The downhill decline of the Olympics

Connor Van Hulzen – Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

Growing up, the Olympics always managed to catch my attention. In an era of generational athletes like Usain Bolt, Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, and Michael Phelps, audiences were glued to their seats to watch the world’s best perform on the biggest stage.

However, recent news indicates the reign of the Olympics as one of the premier events in sports entertainment may be coming to an end.

NBC reported the Opening Ceremony of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics achieved an audience of 16 million people across both television and streaming services. This data comes as a significant decrease in viewers based on the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang,  South Korea in 2018 (28.3 million viewers) and is a record low for an Olympic Opening Ceremony, unseating the 1988 Opening Ceremony in Calgary (20.1 million viewers).

This problem may not be limited to the Winter Olympics, however. NBC also reported a substantial decrease in viewership during the recent Summer Olympics in Tokyo. When compared to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Tokyo Olympics’ total viewership decreased by 24 percent, from 198 million in 2016 to 150 million in 2021.

Have American audiences become less and less interested in watching the Olympics? Are the Winter Olympics inferior to their Summer counterpart?

Kevin Slice, a senior, thinks so: “The Winter Olympics specifically are bland. There are fewer sports and fewer countries represented. There is less athletic talent on display because the sports included in the Winter Olympics are just not as accessible as those in the Winter Olympics.”

The evidence backs up Slice’s perspective. Eighty-four countries are participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics, where 109 championship events will take place across 15 sports. Meanwhile, the 2021 Summer Olympics featured teams from 206 countries, with 339 championship events taking place across 33 sports.

Clay Baas, a junior, however, remains a staunch supporter of the Winter Olympics: “I am passionate about the Winter Olympics because they never get the love they deserve. Everyone loves the Summer Olympics, but I feel that the sports in the Summer Olympics are sports that are already popular all year long. The same cannot be said about the majority of events in the Winter Olympics, even though they are just as competitive and entertaining.”

In a world where each Olympics seems to set a new low for viewership, what remains to keep Americans entertained? Is a lack of big names and star power the reason for an ever-decreasing interest in the games? Or might it be something else?

Baas offered a potential reason why Americans may be tuning the Olympic Games out now more than ever: “I would not, however, disagree with the claim that the quality of the Olympics as an organized event has decreased. There is too much petty politics involved, with countries throwing fits about who’s hosting and who’s participating and boycotting the games.”

As the world navigates geopolitical landmines and controversy after controversy, one of the most important exhibitions of human talent has begun to fall by the wayside. While the Winter Olympics already received less love than their Summer counterpart on a large scale, perhaps the Olympics as a whole are deserving of a much needed shake-up in order to bring back the days of Shaun White, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps.

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