If the recent film I, Tonya revealed anything, it is that Americans–and the world in general–is captivated by scandal rather than the performance of the Olympians themselves.
The olympics have always had an underlying political motivation, from Jesse Owens’ struggle for success to the black power salute in ‘68. In recent years, the press has begun reporting mainly on scandals and the politics of the games, rather than the athletes and their performances.
The biggest stories to come out of the 2016 Summer Olympics, for example, had almost nothing to do with the athletes and their abilities. Ryan Lochte’s told tales of a false robbery in which it was later revealed he fabricated the entire story. This seemingly pointless story captivated the media for the duration of the Olympic games.
Founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, wanted the games to be a place for countries to display national pride, while at the same time promoting peace without conflict. But in recent years, the biggest stories to come out of the Olympic games were purely ones of scandal and tension, and had little to do with Coubertin’s legacy.
Leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympics, there has been great focus by the press on countries that have seen conflict in recent years.
Russia has been found guilty of state-backed doping of their athletes, and the IOC handed the country a severe punishment: the athletes must compete as individuals, without the sight of the Russian flag or the sounds of their anthem. In their coverage of the doping scandals, the press condemns the country as a whole; A New York Times article faults Putin and Russian officials in the doping scandals, in their attemptnecessity to ‘rescue Russia from the humiliation inflicted on it by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union’.
As tensions rise between the United States and North Korea, the diplomatic strife bleeds into the coming Olympics. That makes this year’s games, which are being hosted just south of the DMZ, a controversial affair in the eyes of the media. Senator Lindsey Graham has spoken out saying that the US should boycott the games for these reasons.
#UPDATE North Korean delegates arrive in Seoul to inspect Winter Olympics venues in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years https://t.co/phBEDmZcG0 pic.twitter.com/qWzRH96KbG
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 21, 2018
Approached for a response, USFS President Sam Auxier explained: “The Olympics should be above politics. … It was a disaster in 1980 for many of the athletes that couldn’t go (to the Summer Games in Moscow because of a U.S.-led boycott.) And I’d hate to see that just because (President) Trump and Kim Jong-un are trying to see which button’s bigger.”
Debate.Org asked the public whether or not the Olympics are a time for political matters, and an overwhelming 60% responded with ‘no.’. One user responded that “the olympics were started to create connectedness between countries, and the inclusion of politics can tend to divide rather than unite.”
The press, in turn, must use its influence and role as an informer in a way that celebrates the unity of nations in games of skill and national pride.
Modern journalists are quick to point to the deterioration of and lack of public trust in institutions. They must rise above the scandal and protect the Olympics as the important institution it is.