USA: Why I'm Skipping the Olympics

Publisher Name: 
San Francisco Chronicle (Opinion)

I was a three-time all-American at Cal in women's water polo and left
college for a year to prepare for the Olympic Games with the Canadian
National Team. In July, after the Pan-American Games, I had a change of
heart about this decision. I walked away from the opportunity to go to the
Olympics and returned to my studies at the University of California at
Berkeley.

Everyone who knew me asked the same question: ''Why?'' After all, I had
played for 13 years, and been part of the national team program for six
years.

During my last year on the team, I looked deeper into the Olympic movement.
I was deeply troubled by the corporate sellout of the event, by the
hollowness of Olympic environmental claims and by the blatant lie that the
competition served to ''bring the world together.''

Like all other hopefuls, I gave up a great deal to make the Olympic team. I
moved away from friends and family, lived well below the poverty line for
years and put my education on hold in order to hone my athletic skills. I
made these sacrifices because I loved playing water polo and because I
wanted to compete with the best.

My perspective on the Games gradually shifted. I began to see that my
sacrifices were going to be used by the Olympic Games and their sponsors
for ends that conflicted with my fundamental values. My competitive
performance would not just be a part of a world community gathering to
compete in the spirit of fair play, good will and global unity, but rather
it would be sold to the highest corporate bidder for their own commercial
gain. The profits of this sale would go not go to the performing athletes,
but rather to International Olympic Committee, national Olympic committees
and sponsors.

The spirit of the Games has been diminished by becoming a platform for
multinational companies to promote their unhealthy products to the world,
with the Olympians as their unwitting promoters. Coke is not what athletes
drink, and McDonald's hamburgers are not what they eat. They are not part
of an athlete's healthy diet. I began to question whether I could commit
myself to promoting these kinds of products by per forming under their
logos since, by doing so, I was suggesting that they were ''healthy'' and
commendable.

The environment became the third pillar of the Olympic movement in 1994,
along with culture and athletics. The IOC also signed an ''Earth Pact''
with the U.N. Environmental Program and changed its charter to include
sustainable development as a goal. The goal was to have the Olympic
movement play an active role in helping sustainable development occur
throughout the world. I question the ability of ''the movement'' to do this
when it does not question the consumption patterns that they are ultimately
promoting via their corporate sponsors.

This pact, called Agenda 21, is rhetorical nature and reflects more
generally the rhetorical shift of the corporate world, which pays for the
staging of the Games to ''Green-wash'' their images. A deeper look at the
games and the corporate system that supports them is needed. The Olympic
movement is a ''light'' green movement that has raised some public
awareness of environmental issues and environmentally friendly
alternatives. The Olympic villages use solar water-heating, do water
remediation and recycling. While these initiatives address the technical
problems of being environmentally friendly, they do not address the truly
fundamental value system changes that are needed to prevent global
environmental disaster.

The 2000 Games were awarded to Sydney, in part, because of its
environmental platform. Part of the platform was that an independent
monitoring body, Green Games Watch Inc., ensure that they fulfilled the
promises that earned them the Olympic bid. Report cards were issued during
the lead-up to the Games, and it became clear that their own ecological
criteria might not be met. In the fall of 1999, the government funding of
Green Games Watch Inc. was cut off. The detailed environmental platforms of
Sydney's Olympic Games and the criteria set out for all games in the IOC's
Agenda 21 are completely meaningless without independent monitoring.

The Games themselves create villages that are supposed to reflect the real
world. However, only those with credentials (elite athletes, coaches,
managers, officials and volunteers who serve the aforementioned) are
allowed in, and then only after a security search. Enormous resources are
required to feed and care for the athletes, officials and media. The
underlying culture is elitist. The Games ironically reinforce nationalist,
ethnocentric feelings, imperialistic attitudes and promulgate a culture of
consumption.

What this world needs is a festival of true cooperation that brings a
diverse mix of rich and poor together -- not to compete against each other
--but to find common ground and to work together to imagine a brighter,
fuller future. If this celebration of all that is best in humanity emerges,
I will then seek to be a participant.

Kaliya Young, of Vancouver, will graduate from UC Berkeley next May.

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