Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Olympic ideals distorted by ads overemphasizing winning and nationalism

''Can America win the 1984 Olympics?'' the television commercial begins.

''Most of the world thinks we can't,'' intones the speaker. Then turning more upbeat he talks of today's greater commitment to the Olympic effort, and of the training center in Colorado Springs where our athletes are getting ready to pull some surprises. Finally he cries: ''Let's win the Olympics again!''

About these ads

All this is just a lot of TV hype, of course, with the aim of promoting the national corporation which sponsors the training center, and perhaps even getting us so excited we'll want to rush to our checkbooks and help out a bit ourselves. A similar magazine advertising campaign makes the same point, noting that the US team hasn't won since 1968, suggesting that we have to gear up to beat the Russians and East Germans, and concluding with an appeal for donations to the training center.

These media pitches may well be successful, which is fine, because this country's athletes certainly need public support to compete with the government-sponsored teams of other nations. But it's a pretty sad commentary that those writing the copy felt they had to distort the Olympic ideal so completely in order to get American viewers interested - and that the US Olympic Committee has been willing to go along with this distortion.

Nobody ''wins'' the Olympics, as the USOC is perfectly well aware. Officials of the games, in fact, are constantly reminding us that these are contests among individual athletes; that there are no such things as national standings; and that all this business of counting medals is strictly an invention of the media and a corruption of the whole idea of the Olympic Games - as indeed it is.

You can search through any official Olympic publication - including those of the USOC - without finding any reference to this imaginary nationalistic competition. There are no medal counts or standings because those things just don't exist as far as the International Olympic Committee is concerned.

But the hucksters know their market. Millions of Americans, saturated with the ''winning is everything'' sloganeering of professional and big-time college sports, have long since lost any concept they may once have had about the true meaning of athletic competition. Obviously, the easiest way to appeal to these armchair ''fans'' is to give them the old rah-rah-rah hype and tell them that they'll be backing the winning ''team.''

It's sad that so many Americans have such tunnel vision about sports, but sadder still that the USOC is willing to go along with ads that appeal to such thinking.

How much more productive it would be in future fund-raising efforts if the USOC told the hucksters to forget the Vince Lombardi approach and concentrate on what the games are really all about. For starters, perhaps all concerned should be required to commit to memory those famous words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics: ''The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.''

About these ads

Also, let's do away with all that embarrassing jingoistic jargon and switch the emphasis to the individual athletes whose show it is supposed to be. Surely the public would be at least equally interested in ads that recalled the feats of Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner, Sugar Ray Leonard, Eric Heiden, etc., and pointed out that our young men and women are training today in hopes of duplicating or even surpassing those individual accomplish-ments.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.