The beginning of end of the Olympic movement?

For all that the purity of the Olympic movement has meant to Canadians, the end may be in sight for this now bloated and corrupt spectacle

olympic olympicsRED DEER, Alta. Aug. 3, 2016/Troy Media/ – Crass commercialism, deadly violence and a cynical, pervasive culture of dishonesty ­– among competitors and officials – has yet to kill the Olympic movement. Could two weeks of competition in Rio de Janeiro provide the death blow?

It wasn’t always like this and as inevitable as it seems, it’s still sad.

On a clear, calm and bright morning in February 1988, I drove into Calgary to a singular, impossibly perfect sight. It is my enduring Olympic moment. Against the backdrop of startling blue skies and snow-peaked mountains that seemed to be unnaturally close, the city’s downtown and the Saddledome just behind it stood in clear relief.

That view from Deerfoot Trail, as I approached from the north, welcomed me to the Calgary Winter Olympic Games in remarkable fashion. A cadre of tourism boosters and expert muralists couldn’t have crafted a more stunning façade.

Those Games belonged to Canadians – and Albertans in particular – and we embraced them with fervour. It helped that they provided great drama, wonderful competition and characters like ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Jamaican bobsled team.

And it certainly didn’t hurt that the Games created an enduring legacy of venues for the province and its athletes. Those venues, in fact, helped nurture a robust winter sports movement in Alberta that, ultimately, contributed a disproportionate number of Olympians to the teams Canada sent to Salt Lake City in 2002, Turin in 2006, Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014.

But those 1988 Olympics were presented on a fraction of the budgets of today’s competitions, and the medals were pursued by athletes who, certainly by current measure, still counted themselves as amateur.

Those perspectives, in presentation and competition, have long faded – much like the Olympic Games themselves.

It is too bad since Canadians, as a rule, have treasured the Olympics.

Nation-affirming events like the Montreal Summer Games of 1976, the 1988 Calgary Winter Games and the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010 allowed us to showcase our great country. We basked in and marvelled at the accomplishments of our athletes in each case.

And we have always been near-perfect hosts – until Vancouver, no Canadian had ever won a gold medal on native soil.

Sport certainly can be a beacon to a healthier lifestyle and provides inspiring examples of the strength of the individual spirit.

And the Olympic movement, for all its many flaws, has demonstrably knocked down the barriers to sexual and cultural inequality.

The competition itself provides inspiration, distraction, purpose and contentment. It shows us what extraordinary feats humans are capable of, with the right training, the best of facilities, the right genetic mix, the best nutrition and more than a little luck.

But the history of the modern Olympic Games is pockmarked with the inglorious and infamous.

The worst of examples?

Try Adolf Hitler’s Aryan-propaganda Summer Games in Berlin in 1936.

Or the Munich Summer Games of 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes and a police officer were killed by Palestinian terrorists.

Or the western world’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Games over the Soviets’ armed presence in Afghanistan, and the Soviets returning the favour at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Try the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games, which killed one and injured more than 100.

Or the cheating perpetrated at one Olympics after another, from a squadron of Eastern Europeans in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s to Canada’s Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988 to Americans Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones in 2000 in Australia to a host of Russians in 2012 – and the entire Russian track and field team banned from competing this year.

And now the world turns its eyes to Brazil. And that country beset by political turmoil and economic misery must try to paint a pretty face on horrendous conditions.

We’ve all seen the reports from Rio: sewage-infested water venues; the dire threats represented by Zika-infected mosquitoes; incomplete or poorly-built venues and facilities, including housing for athletes; rampant crime; general public disinterest; poor ticket sales; and countless qualified athletes choosing not to attend.

Perhaps those reports will be muted by a less traumatic reality, as they were in Sochi in 2014, and Rio 2016 will not cripple the Olympic behemoth.

But more likely, Rio’s failings and the ungainly weight of the bloated, corrupt and greedy Olympic movement will mark the beginning of the end.

Troy Media columnist John Stewart is a born and bred Albertan who doesn’t drill for oil, ranch or drive a pickup truck – although all of those things have played a role in his past. John is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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