Olympic viewership down amidst controversy

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The Olympic Games, since their emergence from antiquity, have been a spectacle. The incredible athletes never fail to arouse the world’s attention as we look on, bewildered by their prowess. But despite this fact remaining unchanged, Olympic Games viewership is down this year in every country except the host nation, China. And while defenders of the Olympics rush to an explanation that maintains time zones are to blame, because events are happening while much of the world sleeps, there is another reason this Olympics is receiving less attention than its previous iterations.

The reason is, of course, that it has become difficult for viewers to divorce the athletic spectacle from the totalitarian backdrop. The Olympics, in their modern form, were created to encourage unity amongst nations, and allow nations who would normally not get along to build comradery outside the stodgy world of international politics. There are definitely some notable examples of the Olympic Games causing more controversy than peace, but in theory, unity remains the goal. 

And in the case of these Olympics, it’s very hard to believe that unity is the goal because the host nation does not have that quality domestically. And no, I’m not referring to the political rivalries that characterize Canadian discourse. When the host nation segregates a portion of its population on the basis of ethnicity, as China is currently doing to Uyghur Muslims by placing up to a million of them in internment camps, it’s hard to believe that we have a common goal. The governments of both Canada and the United States have declared the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China a genocide. When that’s in the back of a viewer’s mind, athletic achievements seem to lose their lustre. 

It’s also quite clear that in the host nation, the ideology of the CCP means much more than sport. You only need to look back to the treatment of Peng Shuai, who disappeared after she made allegations of sexual abuse against a member of the CCP. Disappearances like this are frightening enough in Orwell, never mind when they happen to someone so known to the public. Even Peng Shuai’s recent statements seem coerced, as they deny she made any allegations in the first place. If sport is not at the front of the viewer’s mind, it’s not at the front of the CCP’s mind either. 

And lastly, I’ll quickly comment on the location of events. The Big Air event, which is essentially a large ski jump, made news when in the background of the events, viewers were treated to the image of an old steel mill, which has huge smokestacks that look like they could belong to a nuclear power plant. This looks to me like something out of dystopian fiction, where the absurdities of capitalism are on full display. The skiing may have been appealing to the eye, but an old steel mill is surely not. 

The athletes and the events remain as enthralling as ever, and I’m sure that the next Games to be held in a country that respects human rights will be popular. But for this time around, totalitarianism has put viewers off, prompting a much-deserved drop in ratings. 


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