Every week in her Good Form column, Natalie Weiner explores the ways in which the sports world’s structural inequalities and injustices illuminate those outside it — and the ways in which they’re inextricably connected. You can read previous columns here.
Today is the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020, the 32nd Summer Olympics and one of the most costly and dangerous international fiascoes in recent memory — quite a feat considering the Olympics have long been the “largest, highest-profile, and most expensive megaevent hosted by cities and nations,” as one recent study described them. Even for those who haven’t been following along, who have been able to successfully ignore the mountains of evidence that show the dramatic, irrevocable consequences of the Olympics to every city that hosts them, Tokyo 2020 is starting to seem cursed. You’re a little late, say the activists around the world who have been protesting the games for years.
The Olympics are the curse. https://t.co/xRZYuxqORj
— NOlympics LA #NOlympicsAnywhere (@NOlympicsLA) July 20, 2021
What are we supposed to do about it, now that money and power have triumphed (for the moment, at least)? Depending on where you live, there may be actions you can join. You can tweet about it. You can sit and stew and feel sad about how corrupt and grim the world and its wasteful farces are. If you’re like me, you’ll probably feel some conflict over watching the games themselves. The concrete harm caused by the Olympics doesn’t make what they mean to athletes around the world moot. A gold medal is the ultimate goal for many athletes, and can be especially important to women, whose play on national and international stages is even more often ignored outside of the Olympics. In spite of myself, I am excited to watch softball and basketball — particularly to see the international growth of those sports, and whether or not any teams can give the Americans a hard time.
There is no way to reconcile that choice with the fact that I don’t believe the Olympics should exist. All I can do is acknowledge that cognitive dissonance, and do my best not to give the games (or, heaven forbid, Team USA and its whole mess of violence and corruption) an ounce of free PR or genuine goodwill — to save it for the athletes themselves instead, as much as possible.
What I can do — and what you can do — though, is to do my best to make sure everyone around me is aware that these games are not an inevitability, that they can and must be stopped. If you’re talking to someone, and they are excited about the Olympics but confused about why they’re happening in the midst of a global pandemic, you have an opening to talk to them about how the Olympics are not about athletes or even about sports — they’re about money. NOlympics LA, an anti-Olympics organization devoted to keeping the Los Angeles 2028 games from happening, has made a thorough syllabus if you’re looking for more specific information to learn and share.
But that information will only reach people if they’re able to understand that the mythology around the games about peace and unity has allowed the IOC to commit truly heinous and destructive acts in their name. Most don’t think about the Games critically at all, because the propaganda around them has been so effective. Because of that, the best people to turn the tide of public opinion about the Olympics are you and I.