Consider the Bible’s Matthew Effect, often interpreted as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” At first this would seem unchristian, hardly of the same school as “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Seen through the lens of life experience, though, the interpretation might become: blessings are not random boons, but the result of virtuous systems, where good habits compound for good, bad compound for bad.

This effect is even seen on the international stage of the Olympics. Sweden, for one, did not, could not, and would not use her state security apparatus as a device for cheating in athletics to achieve national prestige. Russia did. Sweden scores very well on indexes of corruption, Russia very poorly. South Korea scores very well on corruption indexes, Brazil very poorly. South Korea has risen from a poor country, not too long ago poorer than Brazil, to a rich one on the strength of her Matthew-like leverage of a system for compounding good. So, South Korea gets clean and healthy Olympics. Brazil gets useless infrastructure, already rotting away from neglect, as if artifacts of some long dead advanced civilization.

With poverty and dysfunction of the Brazilian level, the imagination is beggared by the blessings to the Brazilian people that money might have otherwise brought; governance on the up-and-up does not fall like a random boon either.

Another paradox: with the International Olympic Committee watchmen party to the corruption, the nations that live by rules, the low-corruption ones, are dropping out of the Olympic hosting grift. There were only two candidates for the winter games of 2022: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China. The evolution is that nations accountable to their people are politically unable to participate in the abuse. So the force of the grift moves on to pluck those even more vulnerable to the corruption; the poor get poorer. Now we have the incredible situation of the body representing amateur athletics holding immense power, and in its use, somehow stands in the same league of the ethically compromised as Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

With predictability as depressing as the decaying infrastructure, outrages under the distorting cloak of Olympic power occur against athletes, now including sexual assault. The effect is that the new scandals paper over the last round perpetrated on the tax payers of Brazil. Anytime a sex predator gets away with scores and scores of offenses, look for the distorting cloak of power, be it Joe Paterno at Penn State (hard to see the physics department getting away with the same thing), or the Catholic Church. Again, there is that power-bloat/amateur creed paradox.

Abuse in macro, abuse in micro: the movie Icarus (highly recommended) strongly makes the case that the technology of cheating, i.e. drug-doping, is so far ahead of the technology of anti-doping that it seems only cultural ethics can stand between the two. This brings us round to the second paragraph as to why athletes steeped in cultural corruption abuse performance enhancing drugs over those from less corrupt nations (although not always – lookin’ at you Lance Armstrong). The doping scandals that emerged in the 2018 winter games involved – who else – Russia. So, it’s cultural ethics, the Matthew Effect, not the IOC or the World Doping Agency, that really are the enforcers of the amateur ideal in Olympic competition, and against the institutional guardian, the IOC. And it’s for the best of reasons: high functioning nations are that way because of the cooperation gained by having regard for the sanctity of the individual, as such. We do not sacrifice our athletes’ futures for momentary reflected glory. This is the true amateur ideal as worshipped by the Greek forbears of the Olympics.

It should inform thinking of the paradox between the mission of the International Olympic Committee in fostering amateur sport, overlaid with corruption manageable only by truly professional political bloat-brokers, that the gag was innovated by the Nazis. Despite being mortal enemies, dictators do learn from each other, so the Olympic “glorious nation” trick was cribbed by Russians for their invasion of Ukraine. Now, the paradox winds up that the IOC, in serving its institutional bloat over its core mission, becomes cover for the most blatant violation of the post-Cold-War order since the collapse of the USSR. Pretty impressive havoc and chaos from such a niche institution which really should be nothing but a sinecure.

A hopeful outcome from this Olympic go-around is that with the television revenue so “off” there will be far less fuel for the grifters to grow fat on. They may starve away. My reading of so many of the comments sections in web-based Olympic coverage is that people really have had a belly-full of Olympic politicization. Again, here is the Matthew Effect: to Americans, politics means frustration, e.g. Mike Pence’s deviation from his role as Vice President, which has always been to grin, press flesh and cut ribbons without creating incidents… and not, needless to say, antagonize nuclear-armed Bond villains. But for Ukrainians, politics means war with Russia. With the beast starved, maybe one day the celebration will return to a modest, amateur, apolitical sporting ideal.

This was all covered in these pages during the summer games in Brazil. No saying of sooths was required to predict the repeat of the pattern. I can publish this column before the Winter games commence in Beijing and be equally outraged and prescient.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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