to add “Communiter” (in Latin) to “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which translates to “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together”, I don’t have seen or heard no mention of the motto in the media coverage. So much to honor traditions.
In the first four nights of the Games, viewers of NBCUniversal’s Olympics coverage across all of its networks declined 43% to 17.5 million viewers, from 30.7 million for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Prime-time coverage on NBC is down nearly 50%.
According to Nielsen, the opening ceremony in Tokyo drew 16.7 million viewers on NBC on July 23, which represents both the morning live broadcast and the prime-time replay – the smallest audience for an opening ceremony over the past 33 years.
COVID-19-related distractions, jet lag, fatigue of postponing events for a year and more streaming entertainment alternatives have all contributed to the decline in public interest. Plus, maybe the Olympics have grown too big for ordinary people to watch.
Public interest may have diminished, but the size and participation in the Games has increased. In Tokyo, there are 11,476 athletes, of which 47.76% are women, competing in 339 events in 33 different sports. For the first time, karate, skateboarding, wall climbing (aka “sport”) and surfing have been included.
At the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1960, there were a total of 5,151 athletes, and 13.1% were women. They came from 93 countries and competed in 20 sports, with judo and volleyball being introduced for the first time.
Perhaps the two most significant changes affecting total athlete participation are the abandonment of the amateur standard after the 1988 Olympics and the passage of Title IX in 1972. Allowing paid athletes made the American Dream Team possible. of 1992 consisted of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, while Title IX increased participation of women in varsity sports, thus preparing them for other competitions.
COVID-19 has prevented real-life onlookers in Tokyo. With the exception of the participants, their coaches and associated staff, the 2020 Olympic Games have become exclusively a media event. To my taste, NBC’s coverage was more of an entertainment and less of a sports competition. For every minute of competition, we probably had two minutes of commentary and commercials. While there must have been viewing times somewhere on the internet, I just checked, and if I wasn’t interested in the coverage, I turned it off. The only events I had planned were the two race finals for Mizzou graduate Karissa Schweizer, both early in the morning central time.
The decline in interest in the Olympics, like the decline of the three major television networks in the last generation, means a loss of knowledge shared by society – a loss of collective memory. Baby Boomers share a long list of memorable achievements and personalities from the Summer Olympics. It was the 1960 Rome Olympics that featured Muhammad Ali – then Cassius Clay – on his public journey that included lighting the Olympic flame in 1996 in Atlanta while battling Parkinson’s disease. It was at the 1968 Mexico Games that Tommie Smith and Lee Evans raised their gloved fists to the sky in protest. Frank Shorter’s 1972 marathon success is credited with sparking the running craze in America. If Bruce Jenner hadn’t achieved the glory of being in the Wheaties’ box after the Montreal decathlon in 1976, we probably wouldn’t know Caitlin Jenner today.
Simone Biles appeared with her teammates on the rival’s Kellogg Special K box in 2016, but has to be the favorite to be on the Wheaties box this year.
But there are also tragedies and controversies about the Summer Olympics, including the 1972 terrorist attack on Munich airport and the killing of Israeli hostages, the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and banning Russia as a country but not Russian participants this year.
The most lasting controversy concerns the economic cost and environmental destruction associated with the construction of Olympic venues. Even without a one-year postponement of the 2020 Games, the Tokyo Olympics are expected to be the costliest at $ 20 billion, about three times Japan’s initial offer.
Without a radical change, we must surely be approaching a natural upper limit to the Olympic spectacle. For the Games of Paris 2024 and Los Angles 2028, the International Olympic Committee had to reopen the candidatures and increase its financial support to the new host cities. THE dream of a net income of $ 100 million using existing sports facilities, thus avoiding the costly construction of new venues.
Several recent Olympic hosts have found themselves with Olympic Villages underutilized as a sustainable albatross. With homelessness and LA’s environmental disasters, building new dormitories for the 2028 Olympics would almost certainly generate political opposition.
One achievable future of the Olympics is to decentralize them geographically and sequentially. There is no reason why 11,000 athletes competing at different venues must converge at the same airport and the same temporary village for a stay of two to four weeks. While the spectacular Opening Ceremony and a central Olympic Village as the unifying elements of the Games are idyllic, the lasting impact of Tokyo 2020 could make them relics of the past.
David Webber joined the Department of Political Science at the MU in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at [email protected]