This Friday marks the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, the first Olympic Games to have been rescheduled — and the first to happen amid a pandemic. While the fact that the Games were able to happen at all could be seen as a cause for celebration, there’s actually an argument to be made that we should not be supporting or watching the Olympics this year — or ever. Beyond the international competition’s well-documented racist past (and present), there’s the reality that, for host cities, the Olympics are almost always a money-losing endeavor that also speeds up gentrification, displaces poor communities, and increases policing.
This year, the Olympics are particularly fraught due to the pandemic: In Japan, around 80% of the population opposes the Tokyo 2020 Games (still called 2020, though they’re taking place in 2021), and they’ve have been referred to as a “dumpster fire,” a “moral disaster,” and a “brazen, hubris-over-humanity cash grab.” There’s concerns that the Games will be a superspreader event for the COVID-19 pandemic; organizers are not requiring athletes to be vaccinated to compete, and only 15% of the Japanese public is vaccinated. Japanese doctors have called for the cancelation of the games, fearing a new “Olympic strain” of the coronavirus. In other words, if the Olympics were, say, a restaurant or a clothing store, it’s fair to assume that many people would choose to eat or shop elsewhere.
Yet boycotting (or abolishing) the Olympics doesn’t always feel like such a clear-cut decision. And that’s because refusing to support the Olympics can feel like refusing to support Olympic athletes, many of whom have no current viable alternative for elevating themselves to the mainstream, or making a living from doing the one thing they are better at than nearly everyone else in the world.
The Olympics also provides a platform for a group of people who almost never get the acclaim they deserve: women athletes. In a 2021 study from USC/Purdue, researchers found that 95% of local television sports coverage and ESPN’s SportsCenter focused on men’s sports. During the Olympics, however, that gender imbalance briefly disappears; a 2019 study on NBC’s primetime Olympic broadcasts by scholars Andrew Billings and James Angelini found that in three of the past four Olympics — 2012, 2016, and 2018 — women athletes actually received more airtime than men.
It makes sense, really: Who wouldn’t want to watch Simone Biles defy gravity this summer? It’s hard not to cheer all these women on as they make history. But in addition to the emotional draw, the Olympics — and any coverage of women’s sports — leads to greater financial support, such as sponsorship deals, allowing women athletes to make their livelihood out of their sports, in the same ways men are more easily able to. Knowing this, it’s easy to feel conflicted about not watching the Games. Couldn’t doing so hurt the people who need the Olympics the most? Probably not, actually.
“We need not devote ourselves to …read more