The controversial issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics have received more coverage than Jerry Rice in the backfield. The damage is done – the falsified passports, the oppressive smog, and enough overdubbing and fake performances to make Milli Vanilli blush. The annals of history will note that the game-changing performances of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will feature right alongside the controversial events in the Beijing Games, leaving a legacy of a sideshow rather than the historic athletic occasion it should have been.
The truth is that people simply don’t trust what is presented to them anymore in sports. Steroids, the Chinese government, swimsuits from the future – all of these things contribute to a decline of value in the Games. Real accomplishment has lost meaning. Records are now met with skepticism and disinterest in place of awe and applause. The public does not buy into what happens before their eyes as the way we once did, even as recently as Sydney in 2000. (Show me someone who claims they didn’t tear up when Australian runner Cathy Freeman won the 400m final that year and I’ll show you a liar). This year, instead of a Freeman-like humble veteran winning gold we have a brash showboating phenom in Usain Bolt, whose self-promoting antics have been jeered the world over. The Olympics have succumbed to an all too familiar (read: American) culture of narcissism and apathy.
The remedy? It’s located across the pond and four years down the road, in a little town called London. Purists such as myself (perhaps naively) are looking at the British capital – host of the 2012 Summer Games – to restore faith and instill meaning back to the Olympics. London is the absolute antithesis of Beijing – old-world yet modern, a cultural melting pot (over 250 languages present), and perhaps most importantly, completely subject to the desires of its residents. If the British government forcibly evicted 1.5 million Londoners (as the Chinese have done in Beijing), there would be worldwide outrage and a bloody coup to boot (one would hope). Great Britain is a grade-A democracy, so that means the Olympics will lack two things: first, the Opening Ceremony will not have 20,000 conscripted “volunteers” putting on a beautiful and mesmerizing $100 million display of wasted of money and resources. Secondly, the London Games will not have any inherent scandal. There will be no raised eyebrows about the British government doctoring the passports of its gymnasts. There will be no protests regarding the brutal crackdown of anti-British dissidents. There will be no doubting, no questioning of results.
There will be no controversy, and I can’t wait.