I’m not a sports fan. I feel I should make the clear up front. I’m not the type to obsess over what season it is or isn’t, I don’t play fantasy sports and I don’t follow any teams, college or pro, with any zeal.
In fact, I can’t say that I took any real interest in the Olympics. I checked the medal counter from time to time, I watched the headlines as they’ve come up and caught, at most an hour or two of coverage. It, like most other sports, held little draw to me and don’t seem to fulfill my personal life in any way.
However, I do recognize that sports, due to their significance to others, has a tremendous impact on the world around us and play a surprisingly large role in international politics and the global community. As anyone who read about the recent Japan/China soccer match knows, sports can raise tensions between nations, symbolize a budding friendship between countries or serve as an olive branch between feuding lands.
On that note, the Olympics are supposed to be the ultimate olive branch. It’s a place where all of the nations of the world can meet on the field of athletic competition and interact not as enemies, allies, superpowers or conquered lands, but as individuals and athletes.
So grand is this notion that, during the ancient Olympic games in Greece, any wars that were ongoing were stopped for the Olympics and athletes were given safe passage to the games.
Though no one expects quite that level of chivalry in these modern times, it would be nice if the games still hearkened back to the idea that they are the athletic olive branch and that they have a role in creating global harmony.
But to do that, they must first take a radical step, eliminate all events that are decided entirely or largely by judges. Period. If a competition can’t be one by being faster, stronger, scoring more points or some other tangible, measurable attribute, it needs to be tossed.
Simply put, by allowing events that are decided by judges, the Olympics are leaving competitions open not only to controversy, but to personal preference, bias, whims, political dispositions and a million other factors that have nothing to do with athletics at all.
Think about it, even if we ignore the recent spate of judging errors and other controversies, judging an event, especially something like gymnastics or diving, is a purely subjective thing. How can we expect, in events where the margin of victory is 1/100 or even 1/1000 of a point, that a judge’s personal bias, political or personal, doesn’t make the difference between silver and gold.
As long as judges are humans making subjective calls, they’re going to make them for odd reasons, especially in “toss up” situations. It doesn’t matter if the judge likes or dislikes the athlete’s country, political ideology or their outfit. These are all elements that should never have a bearing on their score but very likely will.
What’s the result of all of this subjectivity? First off, voting blocs are formed. As the recent ice skating scandal proved, Olympic judges are not above working with other judges to give their country an edge. Given human nature and patriotism, we should have expected this behavior and I’m sure the 2002 games wasn’t the first time it happened, just the first time it was exposed.
Second, it opens the door for controversy. Is Hamm really the Olympic gold medallist? Should a second medal be awarded to the Koreans? What about the Americans who had their routine reduced to 9.9 starting value afterward? And what about the Russian gymnast who got his score changed after the crowd expressed extreme disapproval? Judges make it so that we have champions no one is really sure are champions and losers that, on another day with the exact same routines, could have won just as easily.
Finally, and worst of all, it creates disharmony between nations. Since there is no “Switzerland” of international competition, judges to come from competing nations and, as such, it’s inevitable that, at some point, a judge will vote high on his own country or low on an opposing one and cause an international incident.
Because even though sports, in the big picture of politics and global relations, are minor and insignificant, emotions do run high around them for both athletes and spectators. Like it or not, feuds and even wars have started over sport and the Olympics opening the door to such high controversy in such a tense, global, environment is not just dangerous, it’s borderline irresponsible.
After all, we don’t want the olive branch of sports to become a flashpoint for world tension. There’s enough hazard in that without adding the element of human judges to the mix. We need to minimize the role of third party participants as much as possible and make the playing field as fair and unbiased as we can.
It’s not only in the best interest of the Olympics and the notion of fair play, but in the best interest of world harmony.