The attention games countries play

The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius; faster, higher, stronger.

In keeping with this, nations are trying to out-host and outspend each other’s showpiece events. Every year, at least one country tries to herald its arrival on the international scene by hosting a major sporting event.

Jim Yardley wrote in The New York Times about recent examples that validate this theory and the notable problems with this trend.

China hosted the highly successful and feted 2008 Olympics and used the games as an opportunity to showcase its emergence into the club of nations that assert themselves strongly and often on the world stage.

More recently, South Africa kept up in the race by successfully hosting the FIFA World Cup, considered by many to be the most followed sporting event in the world. The quadrennial event, featuring 32 countries from around the world, was hailed as a coming-out of sorts for South Africa and the African continent at large.

In keeping with the rage, India hosted the Commonwealth Games, another of the largest sporting gatherings in the world, in the first few days of October. The Commonwealth of Nations is an inter-governmental group of independent states that were formerly part of the British Empire.

The games — dogged by reports of incompetent preparations and gross mismanagement — concluded without any untoward events, despite a few optimistic commentators demanding an Indian bid in the race to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

However, the lead-up to the games in India was filled with media coverage of the abysmal living conditions of its construction workers that helped build the various venues. Similar reports emerged out of South Africa during the World Cup, with common people speaking out about the hardships they face in everyday life and the poor standard of living.

However, the biggest revelation came after the Beijing Olympics. Observers around the world surmised and hoped that the games would act as a catalyst to political reform within China and hasten the demise of the single-party system. However, the universally acclaimed conduct of the games only served to reinforce the government’s view that the authoritarian regime was responsible for this success.

The case can be made that these mammoth events contribute little to a country’s world standing. It certainly seems a more reasonable use of the time and resources to put in the preparation for such events and bolster programs that aim to produce a better standard and system of living for a significant amount of the population.

Of course, the patriotism card is often used against such “dissenters” who voice their opinion and believe all the expenditure on these sporting mega-events would be better directed into programs that address critical development indices.

There is a lesson in this for ASU as well — we are reeling under problems aplenty of our own, including a legislature that cuts funds like it is nothing.

It is high time we stopped exulting and spending significant resources making big press out of every small plaudit that comes our way, and concentrated on making ASU a regional (and subsequently national) powerhouse on all fronts. I’d much rather we were recognized as the best university in the Southwest than as one among the world’s top 100 institutions.

Kartik thinks the downtown shuttles need a new coat of paint. Mail your support to kartikt@asu.edu


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