"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 March 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Pay to Play



He who smelt it dealt it. It's a

truism that applies not only to

breaking wind, but to somewhat

more serious scandals. Indeed,

if there's anything we've

learned as a pack of

professional complainers and

malodorous slobs, the loudest

are the guiltiest, which forces

us to ask the question: Who is

it, precisely, who has gotten

into such a lather over the

International Olympic Committee

and its current bribery rap?


The true vehicle of scandal, of

course, is the media. And it

tends to sniff out its sordid

stories mostly with the help of

advertisers eager to massage

their Q ratings. Take John

Hancock, a prestigious "official

worldwide sponsor" of the 2002

Olympics. Hancock recently

threatened to unilaterally

withdraw advertising and expunge

the tarnished Olympic logo from

its letterhead. It's upset about

the pay-to-play scandal? That's

not the pot calling the kettle

black; it's the fire calling the

wood hot. This from a company

that shamelessly appropriated

the name (and trademarked the

signature) of one of our most

prominent founding fathers - not

only for commercial purposes but

for insurance, fer chrissake.



The fact that the Olympics (and

nearly every "amateur athlete"

on the planet) are not entirely

underwritten by American

corporations is hardly news. So

why is it such a brick-shitter

to learn that the biggest

commercial interest of all -

hosting the Olympics, the

ultimate co-branding opportunity

- is also driven by chicanery?

The only thing remarkable about

the current mess is how artfully

it coincides with the buffed

hypocrisy of Mormonism. Salt

Lake City is the perfect Ilium

for this war of patricians,

given the city's scrubbed,

soapy-scented reputation versus

the seedy realities of polygamy

and bizarre science. Like any

good religion or cult, the

Olympics pretend to transcend

the less honorable aspects of

human nature. But such noble

aspirations are mere turds in a

hailstorm without the true Rock

of Ages: greed.


In spite of the present fiasco,

the modern Games have never been

especially noble in practice. If

they didn't represent the nasty

commercial interests of

corporate sponsors, they

represented the nasty emotional

interests of petty nationalism.

Twenty years ago in Lake Placid,

the ugly patriotism reached a

fevered highwater mark when the

United States beat the USSR in

the hockey rink. While plenty of

commentators argued how much

more genteel a hockey game is

than a nuclear holocaust, that

hardly made Americans, drunk

with Reaganism, any more




We know who really won the Cold

War, both on and off the playing

field: Nike, Adidas, Microsoft,

and McDonald's. Now that Visa is

everywhere you want to be and

international borders mean less

than ever, the Olympics aren't

about stars and stripes but bars

and swipes. Like last year's

World Cup, which virtually

became a match between two shoe

companies, the Olympiad is a

formidable cage match of the

globe's hottest brands. With

nationality out of the picture,

the teams themselves ought to be

organized by corporate

sponsorship, which at the very

least would forever solve the

problem of US networks ignoring

foreign medalists.


In the high stakes of

international branding,

countries just aren't worth what

they used to be. Consider how

the past two decades have seen

the Olympiad become less about

the host nation and more about

the host city. That all came to

a head in 1996, when Atlanta -

surely the world's biggest civic

whore - won the summer games.

Like a true pro, the host city

does all the work and gives most

of the money and prestige back

to her pimp - the IOC.



No, the real crime in the

present scandal is that it could

have been so much more

titillating. Tuition? Ceremonial

guns? Sheesh. In this day and

age, mere bribery hardly rates,

since there are so many

institutionalized forms of glad

handing that are perfectly legal

at the Olympics. If only there

had been more nasty sex and

drugs. Then again, these are

traditionally the province of

the athletes themselves, so

we'll just bide our time.

courtesy of E. L. Skinner


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