Olympics not something for us

Olympics not something for us

The biggest handicap of Madrid, candidate for Olympic Games for the fourth time, is the Spanish economy. Tokyo’s biggest handicap is the risk constituted by the leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant affected by the 2011 earthquake, and this week, news that this risk is increasing was “emitted” to the atmosphere. As for Istanbul’s handicaps, first the government’s violent stance against protestors is being counted, while the second is that almost 30 Turkish athletes of various branches have been recently “caught” doping. 

Yes, these factors are weakening Istanbul’s hand, but first of all let’s mention another issue: construction mania. The Olympic Unit formed under the Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) has undertaken all authority about the related construction process. Just imagine what this tool, which is currently shredding our cities and neighborhoods, is capable of doing to Istanbul! Imagine how the Olympics, which all states take as an opportunity to show off, would blow the mind off TOKİ, which is addicted to erecting skyscraper silos everywhere! 

One of the most debated issues in recent years regarding the Olympics is their function as a lever for urban transformation. This is a transformation that makes city centers posh and expensive, creates space for new luxury houses and drives the poor to the edges of the city, and as a general rule makes municipal services more costly. The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games is the best example of this. The last London Olympic Games also has caused major real estate speculation. In Olympic projects, the quite considerable level of silencing of residents is an issue that has been complained about in all experiences. In the language of “TOKİstan,” there is no meaning to the word “participation” anyway.
The “Gezi effect” is also a factor not to be disregarded. The stance of the governing authorities was to spray tear gas and swing batons at every moving object, and this does not really constitute an environment where the Olympic spirit would feel good. In addition to that, there is a tendency to see sports management in Turkey as a branch of the security services. In an Istanbul under the Olympics regime, who knows with which measurers, will be used to make the area “safer”? Like military restricted zones, we can expect “Olympics restricted zones.” 

Let’s also take a look at the doping incidents that are seen as another handicap in Istanbul’s race in the candidacy. I consider the doping scandal as a sign of a deeper issue. No doubt doping is not unique to Turkey, but it suits well our sports culture that is totally focused on results. 

The essence of the subject is that this place is not a sports country. Sportsmanship is an exceptional activity here. I wrote in 2009 that the number of official licensed sportspeople is 1,606,554, while the number of active sportspeople is 291,985. Since 2009, the number of licensed sportspeople has risen to 2,700,000 and active sportspeople to 407,000. This figure barely exceeds 5 percent of the population. Let’s leave aside the Scandinavian countries where the ratio is around 50 percent and Germany where it is 30 percent; in Portugal, sportspeople constitute 19 percent of the population, in Greece and Bulgaria this figure is over 10 percent. Should the resources that Turkey allocates not be prioritized to make more people actually have access to sport?

In classical philosophy, there are two main principles to sport: One is “agon,” meaning competition or racing. The other is “arete,” meaning skills or higher values. In this country, the sports culture has been rather locked on “agon.” The pleasure and excitement coming from a person’s reaching his or her highest potential, “Arete,” is not very important. This is directly related to people not doing sports. Anybody who has been involved in sports him or herself will never underestimate the effort of the sportsperson who has finished in eighth place. What saves the Olympic spirit is also partly the effort of the spectators who watch with gratitude the processing of human skills as an aesthetic experience. Well, here, we even lack that effort! 

Particularly if “ours” are not competing, who will watch the 200-meter butterfly stroke? Would a gymnast taste the genuine hum of admiration he or she deserves, regardless of the flag he or she has on his or her chest? If I were the Olympic Committee, I would also consider these, just as much as the technical specifications. Am I pessimistic? Are you saying that the Olympics itself is a lever to change the sporting culture, to make it “more beautiful”? I’m not so sure.