Saturday, October 13, 2007

Marion Jones demonized by big business sports

Published Oct 13, 2007

Marion Jones was the first woman to ever win five Olympic medals. In stellar performances, Jones, one of the best track-and-field athletes in the world, won these prizes at the Sydney summer games in 2000.

But no matter how high she rose and how much she accomplished, Jones was not immune from the racism faced by athletes who are from oppressed communities. Having been singled out by the federal government in an investigation into BALCO, a company that made or supplied performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, she became the first athlete to be convicted in this case.

On Oct. 5, after being constantly hounded, harassed and intimidated for years, Jones pleaded guilty to perjury to federal agents about use of performance-enhancing substances. She faces imprisonment. On Oct. 8, Jones turned in her hard-earned medals to Olympics officials.

The media have relentlessly pursued and vilified Jones in the most callous way, whipping up racism and sexism in the process.

Worn down by the unrelenting pressure, Jones tearfully announced that she was retiring from track and field, which she loves.

But there is much more to her situation than the official story.

The Olympics, although touted as a fair-playing field where the best world athletes show their skills and compete, is big business. Billions of dollars are at stake. Corporations invest millions to reap billions. The 11 top sponsors of the Sydney Olympics, which included McDonald’s, Nike and Coca-Cola, paid a total of $605 million.

From 2002 to 2006, the International Olympics Committee took in nearly $4 billion, much of it from corporate sponsors. Other funds come from broadcasting rights and licensing fees.

Networks pay millions of dollars for exclusive broadcasting rights; NBC alone is expected to pay $894 million to show the 2008 games in Beijing.

But the athletes are paid nothing. They are regarded as workers, as a means to make mega-profits for the International Olympics Committee and its corporate backers. The IOC, a reactionary body that has profited from the athletes’ labor, seeks to maintain absolute control over all of the world games’ participants. It has no sympathy for the athletes. At any moment, the IOC can quickly turn against them.

Yet every athlete trains for years for these games. Athletes are pressured to push themselves to their maximum endurance, to compete at the most intense level, and to do anything to get an edge over their competitors—at all costs, even endangering their own health, all in order to bring home Olympic gold.

It is widely known that the use of performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids, is rampant throughout the sports world at every level, especially at the top. This phenomenon is worldwide. The Olympic Games are no exception. These drugs which bring in massive profits for the big pharmaceutical companies are readily available, even through the internet.

This is what sports competitions under capitalism look like.

Misplacing blame

It is the athletes from oppressed communities who face the most scrutiny, no matter how talented, wealthy, or adored by their fans. They are in the greatest danger of government prosecution and ostracism by the sports industry for any alleged infraction.

Olympic medalists Ben Johnson and Justin Gatlin are among other Black athletes who have been penalized for allegedly using performance enhancers.

Baseball great and home-run leader Barry Bonds has also been targeted in the BALCO scandal, and may very well be indicted in the near future. He has already been tried and convicted in the media.

The corporate media play a major role in perpetrating the denigration of players of all sports. Instead of looking at the intense pressures athletes are constantly under, news agencies, reporters and sports columnists go on the offensive and try to break them down. They especially malign players from the oppressed communities, whether they’re participating in baseball, football, basketball or the Olympics.

It is an outrage that Marion Jones has been vilified by the media.

Where is the justice here? One of the greatest women athletes of all time has been forced into retirement. Her spirit has been broken. She is financially ruined. And she faces prison.

There should be sympathy, solidarity and respect shown for her.

Those who make enormous profits from the Olympics and all sports, those who pressure young athletes to win at all costs, those who use and then discard and denigrate them—this is who should take the blame for a situation they created.

What’s really needed is for the profit motive to be taken out of sports, including these world games, and for the athletes to be treated with high regard.

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