What I wrote then is still valid today: large international sporting events which celebrate nationalism are ecological and social anachronisms which must not be any longer tolerated. I argued that we live again in a panem et circenses world which gives us dopamine and mass event driven oxytocin kicks to make up for the community disruption which we increasingly experience in the course of the industrial revolution.
The neurology of mass sports events was early recognized by psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich who wrote with ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism’ a seminal book to explain why Worldcups and Olympics are not just athletic competitions (as it was the idea in ancient Greece) but dangerous international events which build Herrenmensch idols and homo deus images to drive the agenda of the power elites which organize them. Following the laws of decentralization and sustainability formulated by Nobel laureate F. Schumacher, their size indicates the progression of decay in a society.
As a side note, ROW is an abbreviation which Western industry started to use to describe two different technical standards for the same product: one for China, i.e. enforced by the absolutist technocrats, and one for the rest of the world. We can observe that this separation of the world in China and ROW extends increasingly to non-technological aspects of everyday life. It reflects China’s traditional self-understanding of being the center of the world and is driven by its increasingly seclusionist policies.
Let’s take a closer look at the power elites which orchestrate such large-scale events. The Worldcup is the flagship event of FIFA, the United Nations Organization of the soccer sect. FIFA’s annual revenue stands at approx. USD 1 billion – the tip of an iceberg of infrastructure investment, tourism turnover, and sales in various industries from F&B to advertisement, etc. The Worldcup is big business and confirms what historian Yuval Harari summarized eloquently:
Modernity has turned ‘more stuff’ into a panacea. […] Economic growth has thus become the crucial juncture where almost all modern religions, ideologies and movements meet. The Soviet Union, with its megalomaniac Five Year Plans, was as obsessed with growth as the most cut-throat American robber baron. Just as Christians and Muslim both believed in heaven, and disagreed only about how to get there, so during the Cold War both capitalists and communists believed in creating heaven on earth through economic growth, and wrangled only about the exact method.
The International Olympic Committee or short IOC is of a similar revenue dimension as FIFA. Statistica writes that the revenue for IOC from TV rights and ticket sales fluctuated since Nagano 1998 until Pyeongchang 2018 between USD 0.6 and USD 1.6 billion. That seems to be a moderate revenue considering the dimensions of the games. The IOC website reveals that the organizations budget is similar like FIFA’s only the tip of an enormous capitalist iceberg.
Why is that? Because the Olympics are the world’s largest franchise: an applicant-city has to convince the IOC that is has already prepared, or will prepare in time, what is necessary for the Games. Bearing all associated costs. ‘What's necessary’ is at the sole discretion of the IOC. In exchange the successful bidder gets the right to call its competition ‘the Olympic Games’. The lion’s share of expenses is always borne by the organizers, including, but not limited to, building sport facilities, organizing lodgings and transportation for athletes and officials, feeding them during the games.
One might think that because the financial burden on the organizing city / country is enormous, IOC shares the revenue fairly. Wrong. The IOC retains and controls almost all the marketing rights associated with the Games. Profits from on-site Olympic paraphernalia and venue tickets sales are shared – but those are minor compared to the main sources of income: TV rights. The main profits from those marketing rights always go straight to the IOC.
The boycott of the US government and its allies to not send any diplomats to the Beijing Games confirms this analogy. A war brews behind the scenes and prompts the defining question about global order for this generation: Will China and the United States escape the Thucydides’s Trap? The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of not just the challenger but also the challenged.
The power elites which orchestrate large events like the Olympic Games follow the same principles which drive our ecological system into havoc. They are motivated by power and profit. While corporate interests are the main driver of Olympic Games in the decaying West, state capitalism motivates the Olympic Games in China where capitalism and communism have blended into an ideology which comes straight from hell. Its again Yuval Harari who has found an eloquent metaphor of how a sporting event and the instilled admiration of athletes reflects the competitive rat race which humanity can no longer afford if it wants to survive.
When it comes to climate change, many growth true-believers do not just hope for miracles – they take it for granted that the miracles will happen. […] Even if we go on running fast enough and manage to fend off both economic collapse and ecological meltdown, the race itself creates huge problems. On the individual level it results in high levels of stress and tension. […] We blame ourselves, our boss, the mortgage, the government, the school system. But its not really their fault. It's the modern deal, which we have all signed up to on the day we were born.
Olympic Games are an elite version of the everyday rat race our knowledge economies engage in. They come at an extremely high social and environmental cost – and there is no green washing or nice talking possible. The medal tables mentioned earlier confirm that only GPD strong nations which invest lots of resources into the training of their cadres can participate or even succeed in the games. The games are therefore made for the rich to participate and for the poor to watch. They are the most prominent example of how a global and inclusive society must not work.
How about decentralized Olympic Games which are held in small regional events during the same two weeks every four years? Or how about cancelling them all together for the sake of initiating a shift from competition towards collaboration? Or how about letting athletes only participate under their name and not a flag? Humanity needs to be unified by events which cause such tremendous environmental costs and do not promote a fair distribution of global wealth but aggravate the already existing inequalities.
Biathletes with awkwardly black band aids in their faces to avoid skin rupture discuss on Austrian national TV that the arid climate and the strong wind make the competition particularly difficult. Listening to their serious concerns raises in my mind only one question: how will this planet’s athletes compete against each other when increasing precipitation and more frequent storms disrupt the atmosphere and what has been dubbed goldilocks conditions?
What are goldilocks conditions? you might ask. They are the climate conditions which the world experiences since about the start of the Neolithic revolution, that is approx. 10000 years. And how are they characterized? Goldilocks conditions are a set of rather stable parameters which define our current climate zones and probably even more significant: the current sea levels. Climate change and global warming most simply defined will result in 7% more water in the atmosphere for every 1˚C warming.
The future (and as a matter of fact the present day) will bring more storms and heavier rains in areas which had less precipitation and in different periods of the year. it will be less predictable whether skiing resorts will have snow and many events will be cancelled due to storms. Imagine ski jumping or ski acrobatics with storms breaking in. Imagine biathletes shooting at their aims when snow hurricanes flatten the landscapes.
The Austrian trade commission in China promotes national winter technology since years as one of the hottest export products. Doppelmayr cable cars and national team trainers, products and services are exported to fuel the Chinese boom in recreational sports as well as the national economy. The dilemma of unsustainable Alpine tourism which was the subject of a well known 1980s TV production is exported to Far East Asia 40 years later. How can we request from China more environmental empathy if we do not start at home?
How can we complain about Alpine slopes in brown landscapes and downhill races without spectators at the Beijing Olympics when we do the same here? Shortly after I returned to Austria in fall 2020, Worldcup races were executed during Covid-19 lockdowns. TV moderators commented on the races as if no frame condition had changed. No spectators watched the race and the slopes looked exactly like the one above north of Beijing this winter. Chinese nationalism and Western bigotry must stop for the sake of global sustainability.
The Austrian team doesn’t make it into the top 10, but with 106 members it represents an extraordinarily large share of the global population. Just as an exercise in carbon footprint justice: 2874 athletes participating on behalf of a human race which now counts about 8 billion people. One athlete represents 2.8 million people and a small country like Austria uses the carbon footprint share of 295 mio people, i.e. almost the population size of the US and more than Indonesia.
Writing these lines from Innsbruck, a small Alpine city which hosted the winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, I remember my youth as enthusiastic Alpine snowboard instructor and the joy which I got from practicing the sports. Thinking about the past, I know that we need to decouple sports from capitalism and thus from mass sports events. The sustainable future of winter sports lies like with almost everything in small, community-based activities like ski touring. Nationalism and capitalism are poisonous ingredients, which turn the purest forms of recreation into planet and people devouring phenomena.
- On Football and Oxytocin
- Fritz Schumacher, Small is Beautiful – Economics as if People Mattered
- Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism
- On Nippon Sakoku – A Blueprint for China?
- The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?
- How FIFA makes money
- Yuval Harari, Homo Deus
- The World’s biggest franchise: who profits from the Olympic Games?
- Medals at the Olympic Games: The Relationship Between Won Medals, Gross Domestic Product, Population Size, and the Weight of Sportive Practice
- All times Olympic Games medal table
- Fake Winter bei Spielen in Peking
- How many athletes participate in the Winter Olympics, and other key numbers from the Games
- Piefke Saga
- Highest medal bonuses