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An Olympian Disappointment

The Olympic games get underway today, and in a more perfect world they would provide some much needed distraction from the awful presidential race that’s lately been getting all our attention. Alas, in this imperfect world the Olympics are just as much a gruesome spectacle of incompetence and corruption.
Before the opening ceremonies have even begun in all their quadrennial gaudy splendor the Olympics have already been tarnished by the International Olympic Committee’s usual greasy-palmed awarding of the games to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where much of the local population is infuriated by the government’s spending of much-needed public funds to to the benefit of a few wealthy and well-connected parties, and is beset by rampant crime and one of those apocalyptic tropical diseases and all the inefficiencies of what is still a second-world country at best. The mess has caused many of the world’s top basketball players and golfers and other elite athletes to stay home, and we confidently expect that incompetence and corruption will also play a part in deciding the winners of several of the subjectively scored sports, and that better living through chemistry will once again play a role in the more rigorously timed and measured events.
Which is a shame, really, because the Olympics used to be the most riveting and inspiring thing on the fuzzy black-and-white three-channel televisions of our youth.
Our earliest memories of the Olympics date back to the ’68 games in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon jumped a full foot and a few inches farther than any human had ever jumped before, the future heavyweight champion of the world and grill-machine magnate George Foreman celebrated his gold-medal boxing performance by waving a couple of small American flags, the great Dick Fosbury forever changed the sport of high-jumping with his gold medal-winning “Fosbury flop,” and Kansas’ own Al Oerter became the first track and field athlete to win a fourth consecutive gold medal with another extraordinary throw of the discus. Even then we were aware of the student protests that disrupted the games, and how gold medal-winning Tommie Smith and bronze medal-winning John Carlos flashed the “black power” salute of an upturned and black-gloved fist while standing on the winner’s platform as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, and that Lew Alcindor had declined to the join the basketball team even before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other exceptional black athletes had boycotted the games, but America handily wound up winning the medal count and it bolstered our vague notions of American exceptionalism.
The ’72 Olympics in Munich were in living color, and featured the handsomely mustachioed Mark Spitz winning a record seven gold medals in swimming against a clearly cheating commie squad, the scariest-white-boy-you-ever-saw Dan Gable annihilating one steroid-pump commie after another on his way to a wrestling gold medal, skinny Dave Wottle and his backwards baseball cap coming from way way way behind to beat some fast muscle-bound commie in the 800 meter race, and as well as the hated Soviet Union beating an American basketball team that didn’t have the hippy-dippy Bill Walton or paying for play Julius Ervin on the most outrageously corrupt play-calling in Olympic history. Then there was the massacre of the Israeli team by a radical Islamist Palestinian terror group, and the quick exit of the Jewish Olympic hero Spitz, and Gable’s ill-advised grousing that his win had been overshadowed, and the questionable decision by American Olympic boss Avery Brundage to continue playing the games.
Since then the Olympics have proved less riveting. In ’76 the games went to nearby Montreal, Canada, and America came in an unaccustomed third place in the medal during its Bicentennial Year. The highlight from a patriotic perspective was a handsome young fellow named Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon and the unofficial “world’s greatest athlete title,” and of course he’s now better known as Caitlyn Jenner and was last seen as a honored guest at the Republican National Convention proving how very tolerant even the Republican are about men who think they’re women. America didn’t compete in the ’80 elections in Moscow after President Carter decided to boycott the games as retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Africa, which kept our junior high and high school classmate Darnell Valentine from a good chance at a basketball gold medal, and when the Soviet bloc boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles the Americans won so much they got bored with winning. The ’88 Olympics were in Seoul, we vaguely recall, and America was back in third place behind the Soviet Union and its East German puppets. The ’92 Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, where professionals were at long last allowed to participate without any pretense of amateurism and the most memorable result was a basketball team featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and nine other all-timers that seemed to prove once and for all how well capitalism works. Some homosexual-hating nutcase set off a bomb at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and except for America’s return to the top of the medal count we can’t recall much else.
By the ’00 Olympics in Sydney there was no Soviet Union and the American victory in the medal count didn’t seem so exceptional, and Marion Jones had two return two of those golds when she was found to be a chemical cheat, and the ’04 Olympics in Athens are best remembered for all abandoned venues that now broke country built for the games. The ’08 games in Beijing were basically a propaganda campaign for China’s totalitarian government, just like the ’36 games in Munich where that same old Avery Brundage wouldn’t let Jewish-American athletes compete for fear of offend his fellow Jew-hating hosts and thus allowed the black Jesse Owens to wind up spoiling the show, and except for Michael Phelps breaking Spitz’ record with eight gold swimming medals we can’t recall a thing about the ’12 games in London.
This year’s Olympics would have been in Chicago if President Barack Obama had his way, and there were reports when he flew off to Switzerland with Oprah Winfrey to make the pitch for his hometown that he envisioned it as a worldwide celebration of the fundamental transformation of America he had wrought by his second term and is pitch to the IOC was mostly predicated on how it would give the Olympics meaning to have them held in his own sanctified hometown. Of course he also hoped it would benefit his longtime consigliere Valerie Jarrett and all the other well-connected slum lords in his Chicago circles, but we suspect the city at large is happy to let the even more crime-ridden city of Rio De Janeiro pick up the tab.
Still, we’ll hope for some uplifting diversion during the games. Surely someone will run faster or jump higher or lift a greater weight than any other human ever has, and there’s a Wichita kid competing with the boxing team, and he might have better luck than the great Wichita miler Jim Ryun or our old basketball-playing classmate or any other local boy has done in the Olympics since James Bausch won the decathlon and the “world’s greatest athlete” title way back in ’32, and there might even be a moment where a good guy or a good gal from any old country wins a moment of well-deserved glory. That would make for a nice diversion right about now, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman

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Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman