Modern Olympic Gold Finds Way to Wrong Pockets

I gave in.

It was a challenge of Olympic proportions, and I lost?big time. As I walked along the sterile main street of Salt Lake’s newest shopping kingdom?The Gateway?the Olympic ideals whispered my name, caressed my purse and, one hour later abandoned me, alone with 39 cents and a 100 percent cotton sweatshirt emblazoned with Salt Lake City 2002.

This is not an isolated incident. It’s more of a global phenomenon that has come tumbling down on the shoulders of Salt Lake City.

It’s called commercialism and, for those Olympic officials who spend countless hours number crunching, it’s indispensable.

Sponsorship has become the water of the Olympic monster and advertising its food. You can go without food for a good couple of weeks, but a few days without water and you’re a goner.

Richard W. Pound, the vice president of the International Olympic Committee said “Take away the sponsorship and commercialism from sport today and what is left? A large, finely-tuned engine developed over a period of 100 years?with no fuel.”

As much as Mitt Romney throws out dreamy, idealistic terms such as Olympism (“?exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles”), the modern Olympics boil down to one thing: business.

Perhaps when Romney refers to the “educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,” he’s referring to the old American principal of capitalism. And, as years of practicing this tradition in America remind us, somebody is always going to get the short end of the stick.

But wait, you say, that’s us isn’t it? Having to endure constant bombardment from the likes of McDonald’s and Budweiser while we just wanted to watch an athletic event?

Try again.

In a recent television interview, two Olympic bobsled hopefuls from Armenia showed a local reporter their shining bobsled. However, it was missing one thing?decals?tiny pieces of colorful plastic that would, according to the brawny, youthful athletes, “say that we can take that second mortgage off our house.”

For any athlete who is not independently wealthy and does not have sponsorship, the Olympics are a financial death sentence.

Ironically, even if the Armenian athletes have to take out a third mortgage to get to the Games, once they arrive in Salt Lake City, Olympic sponsors will shower them with complementary gifts.

Athletes staying in the Olympic Village will have the ability to mosey over to the enormous white tent south of the residence halls and consume as many Mcdonald’s double-bacon cheese burgers as their Olympian hearts desire.

They will be pampered in their rooms, with various free lotions from sponsors, and even have access, with a coke bottle-shaped accreditation card, to complimentary Coca Cola products at any vending machine they encounter during their tenure in Salt Lake.

Though the offer of free food and drinks sounds enticing to any starving college student, the sponsors’ products are not exactly conducive to the lifestyles of Olympic champions?unless you count McDonald’s salad shaker.

So, after donating all of these goods (and making generous financial contributions), what is the payoff for Coca-Cola, Kodak, Visa and McDonald’s, companies that the IOC considers its top sponsors?

Exposure. And lots of it.

The Olympics have degenerated from their original mission of providing an opportunity for amateur athletes to test their skills to the perfect business venture?allowing already affluent companies to make their dream of reaching the global audience a reality.

Advertisers who can fork out the funds to Olympic Committees have the luxury of ‘first picks’ when it comes to television advertising. In the Atlanta Games, one-third of the Opening and Closing Ceremony tickets were reserved for sponsor “hospitality.”

Moreover, companies have rights to use the Olympic logo on their products, a symbol that drips the virtues of courage, national pride and world peace.

Despite the commercial corruption of the original concept of the Olympics, venues during the 2002 Games will remain physically untainted. Called “clean venues,” event sites such as the building formerly known as the Delta Center will be stripped of its corporate identity and masqueraded as the Salt Lake Ice Center. Olympic officials will not allow any product placement to occur within a venue.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done.

Athletes can no longer live out their Olympic dreams based on physical and mental discipline alone.

They can no longer focus on achieving physical excellence, but are weighed down with the commercial demands of sponsorship?where will the next check come from, the next offer to advertise lip balm or refrigerators?

The Olympics are a business. Ultimately, if spectators don’t like the product, they can turn off the television, stay away from Olympic merchandise stores and boycott companies that sponsor the Olympics.

Athletes aren’t that lucky.

In order to compete, they must play the money game, selling their “Olympic Spirit” to Home Depot in order to purchase a bobsled.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

After the Games are over, Monster.com will generously help unemployed athletes create and distribute their resums.

Gee, thanks.

Laura welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].