This winter the Olympics return to Canada for the first time since the Calgary games of 1988. For many people, the most vivid memories of that Olympiad are the colourful stories of some of the less accomplished athletes, such as British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards and the members of the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s unlikely, though, that there will be any charming underdogs in this year’s Olympiad, as the games become more and more the province of professionals. As audiences and advertising revenues drop, however, will the professionalization of the Games spell their downfall?
In ancient times the Olympics were a time when all nations – all Greek nations, anyway – would put away their differences and compete in almost every human activity, from poetry to the ferocious, no-holds barred combat sport called pankration. Being the very best that humans could be was seen as the best way to honour the gods of Olympus.
The Super Bowl has long been seen as the “tent pole” of American consumer culture: an annual game that routinely pulls in viewers at a scale otherwise achieved only by one-off events like series finales and celebrity car chases. It actually drives sales of TVs: the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association reports that 2.5 million people plan to buy a new TV for the express purpose of watching the game, part of an overall $8.7 billion in Super Bowl-related consumer spending.
In ancient times the Olympics were a time when all nations – all Greek nations, anyway – would put away their differences and compete in almost every human activity, from poetry to the ferocious no-rules wrestling event called pankration. Being the very best that humans could be was seen as the best way to honour the gods of Olympus. Though we’ve dropped the poetry and the blood sports, people watching the swimming or volleyball events might wonder if we’re on the way to bringing back the ancient tradition of competing in the nude. Revealing outfits – like those designed by Lululemon for the Canadian beach volleyball team – may be practical for those events, but they also shine a light on how dressing for sports can make us feel about ourselves. After all, it’s hard to feel good about your own body when you’ve just spent an hour watching the most perfect physiques in the world nearly naked.