The unhappy deprivation of live television coverage of the Rio Olympics for Singaporeans confirms an ugly reality of today's Games: Money is replacing participation as the prime driver of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC's) efforts.
The synchronised harmony that many expect between the Games and its global audience stems from its idealisation as the Earth's most complete sporting event both in terms of skills and global inclusivity. Now, one is discombobulated to find an inverse relationship in place. The more the IOC tries to monetise the Games, the less global its outreach and the lower its quality for the people who matter as much as the athletes - sports fans.
Mediacorp's refusal to ante up the reported US$6 million (S$8 million, or more than twice what it paid for the 2012 Games) for live broadcasting rights illustrates the perversion of Olympic ideals by commerce. Coughing up the money sought by Dentsu, the IOC's middleman and Japan's largest advertising agency, means a loss for Mediacorp as it's unlikely to recoup the cost of paying roughly $500,000 daily for live feeds of the two-week event.
Even the IOC's live broadcasting handouts - the opening and closing ceremonies - are influenced by commercial concerns. The IOC's willingness to let prices for live sports content keep rising has reached a point where the authorities here are indicating enough is enough. It's "neither prudent nor value-for-money to spend more and more on escalating rights fees", said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. IOC might get the message only when officials of other nations adopt a similar stance.
Whether or not fans in Singapore get a last-minute reprieve - through a white knight sponsor from the private sector - to let them enjoy the Games in real time, one thing is clear: the Olympic ideal of "Citius, Altius, Fortius" is not what it used to be. Quite apart from the efforts of outstanding athletes who are able to participate in the Games, what is indeed growing "faster, higher, stronger" is the Olympic dollar.