Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Whiter Olympics

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

Earlier this evening my friend Eric Kaiser pointed out to me a revelation about the Winter Olympics, and a big factor that may indicate why I'm not into them and have never been into the Winter Olympics: These are rich people sports.

See, the Summer Olympics involve sports that don't require a ton of equipment. Running sports only require shoes (hell, if you're Zola Budd, you don't even need those). Swimming only requires trunks and a dedicated pool. Soccer and many other sports only require a ball. Few summer sports (like equestrian and shooting) require expensive, specialized equipment.

But in the Winter Olympics, every sport requires expensive equipment. Never mind all the jumpsuits, boots and cold weather gear: Skiing requires pricey ski equipment. Bobsleds require expensive, hard to find bobsleds. Luge and skeleton require a specialized sled and, for best results, a special aerodynamic jumpsuit. Snowboarding requires an expensive snowboard. Figure skating is an upscale event that calls for specialized figure skates and lavish uniforms. Hockey requires all sorts of padding, uniforms, hockey sticks, a special rubberized puck, skates (of course), and a dedicated ice rink. Many of these sports require the regular services of a personal coach to get any good at them (or at least get competent enough to avoid injury), with such coaches typically charging a pretty penny by the hour.

Plus, most of these winter sports can only be performed at remote mountain resorts that most people don't live near, so then participants must pay for travel and, when there for any extended period of time, overpriced lodging and food due to heavy demand in a remote region.

Most people in most nations (even the US) don't have the kind of disposable income to gain casual access to these sports, whether as a participant or a viewer. I sure don't.

Not only are the Winter Olympics limited to what cold-weather nations exist, but only those nations whose citizens have enough average disposable income to afford all the equipment that they can drum enough enough athletes to field competitive teams... which is why you see things like Canada Hockey demolishing the alleged 8th or 9th best team in the world by 10-15 goals, and why all the finalists are from the US, Canada and rich European countries.

In fact, the only two races I've ever noticed participating in the winter games are whites and Asians. Go figure those are the predominant races of the wealthiest countries with access to cold weather regions.

And don't flip the requisite crap about the Equator and how Latin Americans and Blacks don't do it, let alone can't generate enough athletes to contend for the podium, because they don't live near cold weather: South America's southern end is as far from the Equator as most of Canada. And as the subjects of Alive found out, the Andes Mountains get plenty of snow in the winter. The Andes cover seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. That's quite a few Latin countries that could conceivably do winter sports. However, they pretty much don't, because all of the above countries are fairly poor (sorry, Hugo Chavez, that includes your hood) and most of the citizens can't afford to buy a few hundred bucks worth of ski equipment.

And last we checked, there are plenty of blacks in America, Canada and many European countries of varying descent that live near cold weather sporting regions. Hockey's had a handful of black players and there's been at least one black figure skater (Surya Bonaly of France). Plus, there is snow in Africa: They even have regular skiing in Lesotho. So blacks can and do participate in winter sports, and saying they have no access to it is culturally insensitive. Why don't we see blacks in the Winter Olympics these days? Never minding any social barriers the winter game cultures of participating countries may throw up, once again it comes back to money.

Hit it, Bryant Gumbel:

Count me among those who don't like 'em and won't watch 'em. In fact, I figure when Thomas Paine said “these are the times that try men's souls,” he must have been talking about the start of another Winter Olympics. Because they're so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too.

Like try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.

Try not to point out that something's not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what's called a “kiss and cry” area while some panel of subjective judges decides who won. And try to blot out all logic when announcers and sports writers pretend to care about the luge, the skeleton, the biathlon and all those other events they don't understand and totally ignore for all but three weeks every four years.

He said that back in 2006, too. I'm not buying the hype: I still see it being true in 2010.

And you could say some of these economic factors are true of the Summer Games as well, though to be fair I've lost much of my interest in those as well over the last 15-20 years. But I've never had an interest in the Winter Games, and it has a lot to do with its socioeconomic relevance to my interests.

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