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For a fairer Games, cut out the silliness

By Barry Cohen - posted Friday, 19 September 2008

Now that the Paralympics are over, we can concentrate on London 2012 and helping the International Olympic Committee select the host for the 2016 Olympics. If Beijing is the yardstick, the winning city should be in Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Libya or Burma.

What was the IOC thinking when it chose Beijing? The same thoughts that gave us Berlin (1936) and Moscow (1980)? How the Olympics would open up China and change its thuggish behaviour with regards to human rights? If China believes what the West has witnessed during the Olympics will improve its image, it is in for a rude shock. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of locals to make way for Olympic facilities, suppression of dissent, censorship of the internet, heavy-handed security and the overarching atmosphere of a cancer ward has convinced most people this was a good Games to have missed.

There was a whiff of nostalgia. The sight of China's trained automatons winning bucket loads of medals reminded us of the halcyon days of East Germany's triumphs.


It is a forlorn hope but one that nevertheless needs to be expressed: that the IOC will never again consider any country that does not provide its citizens basic human rights.

To those who argue that sport and politics should not mix, may I remind them of South Africa's exclusion from the Olympics for 30 years because of its policy of apartheid?

There are also other issues to consider, including the IOC's preference for European and North American hosts.

The five Olympic rings represent the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Yet of the 26 Olympics held so far, 15 have taken place in Europe (London will make 16), six in North America, three in Asia and two in Oceania (Melbourne and Sydney). South America and Africa: nil. That has been justified on the grounds that no country in either continent could afford to host the Olympics. That is still true in most cases, but some could do the job if given financial support by the IOC. South Africa, Brazil, Chile and Argentina come to mind. It could be made easier with some ruthless culling of sports, many of which should not have been included in the first place. The IOC, concerned by the trend towards gigantism, has limited the number of entries for each country, but it has been less than successful in the culling. Universal popularity should be a leading factor but not the sole determinant. Unfortunately, how it looks on television - particularly American TV - has been the deciding factor.

Allow me to indulge my own prejudices. Citius, Altius, Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger - is the Olympic motto, so physicality should be the first test. Out would go archery and shooting. Deleting elitist sports or those with limited popularity would mean the end of equestrian events, Greco-Roman wrestling, the ghastly synchronised swimming and the equally ridiculous BMX bikes.

Soccer could stay, but only if the absurd rule that requires all but three members of each team to be under 23 is scrapped. The international soccer body FIFA won't wear it because it would threaten the supremacy of its world cups.


An Olympic championship should be the pinnacle of achievement, not a minor event. Out go tennis and attempts to include rugby union, cricket and golf, which happens to be my favourite sport. The only sport that deserves to be added is squash, the most physical of all sports (with the possible exception of the triathlon) and one that totally fits the Olympic ideal.

That would get rid of seven sports and cut down some of the infrastructure costs, zillions of dollars would nonetheless be required for a country to host an Olympic Games.

Whatever one thinks of China's repressive totalitarian regime, it would be churlish not to praise the magnificent facilities it provided. That creates problems. Every potential host country faces the challenge of matching or surpassing Beijing, Athens, Sydney and, no doubt, London or being excoriated for their shortcomings. Beijing has set a standard few can match.

How can small and less affluent countries hope to compete with the rich and powerful? As things stand, they can't; only the IOC can change this.

It can start by removing much of the competitive element for the bidding process by ensuring that host cities are chosen sequentially for the five Olympic rings, with South America included in Oceania.

It could then eliminate the opening ceremony extravaganza, limit the number of parasitic officials, extend the Games for another week to gain added TV revenue and provide substantial financial assistance to less affluent countries that wish to bid for the Olympic Games.

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First published in The Australian on September 17, 2008.

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About the Author

Barry Cohen was Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Environment in the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1987. He currently runs an animal sanctuary in Calga, NSW.

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