The Anti-Olympics

The open letter I sent to the NBA, WNBA, each franchise, and posted at the community weblog SportsFilter introducing the concept of Global Village Basketball was my response to sweeping changes in the world, which I have understood and interpreted through the lens of sport. These changes are subsumed in the academic literature under a host of "posts", such as postmodernism, post-structuralism and post-industrialism, with the common theme among them that something fundamental has changed.

Brookes (2002) does an excellent job of explaining how technological developments in communications media and the interrelated economic and social forces of globalization have created the sporting landscape in which we now find ourselves. He is a transformationalist, suggesting that local cultures — not subject to the laws of a global economy — are interwoven with political and economic structures and trying to adapt to a highly interconnected yet uncertain world. As such, there is a transformative dialectical relationship between actors in sport and media at both the global and local/national levels, which is representative of the decentralized, highly technological, and image-conscious post-industrial or post-Fordist economy. One goal of sportsBabel is to push Brookes' analysis past the Do Not Go Beyond This Point sign, asking a host of "what if" questions along the way.

From this fertile soundscape the idea for Global Village Basketball was voiced. It wasn't necessarily the outcome of a specific "what if" question, but if it was, that question could easily have been "what if there were an anti-Olympics?"

An area that is beginning to receive academic attention in sport management is the study of mega-events, the ultimate example of which would be the Olympics, a sporting competition that boasts the largest gathering of athletes (and media?) on the planet at any one time. The Olympic Games are the manifestation of a fascinating ideology called the Olympic Movement, which truly reflects the modern notion of progress. Think citius, altius, fortius: swifter, higher, stronger.

Of course, the Olympics also brought with them another facet of modern society: the politics of the modern nation-state. Beyond the strict nationalist nature of competition, the Berlin Nazi Games of 1936, the Munich Massacre of 1972, or the Cold War games of 1980 and 1984 are sobering reminders of how sport on the highest stage can be appropriated for politicking between (or directed at) nation-states.

There has been a rash of recent criticism concerning the future viability of the nation-state, however, given that myriad other forms of economic and social organization have flourished from local to global levels. These organizational forms will require more appropriate forms of political governance, which will be reflected in the way society creates its sport.

What, then, of the Olympics? Will we see sporting allegiance to the flag of the nation-state be consigned to the archives of Olympic history, as was sporting allegiance to the gods? Will it be replaced by sporting allegiance to the logo of the corporation, as we see today with Formula One auto racing?

If corporations do supplant the nation-state as the privileged form of governance around the world, then the movement for corporate social responsibility will turn out to be an important milestone in the history of humanity. The excesses of the corporate form of governance have now become manifest, and it is time to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. Corporations that have a social conscience — those that help — are needed in this vision of the future. And the cooperative aspects of corporate society must be reflected in sport.

I believe that Olympic Spirit and Right to Play, two initiatives operated by the International Olympic Committee, are certainly steps in the right direction. The Olympics as cooperative sport experience seems oxymoronic, however, considering that the continued existence of the Games rests on cut-throat nationalist competition for an increasing share of the multi-billion dollar sportocratic economy. It is in the spirit of cooperation that Global Village Basketball avoids this problem, by eliminating nationalism, making the spectators productive, and reinforcing the global/local.

The title "Anti-Olympics" isn't meant to suggest that the Olympics are a bad thing. Rather, it is meant to reinforce the idea that without an antithesis, there can be no synthesis.

Without an Anti-Olympics, sport cannot reach its beautiful potential.

References

Brookes, R. (2002). Representing sport. London: Arnold.

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