July 29, 2012
Faster, higher, richer … amateurism is a distant memory at the Olympics. Photo: Reuters
Has multibillion-dollar global sponsorship of the Olympic Games spoilt the original spirit of an event that used to be strictly for amateurs?
Treading a fine line
Matt Welsh, former Olympic swimming medallist and world champion
When I began my career, the Olympics were very much about amateur sport. Now, they are very much professional. Commercialism gives more rewards for athletes, lets them stay in their sport longer and gives sport extra business. But there can come a point of over-commercialism, especially in the Olympics. It's still manageable but it's important for all parties to ensure that sponsorship does not bring an overbearing negative presence to the sporting spectacle. When I think about my Olympic heroes, I can't think of a sponsor on their jersey or an ad they appeared in. You want to remember the feat, not the sponsor. The Olympics have a real magic, and when that magic disappears by over-commercialising or overshadowing the human endeavour, that's a real shame.
Ian Chesterman, Australia's chef de mission at three Winter Olympics
Corporate support allows the Olympics to happen and gives a forum for the athletes to achieve their dreams. Commercial funding provides money that allows athletes to train and perform, and without it the Olympics would not be possible in the way they are today. What would the other model be? The assistance business gives in monetary funding is a good way for Australian companies to show support for our athletes, and it doesn't affect the athletes. It doesn't cheapen the event, it just gives the support needed to run the Olympics. Companies such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury make products our athletes enjoy. While McDonald's may not be on the menu before events, it's something they can enjoy after the Games. Without sponsor support, there would be no Games.
Commercialism has its good and bad sides. During the Sydney Olympics, I vividly remember going to the McDonald's just outside Stadium Australia just before attending the opening ceremony.
McDonald's was selling special cups of cola bearing the opening ceremony name. I have kept those cups because I would never be able to get them again. The value of this humble cup is priceless to me.
What would this cup mean if nothing was imprinted on it or nothing indicated that it was an opening ceremony cup?
As a non-competitive rower I do feel that commercialism helps lift the profile of some lesser-known sports such as rowing, as with the Oarsome Foursome in 1992 and 1996.
However, I lament the turn of commercialism in recent years. Could one imagine James Tomkins saying Coca-Cola helps him row ''longer, faster and better''? Commercialism has lost its discretion, boundaries and standards, but at the same time it helps the profile for sports that need it. Everyone must tread carefully.
Edward Roy Gubba, Manly
Of course the Games have been hijacked by commercially vested interests. And Gruen Sweat says it all. After the Olympics abandoned amateurism, corporatised itself, the old Soviet bloc countries went to drug-boosting performance and Australia slid on its own gold! gold! gold! political, commercial and jingoistic way down all those slippery slopes, so the entire appeal of athletes truly challenging themselves in traditional events disappeared.
So lounge back in front of the TV, drink up your Coke, eat your Big Macs and KFC and munch on your chocolates galore, all in the spirit of the Olympics and our ''girls and boys'' in London.
Jim Kable, Caves Beach
We can't say commercialism has hijacked the Olympic spirit until we have an official Olympic spirit. Perhaps someone should approach Bombay Sapphire Gin and see if they're interested.
Rhett Clayton, Summer Hill
Let's not get too high and mighty about Olympic ideals. From ancient times, the Games have been about good entertainment, which costs money and resources. That is the raison d'etre of professional sport and any amateur sportsman or woman entering the Olympics has crossed that line. Second, there is nothing morally wrong with fast food but rather, like many things in life, the abuse of it. The Olympics couldn't be a greater promoter of good balanced diet and exercise.
But there is something morally wrong with promoting a chemical company that has killed and maimed thousands of people and provided paltry compensation. Taking that money has tainted the movement.
Tom Allen, Elderslie
Commercialism has hijacked the Olympics. It's one big TV commercial for McDonald's, Cadbury and Coca-Cola. Does Usain Bolt have a Big Mac, a chocolate bar and a Coke before he runs 100 metres? No wonder most of the population is overweight. It's all about the money.
Fred Holmes, Umina Beach
The level of commercial sponsorship at the Olympics is a direct reflection of modern society. Anything and everything is up for sale to the highest commercial bidder, regardless of any ethical questions it raises.
Of course, it is ironic in the extreme that the major sponsors of the Olympics, promoted as a spectacle of healthy athletes at their fittest, are some of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic currently sweeping much of the world. Yes, the modern Olympics were founded on admirable ideals and principles, but these have been perhaps pushed to the side by the avalanche of marketing and advertising that arrives to ensure we remember the names of the Olympic sponsors well after the real games are over.
Ben Garden, Campbell, ACT
Bread and circuses - do you want fries and cola with that? Maybe sugar will do?
Terry Beath, Wollongong
The Olympics try to appear community-minded but their partnership programs deny access. By spruiking to be a crowd participation event it gets the host city's locals to run and pay for it. We need the Olympics to be made for TV. This reflects the reality of its income stream. No huge stadiums are needed.
Less infrastructure and more in-depth TV coverage is the solution. We don't need an opening ceremony. An hour documentary would be twice as interesting. The small sports need the Olympics for their survival but I'd rather see the world's 100 most played sports instead of the current mix. All the sports that use music need to go. The Olympics prosper on the goodwill and volunteerism of the host city locals that run it and this current model is taxing to death the local people and the city that hosts it. Sydney buried most of the 2000 costs.
Richard Knight, Glebe
As a former enthusiastic amateur sprinter I was very keen to see the men's 100 metres final at the Sydney Olympics. Despite being in the draw, I was not able to get tickets for what is the blue ribbon event of the Olympics.
When I watched it on television I noticed the corporate boxes of the main sponsors, which were in the prime position next to the finish line, had many empty seats. That's what's wrong with Olympics sponsorship by companies that have no natural relationship with or respect for the underlying sport.
James Eldershaw, Castlecrag
Commercialism just encourages them to go lower, slower and fatter.
Heleanor Feltham, Marrickville
Commercialism hasn't hijacked the Olympics. Every global sporting event is subsidised by organisations through advertising partnerships. The Olympics isn't so special it should be sponsor-free.
The athletes are likely the greatest beneficiaries of big company sponsorship because it is how they mostly fund their training. Athletes have cash to train and potentially win gold, and companies can be associated with winners.
Without corporate sponsorship I suspect the Olympics would be hugely disappointing.
To discontinue corporate sponsorship says, ''If you are not at the event you can't watch it'' via free or pay TV. No network would cover it as they make money through advertisers.
As for faster, higher, stronger, a couple of Cokes and a Big Mac never killed anyone, but they probably didn't win gold either.
Adrian Burley, Earlwood