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An online discussion about the Olympics

By Spiros Tzelepis, Greece

Technology director shares his thoughts

This is an online discussion I had with the Technology director of International Olympic Committee, Pascal Wattiaux. The cause for this discussion was given when I wrote to ICO some thoughts about the Olympic Games and Pascal not only answered, but commented them as well, giving this way the spark for some more thoughts. When I decided to write to IOC, I had in mind that Greece will be the first host country for the Olympics in the new millenium. Therefore what I had written was inspired by the ancient Greek Olympic spirit. Now that the discussion is over, I have to confess that I have learnt many things about the activities of IOC and I have reconsidered some of my thoughts.

1.Spiros: Nowadays, the Olympics have departed from their real meaning. They have been changed to a show and everything is related to commercialization. Enormous amounts of money, a lot of advertisements and a competitive spirit -which is far away from the ancient meaning of "noble competition" and high ideals-are the characteristics of the Olympics today.

Pascal: I would like to acknowledge that the Olympic Games are indeed a show. They constitute the prime event for the Olympic Movement to showcase competitors who exemplify important values, who can touch all of us by being a model, etc in the end the Olympic Games are set to open up dreams.

However, this show is very expensive to implement. And nowadays governments tend to minimize spending on that sort of events, private donators become extremely rare, and therefore the search for securing the Games leads to entering into commercial contracts. I acknowledge the balance between preserving the identity, the spirit, the values of the Games and securing their implementation via commercial contracts is a difficult and risky one but that is the only path found up to now to keep them alive.

Note that over-commercialism is clearly acknowledged as a major risk. That is why competition venues at the Games are still "clean" venues i.e. venues without advertisements. That is why the Olympic Movement favor selling TV rights to public or "free" broadcasters rather than to pay per view operators. That is also why, while acknowledging the commercial nature of the relationship with sponsors, many sponsors are involved much more than the commercial nature of their contracts would require. However, the risk remains as well as the need.

Spiros: I understand the need for money(I just remember what an ancient Greek -Dimosthenis- said: "there is need of money and without it nothing can be done"), but there must be found a balance between the two extreme points: commercialism and the ideal situation. However, I know that succeeding balance is very difficult in all situations (balance was another ancient Greek value).

2. Spiros: It is time to reconsider this concept and "dress" it with its real meaning. In order to achieve this, we can do some simple things. For example, the moral satisfaction should be the only reward for the athletes. If this happens, it would be easy to distinguish those who are participating for the real meaning from those who participate having in mind how to exchange their success with money.

Pascal: Note that the Olympic Games are the only major sporting event during which competitors do not receive money from the organizers. In particular there is no prize money for medals etc However it is also true that a number of countries do implement some prize money scheme for competitors from their selection. And of course, sport is now almost fully a professional activity and although the Games do not enrich any competitor directly, the indirect impacts of a noticeable participation (and of course of a Gold Medal) do translate into fame, money. A question remains: would we be as excited by the Games if we did not see during the Games the very top competitors which are now, by large, professionals?

Spiros: What I wrote, referring to competitors, is the ideal situation. I know it is an Utopia to believe that people who have tried so hard to manage to participate in the Olympics do not expect a kind of reward, the fame and the money. However, I feel a little annoyed watching winners advertise shampoos, for example. I do not like this.

3.Spiros: The Olympics in Ancient Greece were not only an athletic event. It was an event which unified all city -states of ancient Greece, it was an event which stopped all conflicts. So I would like to see a proposal from the Olympic Committee to stop all conflicts, everywhere in the world, during Olympics and propose to the leaders of the world to start brainstorming to find peaceful solutions to the world's problems during the same period. Olympics should be an event which inspires people to think of the world's problems, to be concerned about them and be caring. It would be nice during these days young people from all over the world to meet together, approach each other and exchange their thoughts.

Pascal: There is never enough done to ensure peace, eliminate discord, however:

- There is already in place a concept of Olympic Truce with active work (some would say lobbying) from the Olympic Movement to invite all conflicts to be put at least on hold during the Games and for negociations and peaceful conversations to take place. During the Nagano games last year, the Olympic Movement particularly made a point at helping to avoid bombing in Iraq. But again this is an area where more can always be done.

- the Games are also already much more than a set of sport competitions : there are numerous other activities which take place : a major cultural program, a youth camp, a 1-school / 1-country program etc

- note that a significant part of the revenues (cf the previous discussion on commercialism) are used in these less visible activities.

- Spiros:. I was glad to learn that there was an effort towards peace in the Olympic movement, but wouldn't it be nice if this effort was enforced and was heard by all people? Just an effort, only one time it is not enough. Couldn't more work be done on this issue?I was also pleased to be informed about the simultaneous cultural activities during the Olympics. Art and culture are related to Olympic Movement.

4.Spiros: I t would be wonderful if the Olympic Committee decided to give the tickets to great organizations as Unicef, "Doctors of the world" or "Doctors without frontiers "(It can only be part of the money) or decided to "sacrifice" some money from the tickets to provide some help to suffering people. This would help the Committee itself to obtain a humanitarian face and simultaneously it will help to raise people's awareness on social problems.

Pascal: Again here, more can and should be done, but note that the IOC is already directly participating to a number of humanitarian activities some well-known like the reconstruction of stadiums in Sarajevo, others not made visible by the media (but isn't it important to not always try to get official or public recognition for help you provide to those who so badly need it)

Spiros:I really did not know about the humanitarian activities of Olympic Committee. Although, I believe that when we help it is not necessary to talk about it, I think that in this case perhaps this movement must be known to people in order to raise awareness.

5.Spiros: Another issue I would like to raise is the criteria for choosing the host countries. I think that a lot have to be changed here. First of all countries should have the same opportunities and a criterion should be, for example, the country which has the better social policy or the one which has to show great mental achievements or the one which has worked for peace or the one which has the best educational system. These are only examples to make my thought clear: the criteria should be separated from money and Olympics should be the reward for the country which has showed a humanitarian face.

Pascal: I do not think a criteria to choose a city has ever been money in the sense of making a profit. As a matter of fact the IOC is only asking for a balanced budget i.e. from a financial point of view for a demonstration that the Games will be viable. Note also that the IOC is directly providing significant resources to the Host City. But let me challenge your proposition to "reward the country which has showed a humanitarian face" : Can you tell me of counter-examples? Can you define a perfect candidate? and by the way shouldn't we also hope (or better work hard at demonstrating) that a city / country hosting the Games must evolve because there is so much light put on it ?

Spiros:. Unfortunately, I do not think that there is the ideal city -country candidate to speak about it, but my point of view is that if there is a criterion like that, this must be a motive for the countries which expect to host the Olympics and they may try to work on humanism having in mind all the profits (resources and publicity).

6.Spiros: As a conclusion, I would like to say that the Olympics should show to the world that money is not the only value. Olympics should become an event to promote global brotherhood, understanding, and caring.

Pascal: I sincerely believe that this is still the current goal of the Olympic Movement. Money is a mean not a goal within the Olympic Movement. However the simple fact that you conclude that way demonstrates that your perception is different (and sure enough the facts from time to time prove that the Movement is not always perfectly aligned with its goals, principles,)

7.Spiros: I know that the situation I described is an utopia, but If we try for the ideal, we may succeed the best.

Pascal: This is something that I always have in mind.

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