Within the past fourteen months we’ve seen the U.S. defeated in two bids for major global competitions. Last year losing out to Rio in the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, and this past week losing out to Qatar in the bid for the 2022 FIFA Soccer World Cup. And track and field sits in the stands without even submitting bids for the World Championships.
Sadly for America’s sporting community, these things are announced in the media and seemingly quickly forgotten. As America seems to have lost it’s appetite for “Olympic oriented” sports with the NBA, NFL, and MLB filling their sporting plates – not to mention huge sides of golf and NASCAR.
While many reading this blog weren’t even born, there was a time when “Olympic” sports were a major part of this country. A time when America truly cared about what was going on with Mark Spitz, Dorothy Hamil, Edwin Moses, Evelyn Ashford and Carl Lewis. A time when winning Olympic medals was paramount – when the US v USSR in basketball and the “Miracle on Ice” were as important as the World Series and the Super Bowl.
I’m sure many of you are asking: when was that? Well, it was during the “Cold War”. A period of time when there were two primary “Super Powers” in the world – the United States and the Soviet Union. Two nations on opposite sides of the table ideologically and both with the resources and military might to do serious damage to the other. Which, ironically, kept both from going to war – because neither wanted to be annihilated!
Yet we did wage war. It just wasn’t on the battle field – hence the term “Cold War”. Instead we waged a war to prove which “system” was better – Communism or Capitalism. A war that fueled the race to space; advances in medicine and science; and tremendous technological gains. But the real “soldiers” in this war became the athletes of both countries – as the head to head battles took place on basketball courts, in swimming pools and on tracks – the battle grounds of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union put tons of human and financial resources into the development of its athletics teams. And while the U.S. was not as heavily financially invested much more support was given to Olympic sports during this period because, after all, these athletes became the face of the country to the world and their success was truly the nations success, or failure.
With the death of the Cold War in the 90’s, and after the huge success of the Atlanta Olympics, it seems to me that we have gotten further and further away from that sense of “national pride” that participating in, and hosting, global events used to bring to this country. While, ironically, it seems that other nations seem to have developed the view that these things are VERY important to their global images.
Small countries like South Korea and Qatar have very little athletic clout, yet view hosting global events important to their countries. On the flip side, burgeoning world power China deems it important that the world come visit them so that they can show the world who and what they are – global public relations!
In the last decade, the U.S. has taken many “hits” on the global stage – our “image” taking a beating in everything from athletics to politics. With the rest of the world looking to “sports” as a national marketing tool, perhaps it is time for the U.S. to get back to that Cold War mentality and look at our “Olympic oriented sports” athletes as our global ambassadors – and our showings in global events as a measure of our relative “strength” as a nation. Not just “physical” strength, but strength of country – as in how well we can develop, and support our athletic “army”.
We have invested hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars into “bailing” out the financial and auto industries. Perhaps a collective of these corporations could be called upon to invest in America. My thought being that between them they could be coaxed into funding (or advancing a long term loan) for the development of a National Sporting Center capable of hosting an Olympics – and by default a World Championships, World Cup, World Swimming Championships, or World Gymnastics Championships, to name a few events. These corporations could in turn be paid back through the revenues derived from these events – not to mention the potential of lease arrangements with professional sports teams depending on where the facility is located (Los Angeles is looking for an NFL team). After all it was our collective dollars that kept them afloat, and in the words of JFK, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
Just a thought. After all what’s a hundred million dollars or so per company, when they’ve been advanced hundreds of billions? Imagine what sort of complex could be put together for say five to ten billion dollars. More importantly, the U.S. needs to get back to having a global presence other than our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Cold War or not, sports STILL plays a huge roll in global perception – and we are still a major player on the planet and could use a shot in the arm in public relations. Just something to think on.