The Olympics' Decline Signals Their Success

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Hurray! No one's watching.
The Olympics' decline signals their success. But now what?
ANDREW POTTER | Mar 01, 2006

Has the Olympic movement run its course? Television ratings in both Canada and the United States were way down for these Games, with both the CBC and NBC prime-time broadcasts losing out to new programming from their competitors. Over in Turin, many supposedly marquee events, notably figure skating, took place in half-empty arenas. Is this the beginning of the end for the largest sporting event in the world?

The Wall Street Journal thinks so. In an editorial published just days into the Turin Games, the paper argued that the chief appeal of the Olympics in the past was that, of all the proxy wars fought between the forces of freedom and the forces of totalitarianism, ice dancing and the luge were probably the most benignly entertaining. With the end of the Cold War and the rise of globalization, international events such as the Olympics are obsolete. But, if the Journal is right, then perhaps we shouldn't actually think of the declining interest in the Olympics as a sign of the movement's failure, but as its success.

The relationship between Olympism and nationalism has always been pretty confused. On the one hand, the fundamental principles of the Olympic movement sound like the lyrics to John Lennon's Imagine remixed in bureaucratese. The Olympic Charter explicitly states that the Games "are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries." The Olympic Truce, first declared in 1992, holds that athletic competition has the power to promote unity and peace by abolishing boundaries.

You could have fooled me. The charter may endorse sport as "a way of life based on the joy found in effort," but it promotes that way of life through flag-waving, anthem playing and a rank ordering of nations by medal count. The fact is, for all its hippyish ideology, the Olympic movement has always found raw nationalism...
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