According to Olympic.org “the official website of the Olympic movement,” there are 15 sports in the winter Olympics. They have been changed over the years either to include new ones or to make the old ones more appealing for television.
The changes — some popular; some less so — result from a desire to keep the Olympics relevant to a changing audience. Makes good sense and likely a good idea.
But what if it is not the sports, but the countries that are becoming stale?
If the “Olympic movement” really wants to build its fan base, perhaps it should consider dropping the traditional countries rather than the traditional sports.
Does it really matter if one bit of Scandinavia takes gold and another silver? Is any country in the EU really different from any other? Well, maybe Greece and Germany.
True, Austria cares deeply about winning the men’s downhill, but can’t we do better than one-upping the Swiss?
The traditional countries express their rivalry both inside and outside the contests themselves.
US elected officials snub Russia and Vladimir Putin by not showing up. They also send warships to the Black Sea to remind us of the possibility of nearby unrest to say nothing of expressing disdain for Russian laws through the selection of the official delegation.
In return, a well-trained figure skating teenager observes that “Russia is number one and will fight to the end” after winning her gold medal. And nothing says rivalry quite like a really cute girl in a fluffy pompom hat with Russia written on it in great big letters – in English.
If audience building through the development of rivalries is the goal, the “Olympic movement” might well consider dropping countries as teams in favor of groupings that generate more fervor.
Israel and Palestine get to stay but why not add right-wingers and evangelicals to the Israeli side and Chablis-sipping lefties to the Palestinian? The Modern Language Association, the American Association of University Professors and the European Parliament would fit nicely on Team Palestine.
A team built on independence movements could draw from Scotland, Catalonia and Texas, while the UK Independence Party, the Tea Party and African Catholics could compete on behalf of traditional values.
Portugal, Argentina, Greece and Detroit could play for the bankrupt against the World Economic Forum in Davos representing the creditors.
Sunnis and Shiites are reliable rivals that elicit sufficient passion to keep TV ratings high. Best they be kept separate, but they are more logical teams than the countries created after World War I.
Welfare recipients, the highly taxed, freedom loving libertarians, fiscal hawks, the laissez-faire, Keynesians, big government fans, no government fans, right to lifers and right to choosers are reliable sources of anger that might well be considered in creating the new teams. That would also open more slots for the formerly American.
One percenters might have a role in team ownership though young Wall Streeters could join them as players.
The “Olympic movement” has much to learn from those who devote their lives to wringing political contributions out of the disinterested. Nothing like a good rivalry to get the money flowing.
We’re number one, but who is we?