Chapter V: Ethics & Values

Excerpt from Chapter:


Political matters are often underpinned by a number of moral and ethical concerns and, in the case of the Olympics, this is no exception. For example, before deciding to bid for an Olympic Games, a society may need to consider the legitimacy of curtailed privacy and freedom, which often ensues over a Games hosting period. Alternatively, it may need to evaluate the merit of investing public funds into hosting a mega-event, when so many other social problems are in need of immediate investment. It may also need to consider such policies as the pricing of tickets for events, which could be unaffordable to many people, if maximising profit is the main ambition, or, more importantly, housing relocation policies, which can affect large numbers of people in the trajectory towards hosting a Games. Clearly, the Olympic Games do not take place in isolation from other social affairs and it is necessary to contextualise what happens at the Olympics within broader processes of moral discourse and action. For example, the success of the Beijing 2008 Games, occurred against a backdrop of both China’s rise as an economic superpower and the Western credit crunch, which crippled parts of the global economy revealing excessive corporate bonuses, government borrowing spiraling out of control, and unscrupulous practices within the money markets. As well, these Games provoked international concerns about exploitative labour conditions, while protests occurred around the world over China’s alleged disregard for individual human rights, its role in Darfur and its occupation of Tibet. On these matters, many lobby groups argued that, rather than improve the situation, the Olympic Games exacerbated government induced injustices, calling for the need for ethical reform. Beijing is not unique in this regard, as we saw earlier how concerns about social justice have been apparent at numerous other Games, including Vancouver 2010, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Regardless of the position one takes on these matters, we may regard the Olympic Games as an inherently moral enterprise with unique global dimensions. Moreover, as the drive towards institutional transparency and accountability have become dominant public expectations, so too have institutions like the IOC been required to demonstrate that they are mindful of their ethical responsibilities and proactive in responding to them (Griseri & Seppala 2010). Around the turn of the millennium, this trend affected the IOC directly, as allegations of corruption were made towards its members in relation to the bidding process for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Over the same period, the development of new technologies forced societies to confront new moral dilemmas about the future of human civilization. In particular, the rise of the Internet, the realization of the Human Genome project and debates about climate change have each raised questions about humanity’s place in the world. These events have created new ethical considerations for society, to which the Olympic movement has not been immune. Thus, the rise of new media has transformed the way in which fans consume the Olympic Games and may yet threaten the Olympic movement’s economic foundation, due to the way in which it is expanding what it means to be a journalist and how media content is shared and monetized (Miah & Jones 2011). Millions of bloggers and semi-professional multi-media experts now have the capacity to generate broadcast quality output at the Games and, if this content stands to jeopardize the privileges afforded to the rights paying mass media’s, then a new economic model may be needed for the Olympic movement. Equally, progress in biotechnology has had a number of consequences for the Olympics. In support of elite sport, this new science is providing new insights to help understand the impact of elite sports performances on the health of athletes, while providing more effective therapies for athletes who are injured. Yet, some scientists have also identified a prospective era of gene doping, which could jeopardize the aspirations of the anti-doping movement irrevocably, calling for a new way of thinking about the ethics of performance enhancement in sport (Miah 2004). Alternatively, genetic testing may select out certain kinds of people before they even begin to try new sports, or may be used as a way of ensuring that sports clubs do not take high risks on athletes who have unfavourable genetic profiles.

Finally, concerns about the environment have become a core dimension of the Olympic programme and IOC activity, not least because the Games have a significant impact on a city’s environment. Over the years, the legacy of these impacts has often been negative for a host city, as for the case of the Montreal 1976 Games, which became a, enduring, unsustainable economic burden for the population for years after the Games had finished….These trajectories have brought into focus the importance of addressing ethical issues in the Olympic movement and this chapter focuses on some specific ethical themes that have concerned the Olympics over its lifetime.