The beauty and the beast of the Olympics

Fact: I love everything sports. And I have especially enjoyed watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics the past two weeks.

But truth-be-told it’s hard to ignore the ugly side dominating the Games behind the scenes. It’s working people in Vancouver that will suffer the brunt of the Olympic financial burdens.

First the good.

It was exciting to see speed skaters Shani Davis and Apolo Ohno win medals for the U.S. Ohno has become the most decorated American winter Olympian of all time. And well Davis, who is African American, is from my home town Chicago. Big ups.

Then there is snowboarder Shaun White, who won the gold in the sport after defying gravity. And Lindsey Vonn who despite her injuries took gold in downhill skiing. Watching both athletes compete and win medals for the U.S. was way cool.

The Chinese veteran duo and couple Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo also won me over. They won gold in the pair’s figure-skating on Valentines Day. Their personal story, their focus and determination was truly inspiring and a pleasure to watch.

South Korea’s Kim Yuna won the gold in women’s figure skating. She was truly beautiful and elegant and nailed every technique in her captivating routine.

Canada’s Joannie Rochette won the bronze in women’s figure skating. She also won the hearts of millions worldwide. Days before the competition Rochette’s mother unexpectedly died. Rochette showed so much strength and emotion on the ice. Skating to honor her mother she showed so much heart and Olympic spirit. It was very moving.

The personal stories and accomplishments of athletes like these personify what it means to compete in the Olympics. Their talents, skills and dedication remind me why I appreciate sportsmanship and why sports are so important to people in every corner of the world.

Okay, now the bad.

The games began on a very somber note with the loss of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who tragically died when he lost control of his sled during a practice run.

Critics say the International Organizing Committee (IOC) acted in cold-blood and arrogantly despite past complaints that the track was dangerous.

Meanwhile residents of Vancouver are expected to be haunted for years to come due to the rising costs of the Games.

For example security costs alone, first estimated at $165 million, are now headed toward $1 billion. Sources say the operating budget includes a $423 million in emergency money from the IOC. The city and Vancouver taxpayers are looking at nearly $1 billion in debt from bailing out the Olympic Village development.

All this as people in Vancouver and British Columbia, Canada continue to see cuts in services like education, health care and arts financing from their provisional government, which is stuck with other Olympics-related costs.

More costs and debt is expected to mount despite how the global economic crisis has already affected Vancouver and Canada as a whole.

Behind the Olympics there’s a dark-side, and it’s called money.

Sports columnists Dave Zirin says rather than promoting sportsmanship, the Olympics in the hands of the IOC is all a gigantic fraud and can be a parasite for the host city.

The IOC is a “sewing circle of monarchists, extortionists, and absolved fascists – that like to hide behind the pretense of nobility,” wrote Zirin in The Progressive.

The IOC, he says, “claims to care not for profit or personal gain. Just the glory of ‘Olympism.'”

But what trumps these grand “ethics,” notes Zirin, is the reality of what makes the IOC go ’round: television ratings and corporate dollars.

“And if corporations can’t come up with the money, then cities and host countries pay through the nose,” says Zirin.

Zirin says the Olympics should be held at one permanent site because it would eliminate the corrupt bidding process, take the pressure off nations to make bids, and remove much of the behind-the-scenes dealings. By blotting out both the corruption and corporate feeding frenzy that surround the Games, there would be more space for the spirit of sport to emerge.

That makes sense to me. Because the Olympics should be about the beauty of sports and competition without the beast of corporate profits.

Photo: South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na performs her short program during the women’s figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Feb. 23. Mark Baker/AP










Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.