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The Future of the Olympics

August 26, 2016

As the Rio Olympics wind down, amongst all the razzle and excitement of medal winners and achievement of all competitors, I wonder if this might be the end of an era? The athletes deserve all our congratulations and admiration. Nothing can take that away from them, or take away from us our appreciation of the Olympic spirit. But the world is changing on so many fronts —

For instance, what will be the impact of the transgender movement? We are seeing the impact in schools, universities and government. How can the traditional divide into men’s and women’s events evolve?

Will the line between para-olympic and Olympic competition blur as artificial legs and arms are developed which perform better than natural ones? Will there be a growth in implant technology which enhances natural limbs or circulation systems? How would these affect selection as an Olympian or Para-olympian competitor? How does this relate to doping, as new ranges of substances are developed which alter performance, but are perhaps not yet under regulation?

Competitors in the Olympics represent their nations. Medal tables show medals per head of population, where New Zealand led, as well as overall, with the US at the top. The medal table is a source of national pride. But in 2016 we saw the first “refugee” team. In previous Olympics athletes have competed for countries they had only recently become a citizen of, but as migration continues, nationality becomes harder to define. Will the medal table become a less meaningful reflection of national capability?

What will become of the “high tech” sports like cycling, sailing, rowing, pole vault, where investment in sports science research into the equipment pays medal dividends? Will we see the sort of regulations covering Formula One which aim to reduce the difference that technology can make?

And what is the future of the equine events with different but also high cost barriers to entry, as the world tilts towards a population of 9 billion, mostly in Asia?

And what about the desire of countries to host an Olympic Games- politically and economically as Brazilians’ boos at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony were followed by, in many cases, the games playing at near empty stadiums?

So, trying to envision the Olympic Games in say 2052, the boundaries will have shifted in so many ways – “interesting times” indeed.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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