Corporate Sponsorship Turns Olympics Into ‘Hunger Games’ Scenario

1924WOlympicPosterIn The Nation, 2006 Winter Games luge competitor Samantha Retrosi compares the Olympics to “The Hunger Games” while discussing her own experience of being made into a voicebox for Vorizon. According to Retrosi, when corporate sponsorship falls through, many U.S. Olympic athletes are left with one back-up plan: join the Army:

The socialization of my allegiance to Verizon began the moment I was selected—as an 11-year-old—for the US development team. The culture within the US Luge Association viewed brand loyalty as integral to the survival of the organization. All of my clothing was plastered with the Verizon logo. I was not allowed near any camera without giving a visual and verbal statement of thanks to Verizon for making all of my dreams come true. I went through intensive media training each year to reinforce this allegiance—to learn how to be a better spokesperson for Verizon. During my Olympic year, I signed away my rights to use media time for just about anything other than gratitude to sponsors. It was a condition for entrance into the Olympic Village.

In the wake of the 2008 recession, Verizon found itself on rocky terrain, so it began breaking many of its sponsorship contracts with amateur sports organizations. One of those was with the US Luge Association, to which it gave millions of dollars a year. USA Luge, which spent decades cultivating this relationship at the expense of all other sources of funding, has been unable to replace Verizon. Today’s luge athletes have had to look elsewhere for support, with many having little choice but to join the US Army World Class Athlete Program (not surprising, given the similarity in value systems: both the armed forces and elite-level sports cultivate extreme discipline, patriotism and victory at all costs). Apparently, one must be willing to enlist—and possibly fight and die for one’s country—in order to cover the expenses of international competition. Many of those who haven’t gone this route hold down outside jobs in addition to full-time training schedules.

Retrosi also appeared on Democracy Now! on February 5, where sports columnist and author Dave Zirin called her “an Olympic Snowden.”

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  • emperorreagan

    Boo fucking hoo. I need a job in addition to my training schedule!

    • American Cannibal

      They should man up too, live cheaper, forgo family life and consumption. Then they’ll have plenty of time to train. Lazy athletes.

      • emperorreagan

        I just don’t get trying to turn something that has ALWAYS been prize ponies for the rich into something it’s not.

        And I’ll happily blame the parents. You don’t end up participating in some extremely specialized, expensive sport when you’re still a toddler unless your parents are treating you like a prize pony too.

        • American Cannibal

          It’s commodification of athletics. And the parents of these athletes are essential ‘stage moms and dads’. What an awful existence. Most of these high-level athletes had horrible childhoods, comparatively. And then when they are of no use to the sporting world, they have to find brand new identities, which most of them fail to accomplish in truly stable ways. It’s like the child star syndrome. Fucking parents projecting their own ambitions and fears… really nasty people.

    • emperorreagan

      My objection in less mocking terms:

      The Olympics only transitioned from games for aristocrats, men of leisure, and those receiving the patronage of the wealthy to the current incarnation with commodification, with corporate sponsors replacing rich boosters and by becoming an effective vehicle for nationalist propaganda during the cold war and capturing the imagination of kids.

      Ultimately, though, the Olympics are put on by a private entity that makes a ton of money off of them. The public bears the cost of putting on the Olympics, as they do for many sports and athletic events, on the promise of economic benefits that seldom manifest to the degree promised (if there is ever economic benefit at all).

      The notion that the US government should add paying for athletes to participate in the Olympics on top of it is absurd. Give a subsidy to the children of the upper and upper middle class who can afford the cost of entry to participate in Olympic sports? Should the pay for just the final team members, or anyone who can place in the top 25 or 50? The US government (and every government) should foot the entire cost of the Olympics, to the benefit of the sponsors and the IOC?

      If the athletes want to form a union and demand that the Olympic committee and sponsors give them a better cut of the earnings, like the NFL and MLB player unions, more power to them.

      But in the broader term of class consciousness and solidarity, looking for solidarity with Olympic athletes in a country where there’s no basic income or universal healthcare? Fuck that.

  • Damien Quinn

    Sport (with a capital S) was designed as a way to distract the masses from education, channel our aggressive impulses away from the elites and instill some loyalty to them, dressed up as patriotic fervor. It still serves that function.

    This guy seems to have convinced himself that sliding down a hill on a tea tray has some sort of value to humanity besides offering a diverting winter afternoon, to the point where he thinks that’s his job. He needs to get a grip.

    His job is to make people feel good to be American, and more importantly, that Verizon (or the Army, or some other arm of the plutocracy) is an integral part of the greatness they feel.

    Luge?!?

    • Colby

      Sports were not designed that way. Sports happen because humans create games to play. Just because they’re exploited doesn’t mean we have to retroactively change the concept because of it.

      • Damien Quinn

        I said Sport with a capital S, I’m sure two guys batting a ball around is just as it is but all those organized sports were created by industrialists to give working men something nonthreatening to occupy their time and energy, in direct competition with union meetings, adult education and the like.

        • Colby

          Fair enough, and I definitely see that side of it too. That’s what I’m saying though. Just because they’re exploited doesn’t make you some sort of sheep for enjoying watching these games played at a high, organized level.

          • Damien Quinn

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest people were gullible for enjoying sports, it’s diverting entertainment, enjoy!

            I just meant to point out that it is what it is, nobody owes Samantha a living because she’s good at sliding down a hill.

    • Mr Grim

      That ‘guy’ is also called ‘Samantha’… Just sayin’… ;-)

      The rest of your observations I heartily concur with though. Luge, FFS. The only “sport” that you could conceivably be a medal-winner at against your own will.

      To that end, years ago I proposed “involuntary street luge” as an Olympic sport, wherein random people were grabbed off the street, lashed to a sled and launched down the course. Pretty sure they’d get at least bronze, if only through the self-preservation instincts to lean in the right directions.

      But did they listen to me? Oh no…

  • BuzzCoastin

    no one under 18 should be an olympic athelete
    no one over 18 should give a flying somersault about the pimplyimpics
    butt
    joe six & the outter party members
    must have their bread & circus
    or they might wake the fuk up

  • Earthstar

    Excuse me, but weren’t the original Olympic games a competition of athleticism between soldiers? Don’t most sports originate from martial practices?
    This is just full circle again.

  • Mr Grim

    I’ll drink to that!

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