U.S. Olympic rower Megan Kalmoe doesn’t want to talk about water quality anymore. As she explained on her blog, journalists are ruining the 2016 Olympic games by being “fixated on shit in the water.”
We are American, and we are going to Rio to represent you in this potentially flawed and imperfect setting that you are trying so desperately to get the public to love to hate. We are going to compete for medals to bring them home to you, and for you so that the US has a good shot at winning the medal tally again in Rio. We go to Rio and face incredible odds, some of us, for you so that you will be proud of us, and proud of supporting Team USA. We are supposed to be a Team–all of us–and those of you covering our stories, and those of you resting comfortably in your intellectual armchairs are supposed to have our backs. All of us owe something to our nation for getting us this far, or for believing in us, and competing under our shared colors is our way of expressing our gratitude to you. So tell me again why you want to talk about poop? . . .
I will row through shit for you, America.
Kalmoe and her fellow participants are, by her own admission, experts on only one thing: their performance.
Unfortunately, what she doesn’t take into account is the real shit in the water: the financing of the International Olympic Committee. That’s what makes it difficult for both viewers like me and athletes like her.
As the Washington Post explains, Olympic executives cash in on a “Movement” (as in “the Olympic Movement”) that keeps athletes poor. It’s just like any other modern capitalist corporation: the athletes do most of the work (in the water and on the fields) and receive little by way of compensation (especially the ones who are not stars in major, televised sports), while the national and international board members and executives walk away with much of the surplus the athletes produce.
At the very top of “the Movement” sits the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit run by a “volunteer” president who gets an annual “allowance” of $251,000 and lives rent-free in a five-star hotel and spa in Switzerland.
At the very bottom of “the Movement” — beneath the IOC members who travel first-class and get paid thousands of dollars just to attend the Olympics, beneath the executives who make hundreds of thousands to organize the Games, beneath the international sports federations, the national sport federations and the national Olympic committees and all of their employees — are the actual athletes whose moments of triumph and pain will flicker on television screens around the globe starting Friday. . .
But by the time that flood of cash flows through the Movement and reaches the athletes, barely a trickle remains, often a few thousand dollars at most. For members of Team USA — many of whom live meagerly off the largesse of friends and family, charity, and public assistance — the biggest tangible reward they’ll receive for making it to Rio will be two suitcases full of free Nike and Ralph Lauren clothing they are required to wear at all team events.
In the words of its charter, the Olympic Movement is devoted “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society.” To an increasingly vocal and active group of current and former Olympic athletes in the United States, however, the Movement is a vast, global bureaucracy that treats athletes like replaceable cogs, restricting their income without fear of reprisal from a workforce unable, or unwilling, to unionize.
“The athletes are the very bottom of a trickle-down system, and there’s just not much left for us,” said Cyrus Hostetler, 29, a Team USA javelin thrower and two-time Olympian who said the most he’s ever made in one year in his career, after expenses, is about $3,000. “They take care of themselves first, and us last.”
That means Kalmoe and her fellow athletes will be forced to row through lots of shit, competing to take home a medal, while those who run the International Olympic Committee will stay dry and clean, guaranteed to take home a large share of the surplus.