Olympics’s Popularity Dwindles ahead of Tokyo
Has anyone missed the Tokyo Olympics? When Covid-19 threatened to halt sports globally for a substantial period of time, the American sports audience cared more about the returns of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey than it worried for the 2020 Olympic Games, despite the fact the Olympics only comes around every four years.
Has anyone missed the Tokyo Olympics? When Covid-19 threatened to halt sports globally for a substantial period of time, the American sports audience cared more about the returns of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey than it worried for the 2020 Olympic Games, despite the fact the Olympics only comes around every four years. It may be the pinnacle of athletic competition, but the Olympics has fallen off the radar of many American sports fans. Since 2012’s London Summer Olympic Games, which set viewership records, each succeeding Olympic games has drawn underwhelming ratings. The 2014 Sochi Winter Games’ ratings were down 17 percent from the previous Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Rio 2016 Summer Games’ viewership was down 18 percent compared to the London Games, and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was the least-watched Olympics on record. Although the modern Olympic Games are far from going extinct, as they have been a longstanding tradition that have withstood worse situations, it’s safe to say that excitement for the Olympics has been regressing over the past decade.
Almost every year, the Olympics finds its way to exclude some of the world’s most popular athletes—namely those from team sports. Of course, there are great individual athletes, such as Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, that deliver Olympic classics, but many of the top team sport athletes from basketball, soccer, or baseball do not compete in the Olympic Games. Despite being two of the world’s most popular athletes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who competed in 2004 and 2008 respectively, will likely never be seen in the Olympics again due to the arbitrary 23-year-old age limit for male soccer players. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added baseball to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics’ sports catalogue, athletes from Major League Baseball (MLB) cannot compete due to scheduling issues. Many of the National Basketball Association (NBA) athletes, on the other hand, have no real incentive to participate in the Olympics—Olympic athletes are offered little to no financial compensation for their work. In 2016, Olympic freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf made ends meet through crowdfunding sites and working a side job. The commitment the Olympics requires is not small, either—participation in the Olympics includes a lengthy training period and risk of injury. So why would NBA stars like Stephen Curry and Lebron James compete in a three-week tournament that could compromise their multi-million dollar NBA career? The spirit of sport is one thing, but to work without significant compensation is another. The Olympics is supposed to be the supreme celebration of athletic achievement, yet the lack of participation from some of the world’s most marketable and qualified athletes ruins the validity of its title as the pinnacle of sports.
The 2016 Rio Olympics failed to live up to the expectations of consecutive successful Summer Games in Athens, Beijing, and London. Underdeveloped facilities, improper maintenance of stadiums, and insufficient security and planning left a bad taste in many sports fans’ mouths, while controversies such as Ryan Lochte fabricating a false robbery story only added to the turbulent reputation of the 2016 Games. One of the biggest takeaways from the Rio Games was that the Olympics had no longer become a smart investment for host cities. For the past half-century, every city that hosted the Olympics has gone over budget to fulfill requirements for media facilities, athlete villages, ceremonial spaces, and special transportation services and routes. Furthermore, maintenance of the facilities once the games are over is also quite expensive, as photos following the Rio Games showed many of the athletic venues, built specifically for the Olympics, empty and barren. In Rio’s case, spending 13 billion dollars—10 billion of which was over budget—to use its Olympic facilities just once has proven a great financial waste, especially considering that Rio 2016 left many of its underdeveloped communities in compromised situations. In order to finance the Olympics, Rio cut healthcare and police funding, and in one instance, the government handed out eviction orders to move poor families in Barra, a small suburb in Rio, to distant public housing so that Olympic facilities could be built. Associating the Olympics with such hefty economic waste has led to a decline in its overall reputation among fans.
Unfortunately, Tokyo seems to be carrying the legacy of its predecessors. In the years leading up to the Olympics, it’s been mired with controversy. In 2019, the Japanese Olympic Committee was accused of bribing Olympic officials during the host city selection process, and the Japan Olympic Committee president, Tsunekazu Takeda, subsequently resigned. Just recently, Yoshiro Mori, former Japanese Prime Minister and current 2020 Olympics organizing committee president, made sexist comments, claiming that women “talked too much.” The cancellation and lead up to the event has been equally frustrating. Back in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic started to proliferate around Asian and western countries, Tokyo held back on cancelling the event. It was only until the last minute that it reluctantly postponed the event. 2021 hasn’t been too kind to it either—despite global coronavirus cases decreasing, fans and even some insiders remain unsure if the Olympic Games can be safely held in Tokyo. According to Reuters, as of February 8, 61 percent of surveyed Tokyo residents are in favor of cancelling the 2021 games. Despite public sentiment, the IOC and Japanese Olympic Committee remain steadfast on holding the games this summer.
The Olympics won’t be gone any time soon. For the past 125 years, it has stood as a great quadrennial celebration of the world’s greatest athletic talent. However, there is no denying the state of the Olympics, suffering from poor TV ratings, numerous controversies, and underwhelming showcases in recent years. For every 2008 Beijing or 2012 London, there’s doomed to be a 2016 Rio. The Olympics will eventually be revived, but it may just be a little too late for Tokyo to do it.