The Winter Olympics leave much to be desired

Beijing Olympic viewership was the worst the Winter Games have ever posted

For most of my life, the Winter Olympic Games took priority in my habitual consumption of sports, no matter where they were being held or what event I was watching. As I got older, I gradually became less obsessed as my schedule swelled and my responsibilities grew, but I still found ways to temporarily set aside personal matters when the Winter Games rolled around. 

My steadily developing indifference for the global competition peaked with the conclusion of this year’s Beijing Games on Sunday, which I kept myself up-to-date with, moreso to fulfill my obligation as an informed and aspiring sports journalist than for any other reason. As a sports enthusiast however, I never bought into this year’s Games.

The truth is, there was way more at stake than sports. A diplomatic boycott from Canada, the U.S., and other nations ahead of the Beijing Games made the product tough to swallow from the onset, and put the athletes from these countries in a burdensome dilemma. Ultimately, the athletes should be put in a position to solely focus on the crafts that they’ve dedicated their lives to. Instead, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the Games to an authoritarian nation, prioritizing the thickness of their wallets and showing no regard for anyone else. 

Across the board, TV ratings are steadily dropping as the television landscape is altered and impacted by the evolution of streaming services, but ratings for the Beijing Games in Canada were historically underwhelming, and the controversial decision to proceed with the Games with a half-measure boycott surely played a role. 

In the end, Canada earned four gold medals and totalled 26 for the Games despite the unfortunate circumstances and ongoing COVID-19 complications. The women’s hockey team, led by Marie-Philip Poulin, claiming another gold medal over the U.S. and Charles Hamelin earning his fourth gold medal (sixth total) in the men’s 5000m short track speed skating relay were the biggest draws and highlights for most Canadians, including myself. 

Considering how difficult it is to qualify for the Olympics, and how infrequently the Games occur, it’s a shame for the competitors above all else. An athletes’ athletic prime window is short, and the four year hiatus between Olympics makes it laborious to contend for medals in multiple Games. The athletes still got to perform this year, but they didn’t get the attention and recognition that they deserved. 

Ongoing North American sports leagues probably didn’t help the Winter Olympics and its viewership. The Super Bowl in the NFL, the NBA’s All-Star weekend and it’s memorable 75th anniversary celebration, and the NHL pulling out of Olympic men’s hockey gave sports fans plenty of alternative viewing options.

While one could argue that there is an overall downturn in Olympic viewership, TV ratings for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea were nearly double that of the Games in Beijing. Audiences aren’t necessarily tired of the Olympics, but they are conscious of how its location aligns with what the Olympics should stand for.

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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