Australian Way of Life

And The Winner Is…Us

Written by
22 July 2021
Originally appeared in The Spectator Australia

Finally, the 2020 Olympics are finally about to kick off. So why does it already feel so underwhelming?  

After 15 months of government-imposed misery the Olympic should be just what we need to pull ourselves out of our isolated stupor. And yet there are doubts that the Tokyo games can live up to the Olympics spirit: after a 12 month delay still the stadiums will be emptied of spectators, and masked officials and competitors will be a constant reminder of the Covid-19 mass hysteria, throwing a wet blanket on the atmosphere of the Games.

Normally the Olympics are a valuable and harmless opportunity to engage in collective national pride. The myth of the Olympic spirit – meaning to carry on an honourable fight in the face of adversity – is an inspirational and aspirational message that any society could appreciate, not least of all ours which is struggling for courage and deprived of virtue. 

If as expected the Tokyo Olympics fail to inspire there is a silver lining in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) vote on Wednesday to confirm Brisbane will be the host of the Games of the XXXV Olympiad in 2032. 

Reasonable people can disagree on whether this is a worthwhile use of public money, but there is a strong case for occasionally hosting the Olympic Games.  

The Olympics are a part of something of great value to Australians. As the pinnacle of international sport across various disciplines, it is the grandest exhibition of man’s competitive spirit in a noble contest. It is a celebration of endeavour, determination and the strive for greatness. Australians have a proud tradition of celebrating physical prowess and human excellence in their sporting icons. Holding the Olympics on our home shores amplifies this positive message.  

If ever Australia needed these universal and aspirational messages, it is now when the centres of cultural and political power are so furiously arrayed against mainstream Australians and their values. The political class, academia, the media, Australia’s largest corporations and the public sector seem to be engaged in a constant project to undermine the spirit of the nation and challenge its history.  The education curriculum regulator aims to spread this message to the classroom by embedding critical race theory in the rewritten National Curriculum ensuring this hopeless message will be passed on to our children.  

A sensible argument against the Olympics is that it can a costly swamp. Generally, the IOC is not on the hook for the cost of the Games, but does take a slice of the revenue. Since it isn’t incentivised to rein in the costs of the Olympics the IOC will periodically expand the number of sports at the Olympics. What started as 43 events in 9 sports at the 1896 Athens Games has blown out to 339 events across 33 sports in 2021. 

There are simply too many sports which have no place at the Olympics. Unless the Olympics is the most important competition of a sport it shouldn’t be there at all. Has any soccer player ever coveted an Olympics gold over just playing in the World Cup? Tennis players seem to treat the Olympics like an exhibition tournament, and the inclusion of a golf event – a highly individualistic sport – at the Rio Olympics was completely forgettable. The IOC also diminishes themselves by including novelties like breakdancing, which is due to be included in the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

If the IOC were properly incentivised, they could remove events like soccer, golf, tennis, 3×3 basketball, road cycling, and rugby sevens from the Olympics programme, thereby not only removing the clutter from the schedule, but also the surplus athletes, coaches, support staff and the accommodation facilities and services they all require. 

Australian Olympic Committee head John Coates has optimistically vowed that the Brisbane Olympics would be cost-neutral and would not have spending blowouts. Even with the $2.5 billion promised to the organisers by the IOC to defray costs, history says the Olympics will go over budget. The estimated loss from the Sydney 2000 Olympics ran to $2.1 billion, as many of the economic gains are often illusory (for instance, the oft-claimed long-term gains in tourism from such events are not supported by evidence). In contrast, the 1996 Games in Atlanta was profitable, off the back of significant private funding and exploitation of sponsorship and broadcasting deals. The 2032 organisers should take note.  

In the event that there is a net loss, how concerned should small-government conservatives be? Waste and overruns deserve criticism and accountability, but there is also more to the Olympics than a profit-loss figure. There is a non-economic factor of national prestige not just in sporting success but in competently hosting international events as a showcase of the country and its people.  

In many ways, the Sydney Olympics marked the apotheosis of Australia -– by 2000 Australia was an assertive and confident player on the world stage. We were still proud of our history as we had not yet succumbed to the endless national self-hatred and naval gazing seen today. The Olympics were a great success at showcasing Australia and in generating goodwill on which the country could literally trade on for years on end. 

In hindsight, it is not unreasonable to consider the Sydney Olympics was also a swansong for Australia. The sense of decline since then is not imaginary. Institute of Public Affairs research published in January revealed that a combination of 25 different measures of the quality of the Australian way of life has declined by 28.5 per cent since 2000. Forthcoming research on the state of freedom has shown a similar decline over the same time period.  

Hosting the Olympics alone won’t reverse these trends but it should be seen as an opportunity to put a stop to the constant national self-flagellation and recapture the spirit of 2000. That the political class may have an incentive to show love for the country again is a cause for optimism.  

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Morgan Begg

Morgan Begg is the Director, Legal Rights Program at the Institute of Public Affairs

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