Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Why Olympics aren't good for us, but could be

By Mark Perryman, Special to CNN
updated 7:15 AM EDT, Wed July 25, 2012
Olympic Rings: Could they be used as a symbol for sporting participation instead of a logo for corporate sponsors?
Olympic Rings: Could they be used as a symbol for sporting participation instead of a logo for corporate sponsors?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Olympics assert value of Games in terms of sport, legacy of facilities and tourism boost
  • Mark Perryman argues this is not true, and proposes improvements to Games
  • He proposes decentralizing Games around a nation and more free-to-view events
  • Olympic Rings could also be used by charities instead of by sponsors

Editor's note: Mark Perryman is a research fellow in sport and leisure culture at the Chelsea School, University of Brighton, and co-founder of Philosophy Football. He is the author of a new book "Why The Olympics Aren't Good For Us, And How They Can Be."

London (CNN) -- The organizers of the 2012 London Olympics have repeatedly asserted the value of the Games in the shape of wider involvement in sport, a lasting legacy of sporting facilities, and increased tourism. But experience from previous Games suggest differently.

Not one recent Olympic host nation can point to an increase in sport participation as a result of the Olympics. Many of the stadiums built for the Greek Games are now expensive-to-maintain wrecks. As for tourism, the Olympics generally leads to a decrease in visitor spending, not an increase, as the travel industry has pointed out.

Mark Perryman
Mark Perryman

Watch how Greece's Olympic dream turns sour

Despite all this, not one politician or sports administrator has come up with a plan for a better Games, an Olympics for all. This is what my book, "Why The Olympics Aren't Good For Us, And How They Can Be," uniquely sets out to do.

Let's be clear: I love sport. My book is not anti-Olympics, and I will be caught up in the excitement of the Games once they begin. But I believe the Games could have been organized differently. I am suggesting "Five New Olympic Rings" representing five core principles that would draw in the direct participation of the maximum number of people. Otherwise, for most citizens the Games can only be experienced via the remote control from the sofa. They might as well be taking place somewhere else, saving us both the expense and the inconvenience.

So let's see what a Games organized under an alternative vision might look like:

Ring One: A decentralized Olympics held all across Britain could have created a local Games for large parts of the population, instead of everything being crammed in to London. I would ditch the idea of a host city, and replace it with a host nation.

Big-name brands dig deep for Olympics
Is London ready for the Games to begin?
What to expect from security at Olympics
Making a champion for the Olympics

Ring Two: Spectator attendance could have been boosted by making use of the many existing large stadiums, mainly soccer grounds. Virtually none are being utilized. Centralizing all of the events in London venues with much smaller capacities slashes the audience that can attend and results in increased ticket prices for the few, instead of lowering those prices for the many. Purpose-built stadiums also cost the taxpayer a lot more money.

Read what changed the Olympics forever

Ring Three: Significant parts of the Olympic program could have been held outside of stadiums entirely, creating large-scale free-to-watch events. A multi-stage cycling Tour of Britain, a round-Britain yacht race, a canoe marathon, even open water swimming events in the country's lakes and lochs could have been organized. A measure of London 2012's chronic lack of ambition is the abandoning of the original plan for running the marathon through East London, which would have provided spectator space for hundreds of thousands. It has been replaced with four six-mile laps around the center of the city, reducing the potential audience by 75%.

Watch how the Olympic legacy impacted Montreal

Ring Four: Preference could have been given to Olympics sports that are universally accessible. The same few countries always win the equestrian, yachting and rowing events while entire continents have never won a single medal in these sports. Substantial investment in specialist training, beyond the means of many countries, is required to take part in these competitions. Compare this with the breadth of countries that have won medals in boxing, football, or middle- and long-distance running. These are sports requiring no expensive kit or facilities, governed by simple rules, with mass appeal. Other sports with likely high participation could be added to the Olympic roster. One of my favourite candidates is the tug-of-war, which last featured at the 1920 Games. Requiring not much more than a sturdy rope, it is easy to train for, the teams could be mixed, and the spectacle could be a real crowd-pleaser.

Ring Five: The Olympic symbol could have been used as a symbol for sporting participation rather than as a logo for corporate sponsors. With priorities reversed in this way, the precious Olympics Five Rings could only have been used by voluntary and community groups to promote sport on a not-for-profit basis. Sponsors could have been forbidden any use of the Five Rings. They need sport just as much as sport needs their millions yet the Olympic authorities sell the Games short by meekly complying with the sponsors' ever-escalating demands. Let's not forget the biggest sponsor of all of London 2012: the British taxpayer.

I want to build a new Olympics, to take the best of the Games I first fell in love with as a child (I still have the sticker album to prove it). Why, up until now, has no such alternative been even discussed? My book seeks to redress that failure. Let the debate begin.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Perryman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
updated 3:38 AM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
updated 11:05 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Sat August 4, 2012
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT