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Are we losing the Olympic spirit?

By Mal Fletcher - posted Thursday, 12 July 2012


The international Olympic movement is now more a machine than a movement and it is weakening our appreciation of the sporting virtues it is meant to represent.

Nothing has the potential to celebrate the virtues and values of sporting endeavour like the Olympic Games. Yet the modern Olympiad and the organisation that supports it have arguably become little more than a celebration of jingoism and a promoter of market values.

The athletes taking part deserve our highest admiration and a global platform on which to display their talents.

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Yet among those who decide how their endeavours are showcased, sport it is increasingly treated as an extension of the market economy. Competition represents an opportunity to increase a community's collective wealth.

As someone who lives close to London, I am proud of what this great city will bring to the international pageant. In boldly announcing this week, however, that the Games will bring £13 billion into the national economy, Prime Minister David Cameron revealed the motivation that often sits at the heart of the bidding process.

The virtues that once defined sporting competition at the elite level now seem but a secondary consideration.

The success of any modern Olympiad is, at the end of the day, measured in terms of the potential monetary gain for the host nation and for those nations which produce winning competitors - especially in the big sports.

The global machine surrounding the Olympics may talk the talk of sporting virtue, yet in ever more overt ways it walks the walk of profit and indulgence.

Despite vigorous denials on the part of the IOC, doubts remain about the propriety of the host bidding process for each new Games, with perennial claims of bribery and nepotism. Even without these stories, however, the high price tag attached to hosting the Games likely works against the very sporting ideals the Olympics are supposed to reinforce.

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By the time the last medal has been award, the London Olympics will have cost a reported £8.4 billion. They will be the most expensive Games ever - as, it seems, every new Olympiad is destined to become.

In his new book, What Money Can't Buy, ethics professor Michael Sandel poses a question which is exercising the minds of social and political leaders throughout the developed world.

In the wake of the global financial crisis and the ongoing problems with major currencies such as the euro, do we want a market economy or a market society? Do we want the market to serve us or to define us?

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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