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ISSUES OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES

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When Baron de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games, he envisioned contests in which young men competed only for the love of sport without the promise of financial reward. This vision was the basis for the concept of amateurism that governed Olympic eligibility for nearly 100 years.

While Coubertin's belief in amateurism derived from his devotion to the ideals of Olympism, it was a view rooted in the social milieu of the late 19th century, a time when only men of wealth could endure the expenses that accompanied a life of sport. In fact, early definitions of amateurism were based on distinctions of social class. Persons from lower economic classes were defined as non-amateurs.

But as sports became increasingly popular, people from a wider range of social classes participated and opportunities for profit appeared. These changes challenged the International Olympic Committee's strict definition of amateur status as the basis for Olympic eligibility. The most notable case of an athlete losing Olympic eligibility for violating the amateur code is that of 1912 gold medallist, Jim Thorpe, of the United States. Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic medals because he had earned a small amount of money playing semi-professional baseball two years before the 1912 Stockholm Games. Thorpe's medals were returned to his family by the IOC in 1982.

Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952-1972, was a fervent defender of amateurism. Brundage maintained that the high ideals of Olympism would be destroyed if athletes were allowed to profit from sport. He believed that commercialism would destroy higher motivations of fair play and moral development. One consequence of Brundage's policy, however, was that dishonesty and secret payments plagued the Olympic Games during his tenure.

After Brundage retired as IOC president, the IOC re-evaluated its position on amateurism. Realizing that its rules discriminated against athletes without wealth and that, in some countries, state-supported training made athletes de facto professionals, the IOC gradually eliminated "amateur" status as a condition for Olympic eligibility. The word amateur was finally removed from the Olympic Charter during the 1970s. The international federations governing individual Olympic sports were given responsibility for determining Olympic eligibility following the 1981 IOC Congress and Session at Baden-Baden, Germany. Since that time, an increasing number of federations have modified their rules to allow professionals to compete in the Games.

The first century of the modern Olympic Games paralleled the development of mass communications technology. Television has enabled the Olympic Games to become a true global event. The 1996 Atlanta Games were broadcast to a world-wide audience of 2.3 billion people. The 2002 Sydney Olympic Games drew an audience of 3.7 billion people and 36.1 billion viewing hours.

The 1936 Berlin Games were the first sports competitions televised live. More than two dozen viewing halls were built throughout Berlin for people to watch the Games. Although the picture quality of these early broadcasts was poor, television became a vital part of the Olympic Games.

The first international broadcasts of Olympic competition came at the 1956 Cortina Winter Games. Viewers in eight European countries watched the Games.

As television grew in importance during the 1950s, the International Olympic Committee realized that the sale of broadcast rights could provide income to subsidize the expenses of the Games and the activities of the IOC. After much negotiation, rights to the 1960 Squaw Valley Games were sold to several companies. The European Broadcasting Union paid $660,000 (U.S.) for broadcast rights. Since then, television rights fees and coverage have escalated astronomically. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), an American network, paid $456,000,000 for the rights to broadcast the 1996 Atlanta Games and a staggering $3.5 billion for the rights to broadcast the five Games from 2000 through 2008.

Doping is the "administration or use of drugs or banned methods" for the purpose of artificially improving athletic performance. It is a major problem facing sport and the Olympic Games. Simply, doping is cheating.

Doping has existed in one form or another since the ancient Olympic Games. Emollients and special diets were among the earliest types of doping. In the modern era, doping primarily has taken the form of drug use. The most notorious case of doping occurred during the 1988 Seoul Games when Canada's 100-meter gold medallist Ben Johnson was found to have taken anabolic steroids. Johnson was stripped of his medal, and American Carl Lewis became the Olympic champion.

Anabolic steroids, synthetic male hormones and erythropoietin (EPO) are probably the most widely abused drugs in elite sport. Anabolic steroids increase strength, but also can lead to severe physical problems. EPO and similar drugs stimulate the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles. EPO, like steroids, poses health risks.

In some instances, entire national teams have been tainted by doping. After the disintegration of the East German (GDR) government in 1989 it was discovered that a state-sponsored plan, Plan 14.25, had ordered the systematic doping of East German athletes during the 1970s and 1980s. Such widespread doping has cast a pall over the Olympic medals won by East German athletes during this period and still remains a controversial issue within German sport.

The International Olympic Committee has worked to eliminate the use of illegal methods through the activities of the IOC Medical Commission and the IOC Athletes' Commission. In February 1999 the IOC convened the World Conference on Doping In Sport. One outcome of the conference was the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which receives almost all of its funding from the IOC.

At each Olympic Games, hundreds of athletes undergo drug testing for performance-enhancing substances. Usually, the top four placers in each event plus a number of other randomly-selected athletes are required to provide post-competition urine samples for testing. In some sports, blood samples also are tested. Athletes found guilty of doping in a post-event test forfeit any Olympic medals or diplomas they have won in that event.

Women have fought for just representation in the Olympic Games since the beginning of the modern Olympic Movement. Women were not allowed to compete in the first Olympic Games at Athens in 1896. And although a number of women did compete in the 1900 Paris, 1904 St. Louis and 1908 London Games, the International Olympic Committee did not formally admit women to the Games until 1912 at Stockholm.

The history of women in the Olympic Games has been that of a struggle for full participation and of changing popular perceptions of female athletes. To this day, women still account for only one-third of all Olympic competitors. It was only in 1981 that Pirjo Haggman of Finland and Flor Isava-Fonseca of Venezuela were elected as the first women members of the IOC. Anita DeFrantz, of Los Angeles, was the first U.S. woman to serve on the IOC, elected in 1986. In September 1997 she became the first woman elected as an IOC vice-president. Sandra Baldwin, in 2002, became the second American woman elected to the IOC.

Women's issues continue to confront the Olympic Movement. Most notable is the dearth of women holding leadership positions in Olympic sports organizations. Attempting to combat the problem, the IOC passed a resolution in 1996 requiring that women make up 10% of "the decision-making structures" of all NOCs by the year 2000, and 20% by the year 2005.

Although the goal of the Olympic Games is to bring together the athletes of the world in peaceful competition, the Games often have been affected by political tensions.

The most controversial Games in modern Olympic history were the 1936 Berlin Games. German Chancellor Adolph Hitler used the Games as propaganda for Nazi ideology. Prior to the Games, several nations called for a boycott in protest of the anti-Semitic policies enacted by Hitler's National Socialist Government. The tragedy of World War II still shrouds the memory of the Berlin Games.

Politics continued to cloud the Games in later years. The 1950s witnessed the emergence of Cold War tensions. At the 1956 Melbourne Games, nearly 40 % of the Hungarian Olympic contingent defected rather than return home to a country that had been recently invaded by armed forces from the Soviet Union. During the 1960s, human rights issues confronted the Olympic Movement. In an unprecedented move, the International Olympic Committee voted to expel the Republic of South Africa from the Games, in 1964, for its racist apartheid policies. At the 1968 Mexico City Games, African-American athletes visibly protested the discrimination against blacks in the United States. The image of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the victory stand with clenched fists in black gloves remains etched in Olympic memory.

International political tensions led to the Olympic Games greatest tragedy. Twelve Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.

Although individual countries have declined participation in the Games as a means of political protest throughout the history of the modern Games, the 1976 Montreal Games introduced what some have called the "age of the Olympic boycott." Seventeen African and Arab nations boycotted the Montreal Games protesting New Zealand's violation of the international sports ban of South Africa. Four years later, a number of nations, led by the United States, boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Citing concern for the security of its athletes, the U.S.S.R. organized an Eastern Bloc boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

During the 1990s, the Olympic Movement has concerned itself with gender issues. The IOC has called for the greater involvement of women in the governing structures of sport.

The IOC's most assertive political voice, however, has sounded in the name of international peace. Former President, now Honorary Life President of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, of Spain, has championed the ancient tradition of the Olympic Truce. The truce calls upon the cessation of all hostilities and warfare during the period of the Olympic Games. Perhaps the most compelling moment of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games came at the Opening Ceremony when Samaranch asked attendees and viewers worldwide to observe a moment of remembrance for the Olympic city of Sarajevo and pleaded for a cessation of fighting in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

One hundred years ago, Pierre de Coubertin envisioned the Olympic Games as an international gathering of amateur athletes who would compete for the love of sport. While many athletes still do compete for the love of sport, the Olympic Games have evolved far beyond what Coubertin imagined. Today, the world of Olympic sport involves tremendous amounts of money and intimate association with commercial enterprise.

For most of the first century of the modern Games, the International Olympic Committee was a small operation of dedicated staff and volunteer members. Most National Olympic Committees also had modest budgets. In the United States, the USOC often resorted to grassroots fundraising in order to field teams.

As the Olympic Games and mass media grew side by side, the Games began to attract commercial interest. The sale of television rights and corporate sponsorships helped offset the operational expenses of the IOC and local organizers. The nature of commercial sponsorship changed radically with the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The innovative and aggressive marketing of the Games, and the existence of suitable facilities that precluded the need for expensive construction, helped produce a surplus of $225 million (U.S.), a staggering sum by all previous standards. The Los Angeles organizers demonstrated that corporations were willing to spend huge sums of money to associate themselves with the Olympic Games.

In 1985, the IOC established TOP (The Olympic Program). Under this program, corporations pay tens of millions of dollars for status as official Olympic sponsors over a four-year period. Likewise, local organizing committees have attracted large corporate sponsorships and conducted aggressive marketing and merchandising campaigns of their own. Television revenues have continued to soar. In 1995, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) agreed to pay an estimated $1.2 billion for the United States rights to broadcast the 2000 Sydney and 2002 Salt Lake City Games and added another $2.3 billion for the rights for the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Games. These developments have produced tremendous revenue for the Olympic Movement.

Such close association of the Olympic Games with commercial entities has brought criticism of the IOC. Some believe that the Olympic Movement has seriously compromised its principles and left itself far too susceptible to the wishes of commercial enterprises.

The increased wealth of the IOC, however, has allowed the Olympic Movement to expand both the nature and reach of its activities. Foremost among these activities is Olympic Solidarity, a program intended to spread the Olympic Movement throughout the world. Olympic Solidarity offers scholarships, sports education programs, and direct financial aid to National Olympic Committees, especially those of developing countries.

Copyright: Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, January, 1996; November, 1997; February, 1999; April 2001; March 2002.

The images used in AN OLYMPIC PRIMER are the copyrighted property of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, Allsport Photography, the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, the Organizing Committee for the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998, the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games and the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee. Copyrighted images, not belonging to the Amateur Athletic Foundation, are used here under the fair use provision of the Copyright Act or with the permission of the copyright owner.

Individuals may reproduce a single copy of the text for educational purposes only. Any reproduction should cite the Amateur Athletic Foundation as publisher and copyright owner. The sale or commercial use of this work, or any portion thereof, in any format, is prohibited.

For more information on the Olympic Primer, contact the AAF library at library@aafla.org.

Copyright, 1997-2002 Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles. All rights reserved.



©2006 Arne Solvang on behalf of London International Pin Club, UK.

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