You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Salt Lake City turned into armed camp for Olympics
Frenzy of patriotism

By Nicole Colson | February 15, 2002 | Page 2

THE OLYMPIC Games are supposed to foster "mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play," as the Olympics Web site puts it. But the hype surrounding the Winter Games in Salt Lake City exposes the real forces behind the Olympics: greed and nationalism.

Watching Friday's opening ceremony, you might think that the U.S. was the only country on the planet. The spectacle began with a cynical stunt--an honor guard of police and firefighters parading a tattered U.S. flag found at the World Trade Center site. George W. Bush was on hand to give a patriotic "pep talk" to U.S. athletes.

The Olympic torch was lit by a member of the 1980 U.S. men's hockey team--a group whose sole claim to fame was narrowly defeating a team from the USSR, apparently a key victory in the Cold War to judge from the accompanying frenzy of the U.S. media.

Today, little seems to have changed. Television commentators went out of their way during the opening ceremony to comment on Bush's strained appearance as athletes from Iran--one of the countries that he declared to be a part of an "axis of evil" last month--entered the Olympic stadium.

And there can be little doubt that the Olympics are about money. The cost of the Salt Lake City Olympics will be nearly $2 billion--the most expensive ever.

A lot of the money will go to security. Salt Lake City is an armed camp, patrolled by 15,000 armed soldiers and police. Politicians in Utah were so nervous about even the appearance of dissent that, a few days prior to the start of the Games, they passed a law limiting free speech.

But there's always been plenty of free speech for big business at the Olympics. Among the big corporate sponsors are McDonald's, Coca-Cola, General Electric and Xerox.

Over the years, this money has turned the International Olympic Committee (IOC)--the body responsible for organizing the Games--into a cesspool of corruption. In fact, several IOC members had to resign after revelations that they accepted lavish gifts from Salt Lake City boosters.

Because of negative press, the IOC has been trying to spruce up its image. In 1994, for example, it added "environmentalism" as one of its core "values."

Not exactly, according to the Los Angeles Times, which described the appalling land grab by developers that accompanied the Games. "Pristine mountain wilderness soon morphed into condos, restaurants and ski runs," the Times wrote. "As approved by Congress, these developments were exempt from the usual public review required by the National Environmental Policy Act."

As always in the Olympics, individual athletic achievements tend to be overshadowed by patriotism and commercialism. As Kaliya Young, a former member of the Canadian water polo team who chose not to participate in the upcoming Summer Olympics, wrote last year, "I was deeply troubled by the corporate sellout of the event, by the hollowness of Olympic environmental claims and by the blatant lie that the competition served to 'bring the world together'…What this world needs is a festival of true cooperation that brings a diverse mix of rich and poor together--not to compete against each other, but to find common ground and to work together to imagine a brighter, fuller future."

Home page | Back to the top