For the week of January 20, 1999   thru January 26, 1999  

Olympics obsessed with profit, not sports excellence

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

The real surprise in the Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal is that some people seem surprised the Olympics are capable of corruption.

Oh, my. Except for wide-eyed and eager young Olympians and some of their mentors, few of us anymore believe Olympics games are about sports or athletics, any more than the NFL or NBA are about sports.

The modern-day history of Olympic games is about business – business so enormous, so singularly obsessed with profit and promoting community economic development ahead of sports excellence it can only be discussed in hundreds of millions of dollars.

When a pie so plump with potential profit is up for slicing, blind greed inevitably wins out with the weak-willed.

Corporations buying their way in as an "official sponsor" and builders of magnificent new Olympics venues bring to the Olympic games the same cultural instincts that govern the push and shove world of daily commerce.

Olympic organizers long ago abandoned quaint programs that emphasized strong-willed, strong-bodied young amateurs engaged in tests of athletic skill in modest surroundings.

Olympians now are chosen years in advance, bred to their tasks like race horses, eventually sent to training camps where bodies are shaped with special diets and nutrients, their costly competition equipment and apparel designed for max efficiency by engineers using exotic space-related sciences.

The finale is a spectacle more Ziegfeld and Cecile B. DeMille than the grunt and groan imagined by the games’ Greek founders.

Corporations and communities that control Olympic games are not alone with their dreams of riches: even Olympians have their eye on fortunes in commercial endorsements and professional sports careers if they win medals.

Sports have become an especially corrupting influence in American society. Tykes learn from obsessive parents that winning, even in sandlot games, is everything, and that every six-year-old can grow up to be a Michael Jordan or John Elway.

When young athletes reach college, they learn that higher education is little more than a training camp for the pros, where a hulking athlete's brute skills are more valuable than his brain.

And why not? Turning pro means earning more in a year than wage-earners are paid in a lifetime.

Unlike other Olympic communities, Salt Lake City got caught pandering to the greed and corrupt weaknesses of some site selection officials.

But with popular acceptance of an American president who cheats, surely the same Americans will accept Salt Lake City’s cheating with cash, women, scholarships and real estate deals as the possible cost of landing the Olympic winter games.

Deep Throat had it right when he told Woodward and Bernstein the link between criminal acts in Watergate and President Nixon – "follow the money" used in payoffs.

And that seems to be an unspoken Olympic credo - go where the most money is, above or under the table.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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