Are the Olympics Aiding Obesity?

Last night, on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), there was a debate about sponsorship and the role it plays in the Olympics. The main thrust of the dispute was around the issue of the most magnanimous sponsors being the peddlers of fast foods, fizzy drinks and alcohol.

The big guns they were talking about were Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

In the debate a cardiologist from London, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, spoke knowingly of the impact of perpetually consuming processed foods and those high in sugar. Boldly stating that by 2050 a breathtaking upsurge in diabetes and heart conditions will be witnessed in the UK alone, whilst currently 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by age 9.

Obviously, with the correctly slanted research, this could be contested. However, the main problem presented is that the World’s most televised international Games, beaming across the globe, will have the names of fast food conglomerates and soda giants being thrown at young people at the same time as extraordinary sporting moments.

In response to the BBC the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stated that, “The IOC only enters into partnerships with organizations that it believes work in accordance with the values of the Olympic Movement. Before entering or extending any partnership, we have a duty on behalf of all of the stakeholders in the Olympic Movement to consider this partnership very carefully, particularly where we enter partnerships on a long term basis. We are proud to work with both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, with whom we have long term agreements in place through 2020.”

This means that in 2016 when the Olympics hit Rio de Janeiro, a sun-beaten symbol of the ever widening gap between rich and poor in the second and third world (Brazil in particular has experiences impressive economic growth in the last few years, despite falling behind China in recent days), the youth of Brazil will be holding up the flags of such corporations.

Signing on with these groups has raised eyebrows, and although IOC president Jacques Rogge has admitted it was not an easy decision to keep McDonald’s in particular, they have bonded for another few terms.

Rogge claims that due to his concerns he has had words with them over changes to health strategies and investment in ‘grassroots level’ athlete development. “We’ve said to them: “Listen, there is an issue in terms of the growing trend on obesity, what are you going to do about that?”” according to the Belgian.

The point against this was also alluded to during the debate, though. “Where else is the money going to come from?” they asked.

The issue is clear. There would be other sponsors for this; just not sponsors with pockets as deep, or eyes as greedy as the big two. Of course the IOC know that there are problems with such practice (it is the reason why they take beer brand money, but not whisky money; they take teeth rotting drinks’ money, but not cancer-courting cigarette money).

The IOC are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. They would love not to take money from those that could stunt athletic development in younger generations, but their own costs spiral out of control and selling Big Macs and Coke can clear the tab.

The London Games have already crept past the cost of £11bn. It will be the second most expensive Games of all time (behind the colossal outlay of Beijing), and while the UK tax-payers will pick up slack where the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), who are privately backed, fall down, but the IOC officially distribute money to many nations, not just holders.

If the IOC keep only 8% of marketing revenue, and the beast keeps getting bigger, how do they make that 8% as big as possible? They take the top dollar. So come on down McDonald’s and Coca-Cola! You’re sitting at the top table!

If you want to change this situation you must do two things:

Firstly, change the culture of your nation so that any temptation does not send you reeling for the double burger. Governments can help by subsidizing organic and healthy food providers, rather than offering tax cuts to big businesses.

Secondly, scale back the Olympics. Make it about the pure sport, rather than trying to top the last provider. Then you do not have to change legislature to suit big businesses and bankrupt countries.

The IOC’s remit is to uphold the spirit of the Games, while the Olympic motto translates as “Faster; Higher; Stronger.” There is nothing there about opening ceremonies, fireworks, cameras in the javelin heads, or erecting Rings on Everest.

No. Cut your cloth accordingly with the money you do have and the money you can get from the sponsors the event deserves. Do not do it like the London Olympics have, already. They just opened the world’s biggest McDonald’s a stones throw from the Olympic stadium…


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