We love the Olympics, in theory. It appeals to the love of achievement and overcoming adversity that stirs the red-blooded spirit in all of us. That these athletes struggle through years of training, focused on perfection, and then make the difficult trek to compete against the best in the world, appeals to our own desire to do the same in smaller ways in our own lives.
The 2016 Rio Olympics however have failed to capture this imagination. Viewership is low, as is excitement. What went wrong? A theory that might explain this is that the Olympics has moved away from achievement, and more toward politics.
Many athletes stayed away from the toxic stew of Brazil’s water and the social disorder which seems common there.
Politics intervened in the treatment of Russian athletes, and in suspicion about the political motives of many judges.
As the Olympics has become more commercialized, fewer people including athletes see it as a merit contest, and more as a celebrity contest.
The rise of technologies including blood-doping make it less likely that athletes are the best that humans can achieve, and more a representation of investment and technological level.
Fewer athletes represent the national populations which we associate with the nations hosting them, which degrades the idea of a competition between nations.
When the Olympics stood for something, it represented the best athletes from every nation coming together to battle it out for the enjoyment of athletics itself and an attempt to surmount the limits of human endurance, coordination and strength. What we have instead is too much like the rest of television: the product of staffs of people applying known techniques to game the system.
This fits with the Leftist idea of championing equality over the natural talents of individuals. In the Leftist ideal, anyone can be an Olympian with the right training, technology and financial support. That now seems to be the case as, in so many other areas, the naturally talented retreat and leave it to the “professionals” who repeat known winning techniques but provide little inspiration.
Perhaps we can take a lesson from the Olympics and extend it to our society at large: as we rely on “meritocracy,” which means willingness to excel at the system more than the spirit of the challenge, people disconnect. There is nothing exciting about a corporate Olympics or a political contest fought by quasi-professional athletes. Instead, there is more of the same creeping tedium that makes modern life distasteful.