The news has been dominated in recent months by the upcoming Olympic games. The Olympics is a truly global event. From the beginning of the games which starts several months before the actual sporting events, with the lighting and carrying of the Olympic torch(which I was fortunate enough to see while travelling in New Delhi in 2004), through to the 2 weeks of competition. Fast forward to the present. Does the Olympic Games still retain its status as the no 1 global sporting event?
The games was an amateur competition for most of its history, until 1986, when professional athletes were allowed to compete. For me, this was the turning point in the status and meaning of the games. For me the games were about sportsmen and women competing for the glory of an Olympic medal and very little, or no financial reward. It was about the prestige of being able to say ‘I have a gold medal’ The medal was considered the holy grail of amateur sport.
Nowadays, so many sports in the Olympics now include professionals. Tennis, basketball, golf, boxing, are among the sports where paid professionals will be competing alongside amateurs. The issue is no longer so cut and dry, due to the fact that track & field athletes and other Olympic sports have now entered the ranks of the paid athletes.
The question is: how can amateurs compete against professionals? Professionals are highly paid, and can afford more training time, the top trainers, the best equipment, the best physical conditioning coaches etc…, They also do not have the burden of financing their medal bids.Amateurs on the other hand, rely on sponsorship, time off from jobs, local facilities, self-financing, in many cases. There is a mismatch in the playing field. It is weighed heavily in the favour of the professionals.Let us use boxing as an example. Amateur boxers use head protection to ensure extra safety, whereas professionals do not. But if you look at professional boxers, they box for 12 rounds (maximum) whereas amateurs only box for 3 rounds. Professionals have again, the best training, they spend time at training camps, they have more specialised diets. All of these things cost money, which is mostly out of the reach of most amateurs.
The ‘Dream Team’ the USA’s much lauded basketball team is expected to win another gold medal to add to the 14 golds it already has. How on earth can any other country, whose teams mostly comprise of amateurs compete with this achievement?Tennis is another sport, one of my personal favourite sports, which has the odds overwhelmingly stacked in the favour of the professionals. Venus, Serena, Federer, Nadal, Agassi, Graf. These players dominate the competition, and have won every gold, since the inclusion of tennis.
Some would argue that this is inevitable, and is part of the transition of the competition from amateur status to professional in many disciplines. I understand this position, but for me it is a personal tragedy for the event.
I personally believe that the games have lost their meaning as a sporting spectacle, and has, like many other sports, become a cash cow for all involved, except the fans.
R.I.P. the ‘real Olympics’.