U.S. Olympic Officials Need An Eye Exam; All They Can See Are Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals


Arthur Solomon

So glad that the moguls who control the U.S. Olympic teams are so concerned about about Covid-19 that on September 22 they announced that all athletes, approximately 250, and team staff members will need to show proof of vaccination to be part of the American squad at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the capital of totalitarian China, beginning on February 4, 2022.

But so sad that the moguls who control the U.S. Olympic team suffer from tunnel vision, which Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “extreme narrowness of viewpoint: NARROW-MINDEDNESS also: single-minded concentration on one objective.” In the Olympic world that only allows a person to see gold, silver and bronze medals.

Obviously the tunnel vision suffered by the U.S. Olympic bigwigs prevented them from reading the Human Rights Watch World Report 2020 which said, in part,

“Beijing’s repression – insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party – deepened across the country. In Hong Kong, following six months of large-scale protests in 2019, the Chinese government imposed a draconian “National Security Law” on June 30 – its most aggressive assault on Hong Kong people’s freedoms since the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. In Xinjiang, Turkic Muslims continue to be arbitrarily detained on the basis of their identity, while others are subjected to forced labor, mass surveillance, and political indoctrination. In Inner Mongolia, protests broke out in September when education authorities decided to replace Mongolian with Mandarin Chinese in a number of classes in the region’s schools.”

The report also said, “The Chinese government’s authoritarianism was on full display in 2020 as it grappled with the deadly coronavirus outbreak first reported in Wuhan province. Authorities initially covered up news about the virus, then adopted harsh quarantine measures in Wuhan and other parts of China. The government has rejected international calls for independent, unfettered investigations into Chinese authorities’ handling of the outbreak, and surveilled and harassed families of those who died of the virus.” The report also criticized the silencing of journalists, which was widely known prior to the report.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) “more than 180 organizations have called on governments to boycott Beijing 2022 because of reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities. The World Uyghur Congress described the event as “a genocide Olympics”.

But Canadian Dick Pound – the longest serving member of the IOC – said barring athletes from participating in the event would be “a gesture that we know will have no impact whatsoever.”

“The Games are not Chinese Games, the Games are the IOC Games,” he told the BBC. “The decision on hosting is not made with a view to signaling approval of a government policy.”

And, of course, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), following the tunnel vision corridor constructed by their ancestors, who thought playing fun and games with the Nazis during the 1936 Berlin Olympics was just dandy, are still singing the IOC song that “politics has no place in the Olympics,” a fairy tale that even the Brothers Grimm couldn’t have conceived of USOPC said it will not boycott the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing despite China’s human rights record.

USOPC President Susanne Lyons said, in part, “We believe such boycotts have not been effective in the past, particularly in 1980,” Lyons said, referring to the U.S.’s boycott of the Russian Olympics because of the invasion by Soviet troops into Afghanistan.

“Those boycotts only hurt athletes who have trained their entire lives for this opportunity to represent their country,” she said, reported Newsweek. “We believe this is an issue that should be addressed at a government to government level with China.”

It’s not as if all these Olympic athletes “who have trained for their entire lives for this opportunity to represent their country,” – and in my opinion hope for product endorsements – are purer than pure. Live Science reported in 2016, “Some athletes seeking to push the boundaries of their personal performance may find it tempting to grab a competitive advantage by looking beyond their training and nutrition. And on the world’s biggest stage, at the Olympic Games, there are all too many instances of athletes who have turned to the use of a chemical advantage to gain a leg up on their fellow competitors.”

Also, in 2016, the New York Times reported,Of the approximately 11,000 athletes who competed in Rio, at least 120 had served suspensions or had to return medals because of doping but were reinstated in time for this year’s Games. This was about one out of every 100 competitors.”  Of the 974 medals awarded, 35 were won by athletes who had served suspensions for doping.  

During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, I played key roles managing the Main Press Center, as a “trouble shooter” helping solve media problems, and also during the press conference announcing that Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter gold medal when his drug test found the banned steroid stanozolol. (“The Ben Johnson 1988 Olympic 100 meters final was dubbed the dirtiest race in history but there is a new contender for that dubious honor as the fallout continues from the drug-ravaged 2012 women’s 1500 meters in London,” reported Reuters. Read their July 20, 2016 story for details.)

That was then. What about now?

“And in the recently concluded Tokyo Summer games, the second- and third-place finishers in the 200-meter men’s backstroke final Ryan Murphy of Team USA and Great Britain’s Luke Greenbank lamented the ongoing specter of doping in Olympic swimming following their race Friday,” reported NPR. “Sitting between them at the post-race press conference was the man who had just won gold, Evgeny Rylov of Russia, a country currently under sanctions related to its recent history of cheating. Neither Murphy nor Greenbank directly accused Rylov of doping.”
But both said it was frustrating not to know if any of their competitors had a drug-induced advantage.

Whether boycotts are effective, as Ms. Lyons said, is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that they send a message. I also believe it’s important not to present totalitarian governments with a showcase to use for propaganda, which is a certainty and is not debatable. Certainly, there have been enough of those incidents.

Many people think that just because a person can run faster, jump higher, skate better, throw a pass, hit a home run or sink a three-pointer that they deserve special consideration in our society.  Even though the better part of my working career has been in the business of sports, first as a sports reporter, then in various aspects of national and international sporting events, including many Olympics, I do not believe that sports and athletes deserve to be placed on a pedestal. While I believe that the Olympic games are the most important athletic event, having them played in countries devoid of human rights tarnishes them. Boycotting an Olympics sends a message that should be sent. And countries that believe in freedom should do so.

But obviously what a government does to its citizens doesn’t matter to IOC members as long as the games can find a destination that welcomes it, even a country under a dictatorial regime, as it has done many times since 1936, when its tunnel (and cataract?) vision refused to see the horrors of the Nazis and awarded its games to Berlin. 

Other totalitarian countries that the IOC has blessed with its games are the Soviet Union in 1980, the Russian Federation in 2014, Yugoslavia in 1984 and the Peoples Republic of China in 2008 and the forthcoming 2022 Olympics, making Beijing the first city to host a Summer and Winter Olympics, which they will surely celebrate as a propaganda vehicle.

What sports fanatics fail to realize (or accept) is that all sports have a dark side, even high school sports. I know that personally. My first assignment as a journalist was covering high school sports. And history also shows that in the professional arena the bottom line is often much more important than winning.

History also documents that the National Football League for decades attempted to conceal the fact that its players suffered life-altering damage from concessions; that the National Hockey League denied that concussions would cause damage to player’s health and also condoned fighting during their games; that for decades sports writers covered up the warts of Major League Baseball players, which still happens too often today by commentators on various sports programming, (and also on football telecasts, which touts the greatness of players without mentioning their warts) and that baseball team managements ignored, or condoned, the use of steroids by players until Congressional hearings exposed it and that both college hoops and the National Basketball Association have been rocked by betting scandals.

But it is only the IOC and its U.S. Olympic partners that have received continuous criticism over the years for awarding its games to dictatorial regimes. Surely, the critics of holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in totalitarian China are sure to continue to condemn their participation before the Beijing games begin on February 4 and, during and after they end on February 20. 

Devotees of the Olympics and other sports programming have one thing in common – they’re watching a global business valued as much as $600-billion dollars, and that’s more important to those in the sports business than how and where the games are played.

The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author:  Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.