Unless you have been hiding underneath a low-set bed, you will have been exposed to the almost suffocating coverage of the 2016 Olympics (not to mention the raft of upcoming reality shows on the host broadcasting network). At Project UNITED, we love sports and we love observing things, so here are some observations we made of the collection of sports at the Olympics (and various themes).
There is no denying that the purity of the Olympics is pretty well shot
Apart from Coca Cola and McDonald’s owning the major food and beverage rights for the event (makes sense – junk food and death beverages), every participant was smeared in their nominated brands, either independently or as part of a team endorsement strategy. Nike had a good run with the entire USA team, Puma with Bolt, and Swiss… well, they didn’t fare so well (the Campbell sisters, the ladies basketball team etc). Even the Seven Network’s coverage was overwhelmingly endorsed with more advertisements than live play, and the audacity to charge a premium price for additional channels on their app was not lost on the public.
The AOC is either very optimistic or terribly misinformed
A couple of days ago, Chef De Mission Kitty Chiller stated that she had privately listed 20 – 21 events that Australia could win at Rio. Her rationale then led her to believe 75% of that was very likely, or 15 gold medals. We won eight which represents a 40% conversion of her forecast.
Further, the AOC officially forecast Australia to win 13 gold medals and went as far as listing the likely candidates. Of this list, only two won gold (Women’s 4 x 100 Freestyle Relay, and Kim Crow – Women’s Single Sculls). Oddly, the ladies Rugby Seven’s team (who won gold) and Cate Campbell (who did not), who were both raging hot favourites leading into the games were not featured in the AOC’s list.
Our best players are the ones we know nothing about
Chloe Esposito is better than Lego. By now you have likely Googled the heck out of “Modern Pentathlon” and discovered it’s probably the best event of all time – swimming, sword-fighting, running, guns, and riding a horse. Fun fact: the horse used for show-jumping is allocated to each competitor 20 minutes before each event. Yes, for real.
Add to this list Catherine Skinner (Women’s Trap Shooting) and Tom Burton (Sailing – Men’s Laser) and the best stories of the games have come from a place that most of us didn’t know existed.
We seem to have a victim complex
Apart from the ladies Rugby Seven’s team, we had a pretty off time of it in team sports at the Olympics. For the first time in 30 years (according to a TV presenter), Australia did not win a medal in a team sport outside of the Rugby Seven’s which was played for the first time at these Olympics. But quite clearly the problem wasn’t us. It was them.
According to officials, our media, or members of each team, the referees at Rio cost us success in men’s basketball, ladies basketball, ladies water polo, and ladies soccer. That’s a lot of shithouse refereeing. Oh, and there may have been a current in the pool that targeted our swimmers.
Why is Caster Semenya still “controversial”?
South African female athlete Caster Semenya is still a controversial figure in World athletics. If you don’t know her story, check it out here. But to summarise, due to some genetic anomaly she has heightened levels of testosterone in her system which some claim provide her with an unfair advantage over “regular” women. Labron James is 2+ metres tall. That’s unfair. Usain Bolt has the longest stride of any sprinter in history. That’s unfair. Ethiopians live and train at high-altitude. That’s unfair. I want to be a slim female actress. That’s unfair.
What’s really unfair is getting hammered for being alive and being good at something.
The walking events confuse me
I certainly respect the speed at which walkers walk and can only imagine how fit they are and how much training they do. But I can’t get past the juxtaposition of an event where the objective is to go as fast as you can, but not too fast.
Being given a leadership role does not create a leader
A few days before the closing of the Olympics, two of our swimmers hit the town and broke the rules. One (Josh Palmer) went well left and ended up robbed and delusional in Copacabana, the other (Emma McKeon) got stranded and stayed with friends away from the Olympic village but failed to advise team management of her circumstances. Team management rubbed them both out of the closing ceremony for breaking team protocol.
The next day, the SocMePapa (social media paparazzi) blew up and Kitty Chiller reneged on her original stance and allowed Emma McKeon to participate in the closing ceremony (not Palmer though. He wasn’t coming back from his episode). On the surface, this may seem just. But consider this: pre-event, safety and security assessments would have been discussed at length. Even before any athlete arrived in Rio, body parts washed up on a Rio beach, there were police protests, there were Zika virus fears, corruption claims and Government upheaval. Fair to say the environment was precarious. Accordingly, the Australian Olympic Committee must have had intelligence and recommendations on how they should manage the safety of the team and the brand of the Australian Olympic Team. They would have had a definitive list of requirements and expectations of each athlete and team, and I can only imagine how many times each team and individual was drilled on what was expected of them. If by chance one of our athletes ended up kidnapped, harmed, or worse, what happens then? If only we had some kind of team safety protocol. Hence why a code of conduct or team protocol was implemented in the first place. In that context, to have sanctions for breaking the rules is more than fair and completely understandable. But as history will tell us, our leadership values are only as strong as the social media pressure they may be exposed to.
They have lost their meaning, and cost around $330m
I will confess that I was experiencing a moderate amount of enjoyment from the Rio games until I saw this mock-ad on Gruen. That ruined it. I then started looking into the purpose of the Olympics and how much it costs.
According to the official IOC website, “the goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” That sounds fair, except:
- Russia was facing a blanket ban for systemised national doping programs, but this was later revoked by the IOC with each sporting body left to make their own determinations. Evidently, Russia still finished fourth overall. The Russian Paralympians though do face a blanket ban.
- There was ongoing commentary from Australian and American swimmers calling out dopers in protest of an alleged lack of action from governing body FINA.
- Communities in Rio were driven out of their homes to accommodate the Olympics.
- The Rio games are likely to divide the social classes within Rio further.
- The “amateur” guidelines for the Olympics was shelved in 1990 but weird rules still remain. To compete in men’s soccer for example, each team must comprise of members 23 years old and younger apart from three members. The ladies teams can be of any age. Boxing has only just relaxed their amateur rules for Rio meaning Floyd Mayweather Jr could fight for a gold medal if he had wanted to.
At $330m across four years, are there better programs to use that funding on?
It didn’t matter if the Olympics were great, we were always going to be disappointed
For some reason, bad news is easy. It is easy to write, easy to report, and is easily shared. “Did you hear about that bad thing that happened to that person on that occasion?” “I know, wasn’t it bad!?”
Why is that?
As a sports fan in general, the themes that spring immediately to mind are disappointing cricketers, idiot rugby league players, racist AFL fans, and disappointing Rugby results. Kyrgios is a jerk, Mundine is a loud mouth, and Jarryd Hayne is big head.
What is going on here? Is it truly a case of shitty news being more emotionally engaging than nice news? Is it more profitable and discussable (conversationable?) to spread irritating stories than decent ones? No, I don’t think so.
I think the issue comes back to opinion. For some reason, the weight of irrelevant opinion hangs large on our own interpretation of events. Would Cate Campbell’s fifth in the 100m freestyle final be as diabolically shambolic if we had have simply observed it and moved on instead of being inundated with 11 million interpretations of how horrific it was? If we weren’t swarmed with the “letdown” that was the Boomers final series, would we have actually felt letdown? Perhaps what is truly disappointing is not how the results fall, but how they are consumed and then regurgitated upon us.
Greatness isn’t achieved. It just is.
Two quick points to make:
- It turns out there is a sportsmanship award that the IOC can hand out at their discretion should it be called for. It was called for at Rio. Two ladies competing in a 5000m heat, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino got tangled up and fell to the ground on the final lap. Hamblin rose to her feet to continue but D’Agostino remained on the ground in pain with a torn ACL. Having taken a few steps forward and realising her colleague was still on the ground, Hamblin picked D’Agostino up off the ground and they completed the race together.
- Authenticity is rare, particularly in the public sphere. To be a champion athlete and an authentic human-being at the same time is borderline overwhelming. Anna Meares has it in buckets: