Opinion: A warning shot for the IOC | Opinion | DW | 21.08.2016
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Opinion: A warning shot for the IOC

Around 10,000 athletes, 306 medal decisions, 26 sports - the dimension of the Olympic Games in Rio is enormous, too enormous. The fact the venues have often been half empty is a warning to the IOC, writes Joscha Weber.

Most sports fans would agree that the 100-meter dash is the highlight of the Olympic Games. Hardly any contest captivates people from all cultures like the almost 10-second sprinting spectacle. But when even the 100 meters is not sold out, it is a sure sign that something has gone wrong in the Olympic state. On other days, only around 60 percent of the seats in the Olympic Stadium were filled. It was the same story at the wrestling, fencing, track cycling, football and even swimming venues. The reason? The Olympic tickets were simply too expensive for most Brazilians. But that is not the whole story: Just over half of the approximately 280,000 tickets that were handed out to school children free of charge went unused. So have the Olympics lost their appeal?

Yes and no. No, because even Rio 2016 offered incredibly gripping moments like the penalty shoot-out between the Brazilian and German men in the gold-medal match in football, the emotional semifinal in men's singles tennis between Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal, Fiji's triumph in the rugby sevens, the last-second triumph of the French men's handball team over Germany, or the heart-stopping end to the road-cycling race at the Copacabana. Athletic contests between people from all over the world continue to captivate billions of people on television, radio, or nowadays on their smartphones.

At the same time, the answer is also yes. The Games continue to move farther and farther away from their origins and ideals. The pervasive commercialization of the Games; the doping scandals, which call the performances of the athletes into question; the partial paralysis of public transportation apart from the reserved Olympic lane; and the strict security measures, which are necessary these days - are all factors that have led to a certain disenchantment among the general public.

People have had enough of Olympic gigantism

And Rio, which is a city of sports enthusiasts, is by no means alone. Other cities have gone much further: Munich, Krakow, Stockholm, Oslo and Hamburg all said "no" to the Olympics before the application process was even over. The cost to the taxpayer is too high (Rio will be on the hook for $10 billion), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) makes too many special requests, and in the end, the host city risks being left with unused, dilapidated sporting ruins, as is the case in Athens. Many people have simply had enough of Olympic gigantism.

Then a senior IOC official, Patrick Hickey of Ireland, gets arrested on allegations of being involved in the sale of tickets on the black market - confirming the public image of the sporting officials who any host country is forced to deal with being corrupt and ostentatious. Not just that, but US swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen go and fabricate a robbery story in an effort to deflect attention from the vandalism that they committed. So it comes as no surprise that the Olympics have an image problem. How credible can the so-called "Olympic family" actually be?

The illusion of the Olympics being clean

Suspicion was a constant companion of the athletes during many of the events. There were remarkable performance improvements in sports like track cycling and a doping case in weightlifting. Not just that, but some obviously poorly trained doping testers got the names and even the sex of the athletes they were testing wrong. Some volunteers inadvertently announced what were meant to be unannounced doping tests. This raises serious questions about the entire system of drug testing in Rio. And as the dozens of positive retests from the Beijing, London and Sochi Games have shown us, the notion of the Olympics ever being clean is an illusion.

A number of bizarre decisions by those who govern sports should not go unmentioned either. The fact that the majority of the Russian team was allowed to compete, even though the Paralympics banned the country's athletes, defies Olympic logic. One can only shake one's head at the fact that Yelena Isinbayeva, an athlete who was barred from competing in Rio due to allegations of doping, has been elected to the IOC's athletes' commission.

Then there is the fact that FIFA functionary Issa Hayatou has been allowed to take part in some of the awards ceremonies. This is an honor that should not be bestowed on a close confidant of banned former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has also faced allegations of corruption.

Despite all of this, these games of youth remain a brilliant idea. Bringing together people from nations all over the world in one place to take part in peaceful sporting competition and cultural exchange is a wonderful thought. However, making this gathering ever bigger and more expensive is a big mistake. Rio, with its half-filled arenas, has given the IOC's officials a warning shot. Let's hope they got the message.

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