They cancel Olympics, don’t they?



Last time I checked, they hadn’t cancelled the 2020/2021 Tokyo games yet. Maybe today they will – or maybe the next year’s Chinese winter edition will be cancelled. At least the head of Finnish Athletics Federation would love to see the modern Olympic games scrapped for good.

Yes, that’s right, you didn’t hallucinate, there’s no mistake in the sentence above. The athletics boss in the country of Olympic greats such as Paavo Nurmi and Lasse Viren has assumed the role of a rigorous critic of sport. Born in 1987, Sami Itani represented Finland in decathlon a decade ago; at the age of thirty, his doctoral dissertation came out as a textbook (The Ideological Evolution of Human Resource Management, 2017) after which he was elected as head of the so-called athletics family here in Finland.

This summer Dr Itani has granted a couple of interviews in which he appears to have adopted some of the theses of leading critics of sport. Anyone remember the French ultra-left academics such as Jean-Marie Brohm? If not, at least Henning Eichberg should be a familiar figure to my esteemed readers.

According to Itani, the expiry date of modern Olympics passed a long time ago. Corruption is rampant among the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), human rights issues are routinely dismissed, only dictatorships seem to be still keen on hosting the wasteful games which are thoroughly incompatible with sustainable development. And then there are topical pandemic-related problems, but they have nothing to do with Itani’s principled criticism of the Olympic juggernaut.

Japan, of course, is anything but a dictatorship. Yet the Tokyo games were solemnly opened in the face of overwhelming opposition of the Japanese taxpayers. How come? Because the mafia-like IOC can challenge and overpower almost any earthly institution, including one of the world’s greatest democracies, opines Sami Itani.

As the academic critics of sport can readily attest, there are consequences for speaking one’s mind. ”Today they call me a communist, tomorrow a capitalist,” Itani has summarized the rather predictable feedback. ”I consider myself as a pretty humane person who always sides with the underdog.”

(Care to guess whether Itani journeyed to Japan to cheer for Finnish athletes? A hint: he gave a wide berth to the 2019 World Athletics championships hosted by the not-so-humane State of Qatar.)

In fairness, I shouldn’t omit to add that Itani still subscribes to the supposedly benign ”original ideas” of modern Olympics, or modern sport tout court. As soon as he gives up on the somewhat naive but widely shared temptation, the godfathers of twenty-first century Olympia may no longer wish to have him inside the tent pissing in. Scholars of sport with intact critical faculties: be prepared to welcome Dr Itani into the fold!


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