The Olympic Games is badly named, because the original concept of this event was to bring nations together to compete in sports, not games. In recent years, we have seen a number of events included in the Olympics that certainly cannot be defined as sports. Golf is certainly not a sport. Synchronised swimming may be very athletic and artistic, but it should not be classed as a sport, just as ballet would not be recognised as a sport.
In fact, there were moves to include chess as an Olympic sport, which had to be one of the most ludicrous ideas of all time. Sitting at a table moving pieces on a board certainly could never be considered as a sport. One could argue that if chess was ever included as an Olympic sport, then it would be feasible to also include checkers, ludo, snakes and ladders, Monopoly and any other board games. The Olympics needs to ensure that only true sports are included in this important global event.
In 1986, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the Olympic Charter to allow "all the world's great male and female athletes to participate." Up to 1992, only completely amateur athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. This eliminated the participation of professional athletes, who would very obviously have a massive competitive advantage over part-time athletes, who could only train outside of their normal work commitments. This kept the aspect of fairness in the competition.
However, the rules regarding professional athletes were changed because nations such as the former USSR and its communist allies fielded athletes who were fully supported by their governments. None ever held a job. They trained 8 hours a day, 365 days a year. They won most of the Olympic medals during the 1970s and 1980s.
These athletes were not amateurs in the sense of the definition, yet they were allowed to compete in the Olympics, which made athletes sign pledges that they were amateurs. The communist athletes may not have been "pros" like Michael Jordan, but they were certainly professional athletes and this was unfair.
The Olympic mystique suggested that anyone could be a contender. Ordinary people dreamed of competing in the Olympics and the dreams spurred athletic activity all over the world. Now all of that has changed. Olympic athletes have sponsors, expensive equipment and the luxury of training full-time. Money has changed the look and feel of the Olympics in recent decades.
Indeed, the influx of corporate involvement has caused some sticky moments. According to Olympic lore, basketball star Michael Jordan and his Dream Team almost boycotted the medal ceremony in Barcelona because the team's Nike loyalties and paraphernalia clashed with the podium, which sported the corporate symbol of the American team sponsor, Reebok. The podium was draped in the American flag to avoid embarrassment.
Many predict the visibility of product advertising at the Olympics will only increase. "An Olympic athlete running in a Hertz uniform is a generation away," says Mark McCormack, a US promoter who is regarded as the most powerful entrepreneur in international sport.
Although it is a well-known fact that most governments fund amateur athletes who eventually enter the Olympic Games, this is a far cry from the level of money and resources available to professional sportsmen who earn tens of millions of dollars per year. What chance have amateurs got against such people?
For instance, if golf was an Olympic sport, no amateur golfer would have any hope of beating a professional player of the calibre of Tiger Woods or Greg Norman. Tennis is an Olympic sport and at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, world-ranked number one player Rafael Nadal won the gold medal in the men's singles competition. What hope would even the best amateur tennis players have in beating Nadal or any of the other professionals, such as Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Lleyton Hewitt? Of course the answer is - virtually no chance whatsoever.
Boxing happens to be an Olympic sport, but at the moment, professional boxers do not compete. The way things are going, sooner or later the Olympics will invite professional fighters. However, if and when this happens, no amateur boxer would stand the ghost of a chance of beating somebody like Mike Tyson in his heyday or any of the current champions in any division of professional boxing.
With players such as Michael Jordan and his multi-million dollar teammates competing for the Olympic basketball gold medal, no amateurs stand a chance against such professional sportsmen who earn so much money that they can afford to train literally around the clock.
The Olympic Games should return to its roots by banning all professional athletes without exception. Furthermore, all athletes who are funded by their governments on a full-time basis should be banned from competing. It is grossly unfair for amateur athletes to try and compete against professional sportsmen.
If these measures are not implemented and more and more professional sportsmen enter Olympic competition, it will discourage amateurs from even trying to compete. This will mean that the Olympic Games will merely become an avenue for professional athletes only, along with massive corporate sponsorship and advertising. If this happens, the entire essence of these Games will vanish.
From the way the Olympic Games are heading, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that eventually teams will not just represent their nations, but the corporations that sponsor them. What would be the possibility of McDonalds, Dell, Reebok and Nike fielding their own teams? Well why not? Some of those corporations have an annual income far in excess of many nations that compete at the Olympics and they literally own the athletes that they sponsor. The IOC has already changed the rules to allow professional athletes, so anything could happen.