The dark side of the Olympics

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 04, 2012 07:16 hrs

Every four years the world celebrates the Olympics, which is the biggest extravaganza that sport has to offer and this time it will be no different. While the Games have a lot of advantages for the world, there is a dark side to it too.

A look at what has gone wrong with the Games…

Financial woes: Many of the Olympics have been financial disasters and cities have made losses after hosting them. Almost all of them face the problem of exceeding their original budget. One example is the 1976 Montreal Olympics, which exceeded the budget by 8 times! Montreal took 30 years to pay off its debt.

While the 1984 Los Angeles Games changed things somewhat with a handsome profit, not all Games have been so lucky thereafter. Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 were in the negative.

The 2004 Athens Games is also said to have worsened Greece’s economy, one of the reasons why it is in such dire straits today. While Beijing 2008 was a spectacular success, subsequently all the Olympics infrastructure has not been put to good use.

Boycotts: The history of the Olympic Games is littered with boycotts.

In 1956, China boycotted the Games due to Taiwan’s participation. Spain, Netherlands and Switzerland backed off in protest against Russia’s participation as it had just invaded Hungary. In fact Russia and Hungary met in a very violent water polo semi-final that was subsequently dubbed the "Blood in the water match".

Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon didn’t come to protest the Suez crisis.

North Korea and Indonesia skipped the 1964 Games. 22 African nations boycotted the 1976 Games to protest New Zealand’s rugby tour of South Africa.

In the 1980 Moscow Games, the US protested Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and led a massive boycott. In all more than 60 nations failed to show up. In retaliation Russia and 14 other countries boycotted Los Angeles 1984.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Games as they were held in South Korea.

In fact only in 1992, a whopping 96 years after the Games began, were there no boycotts and almost all the nations took part.

Russia didn’t participate from 1912-52. The leaders after the Russian Revolution of 1917 didn’t think the Games necessary.

Post-World War rage: Even though peace was declared after the two World Wars, losing nations were shut out of the immediate Games. The 1920 Games were snatched away from Budapest in 1920 and given to Antwerp as the Austro-Hungarian Empire fought with Germany in World War I.

Germany, Austria, Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary were not invited to the Games even though old regimes had fallen and new ones had taken their place. Germany was shut out in 1924 too.

Similarly, Germany and Japan were kept out of the 1948 Games after World War II.

Leadership: There is not much transparency in the ruling Indian Olympic Committee (IOC) and many members rule till life. Some of the Presidents have ruled for a whopping 20+ years. There have been charges of corruption, nepotism, bribery and even anti-Semitism in the past.

The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics scandal is one such example. It was alleged that bribes were paid to influence the bidding process and IOC members were expelled.

The BBC also did a documentary on bribe taking during the bidding process of the 2012 London Olympics. Bertrand Delanoe, the Mayor of Paris accused the London Bid Committee of breaking the rules during the bidding process.

Dow is also an official sponsor of the London Olympics and is under cloud because of its involvement in the Bhopal gas tragedy.

Raw deal for women: In the inaugural 1896 Games, women were barred from competing. One woman ran the marathon a day after the official competition to prove a point, but was not allowed inside the stadium after completion!

While they were allowed in 1900, the number of female participants remained low for quite some time.

In fact even as late as 1992, 35 countries were still not sending any women to the Games. While that number has come down drastically in 2012, a top woman official advocated the banning of countries which still refuse to send women.

Doping: It all started when the 1904 Games gold medallist was given brandy and strychnine by none other than his coach. In 1960, a drug-related death was reported in the Games.

The most high profile case is Ben Johnson's iconic 9.79 seconds record in the 100 metres dash of the 1988 Games. He was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for drugs. Ironically, the gold passed on to Carl Lewis, who himself tested positive but was discovered much later on!

Disqualification due to being tested positive is a common affair as athletes find more and more ways to escape the tests. In 2008 as many as 18 tested positive for drugs (some were eliminated even before heading for Beijing, the venue of the Games).

The Hitler Olympics: The 1936 Berlin Olympics were controversial because they allowed German dictator Adolf Hitler to show off his Nazi regime. A lot of organizations and leaders called for a boycott. In fact the US did come close to not attending.

Hitler wanted to keep Jews and blacks out of the Games, but backed down after boycott threats. However he did keep the Jews out of the German squad. In another shameful act, Gypsies were rounded up and put in special camps for the duration of the Games.

Refusing medals: There have also been cases of players showing disrespect to medals or turning them down. In 1972, the US basketball team refused to accept the silver medals because they thought Russia had won unfairly. In the same Games, Pakistani hockey players thought that Germany won the final unfairly. Fans dumped water on an official's head and Pakistani players showed their back to the German flag during the prize distribution.

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The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at

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