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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Globalisation: Sport, Money, and Politics

As is the case every four years, we have the World Cup and the Winter Olypmics. These are examples of the international spirit of the times. Competition in the name of nationalism, gestures of co-operatoin, and triumph of the human spirit.

While these are the greatest international sporting events in our era, they have their detractors and this has been a point of contention, especially in the past decade. With issues like austerity and ecoconsciousness on the radar, many see events like the Olympics and World Cup as decadent and detached from the reality of the world on the ground. In recent years these events have been preceded with controversy. Media coverage on issues like poverty, corruption, and terrorism, ethnic tension, the economy, and the environment, has been fed by grassroots movements including but not limited to open protest.

Attention before these events has become part and parcel of being a host. This was the case in Vancouver in 2010 and again in 2014 in both Russia and Brazil. In Vancouver many were concerned about first nation opposition to the games, something which the Vancouver Olypmic Committee and the federal government effectively co-opted. In Russia there were cost overruns, terrorism threats, and the crackdown on LGBTQ rights. When the games were about to begin, the epic fails of unfinished hotel rooms seemed likely to seal the fate of Sochi. In Brazil the clearing of the favelas and the transit strikes threatened Brazil's ability to host the World Cup.

In reality, all these social movements, built on opposing a corporate whitewashing of serious political and economic problems, were ultimately overshadowed by the sheer success of the events. Vancouver, Sochi, and Brazil have been regarded as mammoth successes, setting the precedent for this type of behaviour to continue. Ultimately, the expectation will be to ride out the public dissent until the event starts, and then the buzz of the games will replace the media attention garnered by those concerned about whatever issue. This is particularly interesting since Brazil will be hosting the next Olympics and Russia the next World Cup.

Sport is truly powerful. During the Cold War it was a theatre for the Soviets and Americans to compete. While the geopolitical situation may have changed, sport continues to be mired in money and politics, and this is particularly dangerous when people aren't paying much attention.

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