The Olympics are the world stage for countries’ most prided athletes. Superhuman-like individuals train their entire lives to earn a spot at the games, and when they do, their home country’s heart is in their hands. The Olympics however are also dark in nature as they foster an environment in which people from the host country are pushed into poverty and displaced. Natives and visitors alike are forced into human trafficking to entertain wealthy guests, and humans are overtly exploited at their own expense. The problems exist on such a scale that it would be impossible to discuss the many negative aspects of the impact of the games on innocent people. And though citizens of host countries are typically focused on, athletes too, are exploited at their detriment. This is particularly true with children representing countries with considerably ‘rogue’ or corrupt regimes, however, The United States is just as guilty.
Thailand’s favorite sport, Muay Thai has a 700 year old history, but it’s only getting darker. The sport fosters brutal fighting as fighters are, by the rules, allowed to use virtually every part of their body. Legs, arms, knees, and fists, are all tools in the vicious ring. Thailand is attempting to enter the Olympic games with Muay Thai as a sport, however, children are a crucial part of this endeavour as it requires training from birth. The children fighters are typically under the age out 16, participate in ameature games, and suffer tremendous injuries, with brain damage as a somewhat prevalent consequence.
Chinese participants are also subject to despair both during and after their participation in the Olympics. These young individuals, sometimes younger than even 16, are pressured into extreme measures such as performance enhancing drugs, and are said to be “brutalized”. According to The Nation, “Executive Director of the American Swim Coaches Association John Leonard called Shiwen’s world-record 400-meter individual medley swim “disturbing.” He is also continuing to describe her closing freestyle leg of 58.68 seconds as “impossible.”” which of course is reflective of severe practices that are to the detriment of the athlete and the benefit of the adult in charge of them. Additionally, China’s state-run system of athletics makes for a hostile and coercive environment in which children’s inherent rights are abused and ignored entirely. Many believe that China’s extreme treatment toward their athlete children is merely a means to assert China’s dominance economically, further using medal counts to show their power, “China is the chief economic rival in the world to the United States. Just like during the cold war, the Olympics have become a proxy war where “medal counts” connote more than bragging rights but are a comment on the health of a nation.” The lack of regard for children for the bettering of the country’s economic status (at the children’s expense) is in and of itself an unethical practice- especially because the Olympics enables the problem.
The issues seen in both Thailand and China make a case against the absurdly cruel treatment toward children, yet, those countries only represent a small portion of the problem. The United States, even in its ‘let freedom ring’ glory, unfairly treats the children representing them.
Children in the United States, or any athletes participating in the Olympics, have absolutely no state subsidies (unlike China) and are thus subject to a life threatening reality: poverty. This issue is often overlooked as images of American athletes tend to glamourize the sport and all that it entails, but the problems nonetheless exist. Unfortunately, the tales of sorrow are seldom told and individuals who represent The United States and stand before crowds often face severe dilemmas upon returning from their quest as an Olympic athlete, “When we hear that swimmer Ryan Lochte’s parents are facing foreclosure on their home, or that track star Lolo Jones’s family was homeless, or that gymnast Gabby Douglas was sent from her mother in Virginia Beach to live with strangers at the age of 14, those are tales of heroism and sacrifice.” and this is just as bad as a Chinese child being forced into the sport, because suffering cannot be measured. In the United States one of the most prevalent issues that arises with young athletes is abuse from coaches. This is especially true when looking at swimming, where coaches are known to “molest young swimmers and then move from town to town, escaping criminal charges and continuing to victimize other under-aged swimmer”. Again, these children are broadcasted universally looking like kids while facing very dark and adult situations. Moreover, because these coaches move frequently from town to town, it’s all too obvious that the problem is exacerbated each time their criminal abuse is not reported.
Gymnastics in The United States are a dark hole of abuse, self harm, and hopelessness for the gymnasts themselves. Like other athletes, they are trained at the youngest age possible and their lives become the sport. For some gymnasts however, the sport becomes them and they are the ones who end up in detrimental situations. Author Joan Ryan writes, “ “What I found was a story about legal, even celebrated child abuse… Girls who broke their necks and backs. One who so desperately sought the perfect, weightless gymnastic body that she starved herself to death.” describing the extreme circumstances girls face when participating in a cut throat sport. She explains that these girls literally cut themselves with dull razors, experience broken families – and links much of this to the pressure them and their families face because of the sport.
While the world loves to critique the practices of countries like China or Russia or Thailand, they need to take a step back and take a look at the globe’s superpower – The United States. Discussed in this paper were only aspects of gymnastics and swimming on the US national front, but the abuse and detriment seen in these sports can be applied across the board. Even the most ideal athletes who proceed to have reality shows like Ryan Lochte, experience severe hardship because of the mistreatment toward them. Their medals shine on stages and they later return to a harsh reality where they must face the problems of their pasts and usually, their futures as well.
“Is the US Olympic System as Abusive as China’s?” The Nation. N.p., 09 Aug. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.
“Child Fighters Exposed to Exploitation” ESPN 05 Nov. 2013. Web. 21. Apr. 2016