Magazine article Newsweek International

Will Athens Shine? the Big Sports Machines Share an Increasingly Businesslike Model. That Could Make These Games Cleaner and Fairer Than Any in Recent Memory

Magazine article Newsweek International

Will Athens Shine? the Big Sports Machines Share an Increasingly Businesslike Model. That Could Make These Games Cleaner and Fairer Than Any in Recent Memory

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Emerson (With Kathryn Williams in New York and Stefan Theil in Berlin)

For tourists now descending on Athens, it may matter that the Greeks failed to finish the roof on the Olympic swimming pool. That ticket sales disappoint. That troops from 16 NATO nations are in place for the opening ceremonies Friday, a reminder that clashing ideologies threaten the Games once again. But so long as those forces see no action, the billions who will watch only on TV could witness the Olympic spectacle of their lives. For the further the cold war recedes, the less angry and divisive the Games become. Wasn't Sydney 2000 grand?

Athens could be even better. Politics no longer divide the big powers sharply enough to reach the field of play. All the major teams are products of unique national spins on the global move to free-market reform. At one extreme, the United States uses a venture-capital model, picking winners from among business plans pitched by individual sports authorities. Germany has introduced performance bonuses to resharpen the competitive edge of a team that won mainly bronze in Sydney. Russia is rebuilding Soviet-era sports programs with a distinct emphasis on favorites of its president (and judo enthusiast), Vladimir Putin. Even in China, the last of the big communist state powers, Nike is a major team sponsor.

Every big power now sees the Games essentially as a business, battling over medals as a company battles for sales, says Helmut Digel, head of the Sports Science Institute at Tubingen University. …

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