Wednesday 12 February 2014

Why I Will Not Be Watching the 2014 Olympics

By Artur Suski, S.J.


When I was a kid, I really wanted to have one million dollars. For a little boy around 10 years old, a million dollars could get you a lot of fun stuff. I mostly dreamed of buying all the toys I could think of, especially the remote-control type, the flying kinds. Those were far-fetched big dreams that I knew were unattainable. Even today, I must admit, a million dollars seems like a lot, especially for a poverty-vowed Jesuit. But a billion dollars, that’s the new big dream. It will get you into the big league. Actually, to tell the truth, I find it hard to even conceptualize how much money that really is. It is such a large amount that my limited reason cannot fully grasp this reality.

Now multiply a billion by fifty. That’s how much the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will cost, “roughly”. They have already spent 37.5 billion Euros throughout the last eight years in preparing for this event. More spending is expected during the event itself. This is truly an astronomical number. I lost it when I heard about the number, and it takes a lot for me to lose it. How can it be that a sporting event could cost so much money? How is it that seemingly intelligent people were willing to spend so much money on a sporting event? Can such a large sum of money going to a sporting event be justifiable?

I don’t think it is justifiable. It is embarrassing and frankly disgusting. While Russia or the Olympic committee, or whoever it is that pays the big bucks, is coughing up all this money, there are countries in Europe that are bankrupt, or are going bankrupt, and would have been able to do much good with such money. Take Greece, for example. In a February 3 article of The Telegraph, Greece needs another 10-20 billion Euros to service its debts (it has already received a total of 240 billion Euros in loans). Another country in great need is Spain. It received 100 billion in loans. These and other countries are in desperate need for money while a large amount of money is being spent on the Olympics.

But Russia isn’t the only one spending the money. It is one thing that Russia spent so much on preparing for this event; it is another that each individual country spent millions, or perhaps billions in preparing their athletes. The worldwide grand total spent on the 2014 Olympics may be around the 100 billion mark. On the opening night of the Olympics, I heard on the CBC that Canada alone spent around 84 million (I tried to verify this online and couldn’t find anything on this) preparing for the 2014 Olympics. I can imagine that the United States would have spent much, much more.

Meanwhile, worldwide poverty is not going away, and many countries, such as poor Haiti, would have loved to receive a couple of these billions to ease their pain. It speaks of utter financial irresponsibility and a disproportionate human thirst for honour and success. These realities blind us to the needs of those around us. But let’s face it, this is not something new. According to Forbes magazine, the National Football League (NFL), on average, has a yearly revenue of 9 billion dollars. And guess what, the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, wants much more. He wants this revenue to reach 25 billion by 2027. In the National Hockey League (NHL), teams on average bring in just under 250 million in annual revenue, with thirty teams in total. Tennis isn’t off the hook, either. The US Open alone is said to have brought in an estimate of 740 million dollars in 2013. And the list goes on.

As you can see, we’ve become quite comfortable with the amount of money spent and made in the sports entertainment business. We’ve become, in a way, complacent, and, through our active participation in these events, inadvertent accomplices. This is troubling. We should not be comfortable with the fact that so much money is spent on a business that does not solve the deeper issues of humanity, such as material and spiritual poverty, access to good education, access to good health care, an increase in sickness, especially cancer. It seems to me that we are distracted by these sports events so that we keep our minds off the deeper and more pressing issues of our existence.

Finally, there are also the injustices that accompany huge sports events of this kind. It is unfortunately not a very well known fact that there is a large amount of sex trafficking going on at these events. Again, according to Forbes, 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010, and 133 under-age arrests for prostitution were made in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl. During the 2006 Word Cup of Soccer in Germany, an estimated 40,000 women were trafficked into that country, according to the “2010 Stop Human Trafficking” campaign. It is not known at this point what is happening at the Sochi Olympics. One only hopes that Russia will fight for the dignity of the human person and try to put an end to any sort of human trafficking. I am, however, encouraged by the fact that the global community is waking up to this reality and is making it increasingly harder for the sex business at these major events.


I am well aware that there may be some very strong objections to my reasoning. There is the honourable principle behind the original spirit of the founders of the Olympics: a celebration of different cultures and their coming together in solidarity, respect, and a healthy sense of competition. The Olympics were also meant to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the human body. These are all very noble goals. Perhaps they were more easily achieved earlier in the Olympics’ history before it become so glamorous and commercial. Such sentiments may just as well be achieved in our local communities. Lord knows that many cultures are ghettoized in our midst, wherever we are. Sports can do lots of good here, without needing to go international.

As for the economic stimulation with which these events bring, it would do the citizens of a country well if their government actively stimulated their economies without waiting for events of such proportion. After all, how many countries are “fortunate” enough to host the Olympics? And the rest of them?

Based on the above reasons, I have decided that I do not want to take part in this insane and outrageous scheme. I have committed myself to not watch professional sports from now on. Rather, I will try to invest in playing sports with others with the time and energy that I would have spent. This may sound crazy and extreme. But 50 billion dollars on Sochi sounds crazy and extreme to me. After all, in order for anything to change in this world, we sometimes need to take drastic measures. Giving up watching professional sports hardly qualifies as a drastic measure. The more people join in this sporting boycott, the more we can accomplish, and the healthier society will be! Are you in?


  1. Thank you for sharing your reaction here. You have very good points and I am glad you expressed them. More of us need to think about what's going on...
    Thinking about it, this is the way many Brazilian folks are reacting. The difference, of course, between Brazil and Russia is that in Brazil they are free to react, in Russia, they are not.

  2. Extending your argument, will you similarly not watch any big budget movies? what about enjoying national and provincial parks? are you going to continue watching any tv shows (whether on TV or online)? The cost of major sporting events does seem irrational... I agree a line needs be found, its discerning where specifically to do so for oneself that is the real challenge

    1. Hi Donna,
      You mention great points. I've also wondered about these things. I think the easiest thing to deal with from your list is your mention of national/provincial parks. Such beautiful treasures of creation ought to be preserved and made available to the public to access and enjoy. Nature is after all God's gift to us; it is a source of connection with God for many, and more obviously, forests are the lungs of the planet, providing us with oxygen. Countless species live there, these also are our Creator's work. Maintaining forests/parks is much, much cheaper than the Olympics, yet these are available for all to access at a reasonable price (all over the world, at all times).

      Perhaps people don't know this fact about Sochi, but the Russian government destroyed a significant part of a National park to build new outdoor sports facilities for these olympics (and the highways leading to them). Many venues are built in Sochi national park, in the Caucasus Biosphere Reserve buffer zone in Western Caucasus – a World Heritage Site, as accredited by UNESCO. Apparently the Olympics and Russia's prestige took precedence over this world heritage site. []

      Shows and movies. Yes, this is a challenge because 'movie/show' culture has taken over our lives. How to justify spending near a billion dollars on making a movie? Apparently the budget for the blockbuster movie Avatar was near 280 million dollars. Or what about Walt Disney buying the 'Star Wars' franchise for just over 4 billion dollars? The Hobbit trilogy is said to have cost around 560 million dollars to film []

      Though I do believe that movies and tv programs have a place in society, we quickly realize that most of these movies are pure money grabbers and are far from "pieces of art", not meant to edify us. Ars gratia artis should still have its place - if indeed it is art meant to inspire us and make us better persons. Many good movies have been made on reasonable budgets (what is a reasonable budget? Another point of dispute).

      One final struggle: okay, so let's say that something is very good, and does make us better, brings us to God, etc. Should we set a 'cap' on this (a $$ limit)? And what determines this cap? Tough questions

    2. Guess discerning between good, better and best choices has been a challenge long before Ignatius wrote his Exercises, and remain so today. :-) I rather expect we fall into the trap of being hypocrites and Pharisees when we look for some rule or law, we can apply about what amount of money is 'reasonable' or what forms of entertainment are deserving of our support. Perhaps the best we can do is identify when we cannot see how some choice draws others towards God better some other choice and enter into conversation, for in honest conversation love is born, and there God will be found... And yet it doesn't really 'solve' the questions about what entertainment, at what cost, in practical terms does it?