Reader’s Forum

IOC naive — urged to face reality

by Joan McDonald

Sport has changed since 1896. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) must face this fact. It must recognize that the Olympic Games is probably the single largest athletic event in the world today. No other event attracts the media in such numbers or reaches into the homes of so many people in the world.

YEARS OF TRAINING have made Joan McDonald one of Canada’s top female archers.
APRÈS DE NOMBREUSES années d’entraînement, Joan McDonald est maintenant une des meilleures Canadiennes au tir à l’arc.

It is naive to believe that an event of the size and importance of the Olympic Games can be non-political. Indeed, although the IOC repeatedly says “politics have no place in sport”, the committee itself has barred certain countries from participation in the Games solely on political grounds.

If the IOC really believes in the promotion of the ideas that Pierre de Coubertin laid down in 1896, then they must have the courage and vision to restructure the Olympic Games so that those ideals may be given a chance to grow.

It is now eight years since the 1972 massacre in Munich. It must surely have been obvious that the Games would never again be the same. In 1976, the Montreal Games was plagued with a number of political problems, which were serious at the time, although they appear minor today. The most outstanding aspect of the 1976 Games was the number of guns which were in evidence to maintain the safety of the athletes. There can be absolutely no question that the Olympics is one of the most politically charged events in the world today.

Eight years ago, the IOC should have jumped off the status quo and implemented studies and mechanisms to avoid the confrontation of today. Even now, the IOC has not taken the steps that are necessary to put in place a full-time working committee of dedicated and visionary people to bring the Games into step with present and future realities.

The emphasis here should be on “full time”. Such a committee should be under the auspices of the IOC, but not necessarily made up of IOC members. The committee should be given a mandate to study two major areas.

The first is the method by which the IOC awards the Games every four years. For at least five years there has been wide discussion by athletes, administrators, and the media about the feasibility of having a permanent site for the Games. Many countries have been suggested, Greece being the most prominent. Recently, the idea of creating an “Olympic country” in Greece, with status similar to that of the Vatican, has received wide attention. This appears to be an excellent solution. It does, however, create considerable problems with funding. Rather than one country footing the whole bill, costs will have to be spread among the entire Olympic community.

Here, it only takes one paragraph to say that this sounds like a good idea. However, it will take an IOC committee several years to come up with working solutions. This illustrates the urgency of setting up such a group immediately. The committee must have high visibility in the media of the world so that they achieve access to the highest echelons of the many governments that must be dealt with to make these kinds of changes.

The second matter that must be dealt with urgently if the Games are to survive as a showcase of the world’s best athletes is one that has been carefully swept under the carpet.

Are Olympic athletes amateurs or professionals? These terms must be completely redefined to bring them in line with the reality of the 1980s. It has been conceded by everyone, except the IOC, that the athletes who represent the Eastern Bloc countries are professionals. They are able to practise their sport on a full-time basis. To conform with the Olympic code, they are listed as teachers, soldiers, mechanics, and so on, and, in fact, some of them may indeed spend their spare time fulfilling those functions. However, their livelihood depends upon their being at the top of their sport.

In the West, the opposite is true.

The more proficient an athlete becomes in his or her sport, the less likely he or she is to be able to maintain a livelihood. As more and more time is required to maintain his or her skills, there is proportionately less time available to earn a living.

So it is that in the Eastern Bloc countries the more proficient one is, the higher one’s living standard, while in the West, the reverse is usually true.

It is also true that in the more popular sports, ways are found to get around the present amateur status rules. This, of course, neatly makes hypocrites of many of our athletes. And it is impossible to estimate how many top athletes have been forced to turn professional or to retire before reaching their peak of ability simply because they could no longer afford the luxury of continuing as amateurs.

The Olympic Games is the most stunning showcase of athletics that the world has ever known. It is now facing the prospect of a slow and painful death. The International Olympic Committee has the opportunity to give the Games a new birth or to preside over its demise.

Joan McDonald is one of Canada’s top female archers. She won a silver and bronze medal at the 1979 Pan American Games and won her first Canadian championship in 1962. She says that “as an athlete — one of the smallest cogs in the wheel — I have felt utterly helpless to have any effect’’ on the events she writes about here. She goes on to say, “we’re the ones who work like crazy and yet have no impact on the people who make the decisions. If the Games die, as they surely will if something isn’t done, it will be a tragedy for all sports. There can be no doubt that participation is dramatically up in such sports as gymnastics because dozens of little girls dream of being an Olga Korbut. Indeed, my five and seven year olds were tobogganing recently — at least that’s what it looked like to the adults watching. But to them, they were on the luge run at Lake Placid and they spent the whole afternoon trying to go farther and faster. It is here that dreams are born. ”

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