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Old 09-06-2004, 09:38 PM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #116 - Athens Olympics in Review

The Sports Central Newsletter
September 2004 - Issue #116

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "Biased Coverage of Olympics Needs to End"
- Editor's Pick: "New Contact Rule Should Have Little Effect"
- Shots From the Lip: "Athens 2004: The Friendly Games; Beijing 2008: The Jackboot Games"


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Hello folks,

The Athens Olympics have finally concluded, so we take a final, in-depth look at them in this issue. Brad addresses the biased coverage of NBC, while Mike looks ahead to the 2008 Games in Beijing. The Games were by no means perfect, but everyone should be giving a great sigh of relief that Athens got its act together and things went relatively smoothly.

We're updating nearly every day now with multiple articles, so check in as often as possible for new columns, insights, and perspectives of the sports world from a fan's point of view. We've posted 16 articles in the last week alone, and we welcome reader comments at the end of each. This is a new feature we implemented since the August issue of the newsletter. We want to hear your opinion!

And lastly, we invite you to participate in our weekly NFL and college football pick 'em threads. Make your selections for 10 pre-determined games each week and compete for bragging rights and possibly even free prizes. Check out the NFL and college football boards for more: http://www.SportsCentralBoards.com

Happy football season,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"Biased Coverage of Olympics Needs to End"

By Brad Oremland

It became common, in recent Olympic years, to hear even moderately-serious sports fans complain about the seemingly endless athlete profiles NBC showed instead of focusing on the actual Olympic games. You know them. The five-minute stories about how so-and-so has wanted to be an Olympic swimmer since she was a child, or how so-and-so No. 2 has a disabled brother.

I don't mean to be flip. Dan Jansen, whose struggles and ultimate success are largely responsible for the wave of athlete profiles, was a compelling case and learning about him made watching Jansen compete more compelling. It's another thing, though, when NBC tries to create a Jansen for every event, and skips or severely restricts its coverage of the games themselves. There's no drama in watching the last few points of a game if you didn't see how it got there. Suspense builds; the viewer shouldn't be responsible for creating it.

The good news is that U.S. television was much better this year about letting profiles overshadow the events it was supposed to be covering. In fact, for a while, I thought they had done away with the athlete profiles almost entirely. Then I watched gymnastics and diving.

Distracting and overly sentimental profiles were down across the board. I believe, though, that NBC made an active decision to include more and longer profiles in sports they targeted at a female audience. That's a little disappointing right there, but there are several levels on which this creates a problem for real sports fans -- and for athletes.

Gymnastics and diving aren't my favorite events -- I'm not even sure they're sports -- but I'll watch them if they're not on at the same time as something like track and field. When those long profiles come on, though, I change the channel. The athletes miss out on exposure for their sport because some NBC executive thinks soccer moms would rather learn about Olympians than see the Olympics. Call me crazy, but instead of an interview with some guy's mom, I'd rather watch him doing what he's world-famous for.

Worse than emphasizing the up-close-and-personals in events like gymnastics, though, is extending them to women's sports -- but not to the men's competition in the same event. Women's soccer, for instance, has just as much to offer as the men's game, and I think most U.S. fans would agree that women's basketball is at least as entertaining as watching the men get their butts kicked by guys who actually play as a team.

When television stations cover women's events differently, they reinforce the false notion that there's a fundamental difference in the sport depending upon who's playing it. I'm not saying the women are as good as the men -- they aren't -- but that doesn't mean watching their games is less exciting.

Applied to the specific issue of athlete profiles during the Olympics, some especially troubling concerns arise. Serious sports fans -- a group which in my experience includes almost everyone who receives this newsletter -- tend to dislike sappy stories about the competitors, instead preferring emphasis on the actual competitions. I know some of you were nodding when I said I change the channel as soon as I hear a voiceover talking about an athlete's childhood home.

What that means is that potentially devoted fans are tuning out of women's games, not because of the sport itself, but because of the way NBC's marketing department has chosen to show it. That does a disservice to everyone associated with the women's game, and at a time when professional women's leagues are struggling to raise awareness of their leagues and establish a loyal viewing audience.

If television stations include features in the women's events that they exclude from the men's events, they're perpetuating a divisive double-standard, reinforcing the harmful perception that women's sports can't be treated equally, and hurting both the fans who could enjoy women's sports and the athletes who play them. At the next Olympics, let's hope television stations extend the same coverage to all the athletes.


Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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There have been 16 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: https://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:

New Contact Rule Should Have Little Effect
By Adam Russell

The NFL wants more offense and higher scores. And, since what the NFL wants, the NFL gets, they've changed the rules to try and accomplish that. SC's Adam Russell thinks the rule will, eventually, have a minor impact on how receivers are defended downfield.




"Athens 2004: The Friendly Games; Beijing 2008: The Jackboot Games"

By Mike Round

It's been a good summer to be Greek. After a stunning success in the Euro 2004 football championships, Athens gave the world two weeks of Olympic competition that exceeded all expectations. Many doubted the Greeks would have the capacity and drive to host such a huge event and more than a few skeptics made dire predictions regarding security and stadium safety. Any fears were completely unfounded. Now the Olympic torch has been handed to the Chinese for Beijing 2008, where the questions aren't about infrastructure or terrorist atrocities, but human rights and corporate greed.

After years of scare stories about stadium completion dates, poor roads, pollution, the heat, terrorism, and gridlocked traffic, the 2004 Athens Olympics passed off almost totally without mishap. With the exception of a security breach in the Men's Marathon and the odd drug test failure, the games were solely about high-level sport.

Even if beach volleyball, synchronized swimming, and ping-pong doesn't ring your sporting bell, the 2004 renewal of the ancient tradition had its moments of drama. After a decline in the popularity of the Olympics dating back to Moscow in 1980, when politicians cynically hijacked the games as a bargaining chip, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 has restored much of the Olympic luster.

Both Sydney and Athens ran successful and profitable games, without resorting to the draconian security measures employed, without success, by Atlanta in 1996. The pressure is now on Beijing in 2008 to match their high standards.

China was not a universal choice to host an Olympics, winning its bidding contest by a single vote. Many pressure groups, politicians, sporting greats, and interested ordinary citizens remain vehemently opposed to the Chinese achieving the credibility of hosting such a huge event watched by the entire world.

For starters, the Chinese have an appalling human rights record. They can point to economic reforms as much as they like, but they will never displace the images witnessed in Tiananmen Square in 1989. China is, without doubt, the fastest growing economy in the world, with limitless potential for the gluttons of the corporate world to line their bank accounts. Hardly a surprise, therefore, that the world's most famous brands were lined up squarely behind the Beijing bid for 2008, with no thought for the victims of China's faux-Marxist rulers.

China keeps the tiny Himalayan country of Tibet, with its religious community led by the Dalai Lama, backpacking tourists, and glorious mountain scenery, firmly under its military jackboot, crushing all dissent with imperious disregard for human rights. It also has no tolerance for internal dissent, controls the Chinese press with ruthless efficiency, routinely punishes its own population with harsh sentences for such crimes as having more than two children, and objecting to losing their home in order to build a new Gap.

The IOC has, unwittingly, given the Chinese authorities the "green light" to intensify repression, by charging the Beijing hosts to oversee a "safe" Olympics as its top priority. The police have taken to their task with relish. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Chinese have been executed this year, either by a shot to the neck or a lethal injection, for "delinquency," "separatism," "subversive Internet use," or for being a Muslim of the Uigur minority. We have four more years of such "cleansing" to look forward to.

In addition to this grim catalogue of human rights abuse, Chinese athletes have been under the microscope for the over a decade, with deep suspicions about the credibility of Chinese doping procedures. In the 1990s, a series of Chinese athletes, particularly women, emerged from total obscurity to smash previous world records in middle distance events, only to return to complete anonymity.

This shadowy period in Chinese athletic history, "The Great Athletic Leap Forward," to paraphrase Mao Zedong, is still shrouded in mystery. None of the athletes involved, to the knowledge of the general sporting world, ever offered a positive drug test, yet all except the odd one was never heard of again on the world stage.

In terms of medals, the Chinese have made huge strides. They claimed 62 medals in Athens, half of them gold. Only two of these were in athletics, the men's high hurdler, Liu Xiang, and the women's 10,000 meters winner, Xing Huina. It is athletics that the Chinese will be concentrating on between now and 2008. They sent a young team of athletes to Athens, on the basis that these youngsters would be the backbone of the 2008 team. Undoubtedly, the Chinese will win more than two athletics gold's in Beijing.

With regard to resources, Beijing 2008 will smash the existing world record for money wasted on staging an Olympic Games. The state has committed a staggering $34 billion to the event, of which $22 billion is destined for facilities. The IOC recently had to order the Chinese to slow the pace of construction, with the organizers on schedule to be ready on the construction side by 2006.

Athens and Sydney were friendly yet efficient Olympics. Both the athletes and the spectators were happy with the facilities and the infrastructure. The world's media marveled at their smooth running. Beijing has a lot to live up to. Whether it should have had the opportunity to showcase Chinese efficiency, ruthlessness, and economic might is another question entirely.

The sole reason the Olympics is going to Beijing and not Toronto in 2008 is money. The Chinese number 1.3 billion consumers and every single corporation in the world wants to get on the gravy train. Human rights come a poor second to corporate greed. Given that the IOC and its business partners are looking for the next big untapped market, see you all at the Baghdad Olympics in 2012, where Colonel Ghadaffi will be lighting the Olympic torch and the Taliban will provide security.


Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 10/03/04.)

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