Main Menu

Share Royal Roads Online

RRU Olympic Panel: Behind the Medals - Politics and Values at the Olympics February 7, 2014 Livestream Questions

February 11, 2014
Dr. Jennifer Walinga

Nancy Coldham (MAIIC Alumni and Governor General’s Gold Medal Award Winner) asked the RRU Panel: Thoughts on Athletes as Body Billboards and Brand Ambassadors and if Rule 40 can have any real impact on anti-commercialism concerns? And RRU Panel Thoughts on Branded Gifts with implicit Reciprocity or Strings Attached leading to “Brand Classes” of Athletes?

From my perspective as an Olympian as well as a researcher in the areas of organizational communication and values education through sport, I find my mind brewing feverishly over these hot topics and well framed questions from our beloved alumnus Nancy!

I find that these two questions relate as, for me, they both question the role of commercialism, sponsorship, and money in an Amateur sporting event. We finished our panel on Friday with a discussion about the Olympic’s significance and whether, without TV broadcasting, it would be as significant of an event. I of course was immediately transported to my experience as a competitor in 1988 and again in 1992. Both times we were prepared by our coach for the media attention. We treated the media aspect of the Games as a distraction. Much like a fly buzzing around our heads as we tried to focus on going fast in our skinny boats. Every so often, we would be called upon to participate in an interview or video production. For us, the media was insignificant.

The Olympics is more significant than a World Championships or World Cup event not because of the media attention, but because of the multi sport nature, and size. The Games differ from a Worlds because they more intentionally and explicitly highlight and emphasize all that is good about sport – the relationships, the diversity, the international and interculturalism of international competition, the camaraderie across nations, and the intense and long standing rivalries. I believe the media is drawn to the Olympics because it offers greater reach, a wider audience, a loftier premise, but the media does not make the Games more significant as an international event.

Can you say that the Soccer World Cup is more significant than any other World Championships  because it has better media coverage? I think we are talking about two things: media coverage and international competition. The Olympics have always been a big deal. If anything, the media can at times take away from its value just as the media took away from our concentration. I only wish the media would see their role as it is: to simply shine a light on the Games rather than to blind the athletes and fans.

With the media, comes advertising. I believe that sponsorship is a slippery slope. As soon as money enters the performance equation, athletes can become distracted. We have severely blurred the lines between professionalism and amateurism and with that blurring, we risk losing the values sport can teach. The focus shifts more starkly on winning and stardom than it does about striving for excellence and peak performance. Once we start sliding down that slope, controls and constraints become increasingly necessary, to the point where we are afraid to even share a photo of a past even for fear of angering the IOC branding Gods!

Once again, the key for me is to bring the focus back to the values that the Olympics upholds which are really the values underlying any game: fair play, joy of effort, respect, balance of body will and mind, and the pursuit of excellence. Deanna’s Olympic Values Education Program is a good place to start!