The Olympics should not be for rich, commercial sports

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The Independent Online

The Olympic ideal is not dead, although it is ailing. Before we operate on the patient, however, it is important to be clear about what the ideal is and why the television spectacular from Sydney over the next 16 days is likely to fall short of it.

The Olympic ideal is not dead, although it is ailing. Before we operate on the patient, however, it is important to be clear about what the ideal is and why the television spectacular from Sydney over the next 16 days is likely to fall short of it.

First, the drugs issue should be put to one side. The oath sworn on behalf of all the athletes at yesterday's opening ceremony, that the Games shall be drugs-free, was, of course, unconvincing. You do not need a degree in pharmacology, merely a degree of common sense, to know that it will be widely dishonoured. But that does not invalidate the proceedings. Drugs are inextricably part of many modern sports, including athletics, swimming and cycling, but the aim must be to minimise their use. And the Sydney Games have a tougher regime against chemical cheating than any previous Olympics.

Second, nostalgia for the days of the amateur Games belongs to the past. The distinction between amateur and professional was never precise, in any case, and was abandoned for good reasons when it was abused. The idea that the Games should be a showcase for sports that are less heavily commercialised, however, is a valuable one and should be defended.

This is related to the third issue, which is that the debate between team and individual sports is off the point. There are, certainly, many events that have crept into the Olympic pantheon that do not deserve to be there. Basketball is a prime example. That is not because it is a team sport. Nor is it because the ancient Greeks knew nothing of slam-dunking, among their many depravities. Hockey fails both tests, and yet its inclusion in the schedules over the next two weeks is fully justified.

The reason why basketball should not be in the Olympics is precisely the reason why it was admitted: to use the pulling-power of US basketball stars to attract North American television audiences.

The Olympics ought to be an event primarily for sports that are not already dominated by highly paid professionals. They ought to be about the spreading of the glory, not its ever-greater concentration. They ought to be about archery and not football. They ought, from this country's point of view, to be about Steve Redgrave, in his bid for a rowing gold in a record five successive Games, and not about Tim Henman, a rich tennis celebrity who gets enough exposure the rest of the year round.

Let the democratic Games begin.

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