Today marks the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, a stark, disturbing reminder of how backwards global priorities are. This isn’t meant to belittle the importance of sports or games, because I’d be the first to tell you how I jumped for joy the last time Mexico won a medal. But, when millions of dollars in state funds are being used to glorify nationalism and build up security complexes instead of provide public services, one must ponder the legitimacy of such an event.

Rather than being the celebration of fair play, athletic skill and international togetherness that an NBC opening video package would have you believe, the Olympics truly amount to nothing but a spectacle produced to garner an audience for the world’s largest corporations. While the games peak global interest as the premier athletic event in the world, the host nation is largely ignored as the burden of paying for the event falls on the shoulders of their taxpayers. With problems like starvation and extreme poverty, these millions of dollars are almost certainly better spent helping the citizens, not providing entertainment. Instead, the money goes out of the peoples’ pockets and is funneled into prestige projects like stadiums and athlete living complexes that end up deserted or sold off to private groups at a loss within a few years.

Over the past couple of decades, the games have led nations to blatantly disregard the public services that their citizens demand. This undervaluing of public good often results in mass civil unrest. The roots of Greece’s current crises, marred by riot and unprecedented levels of unemployment, lie in the build up to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Other sporting events don’t fare much better, as one only has to look to this summer’s FIFA World Cup to observe another state in crisis due to misplaced priorities. Billions of dollars funneled into stadium and hotel projects, often displacing working class families, brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets. Brazil’s domestic World Cup official website was hijacked for several days to reveal police brutality during media blackouts of the demonstrations. This all led to some sort of progressive change, with Brazil’s head of government promising investments in the transportation services that topped the list of grievances for the dissenting populace. Still, thousands of people are being locked up weekly due to their participations in violent clashes between protesters and police. This is a clear sign of the continuing influence of private interests over those meant to protect the public well-being, a trend which only furthers the distortion of free speech and assembly.

Terrifying amounts of corruption lead to millions of dollars in the pockets of an elite few involved with the bidding process for the Olympic and World Cup events. The ones sitting on committees with the responsibility of interacting with and visiting the competing cities end up being, essentially, receptacles for bribe after bribe. Japanese officials estimate that over 4 million US dollars were spent on entertainment alone for Olympic committee officials in the 1998 bid cycle.

The 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Utah should be infamous for a number of reasons. Not only was there an enormous amount of Jingoistic flag-waving and massive security ramp ups, but the scandal that helped Salt Lake gain its host city status is disgraceful in its rejection of central Olympic morals. Essentially, there was a letter involved that promised to pay the tuition of an Olympic official’s child in return for their vote in making Salt Lake the host for the games. Visits have since then been banned, but the seeds of such bribery are firmly in place with this week’s committee meetings pushing for reinstatement.

It is obvious that the Olympics are just one spoke on the wheel that drives corrupt and crony capitalism. The money that surrounds many of our cherished pastimes and sporting events is past the point of disgusting, especially during these times of overwhelming income inequality. When we sit on our couch or at the bar with friends and watch the pageantry and inhale those intoxicating patriotic fumes, we only remove ourselves from the pain and suffering that was caused by exploitative factors that remain constant in our society.

It is amazing how people can choose to ignore the pain and suffering that goes into putting on events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, in favor of taking in the spectacle and just enjoying the show. People seem to forget. Similarly, it seems ironic that Coca-Cola, the same company that was accused of being connected with the murders of numerous labor leaders in the early 2000s, is now being celebrated as a champion of diversity and multiculturalism for its Super Bowl commercial. People forget. Let’s just hope that people remember this time, how much money, brutality and corruption went in to putting on the Sochi Olympics, because the amount truly is staggering.

Mario Vasquez is tired of being intoxicated off of patriotic fumes.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, February 5, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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