As the Paris Olympics Promise New Ambition, Old Anxieties Intensify
PARIS — A parade with 11,000 cheering spectators, a spectacular show of ancient Greek and Italian art, and a program that includes music from the Renaissance and the sound of birdsong are all part of the Olympic legacy.
Yet no one here would describe the 2014 Games as anything but a spectacle. And as the world’s attention becomes focused on the Summer Games in Spain, and the Olympics in Sochi in 2014, what will those Games really mean?
For the host country, the Games promise to be a grand finale for an Olympic program that has been in steady decline in the last half century, as the Games have become less and less meaningful to the world, and have become less and less about the Olympic movement itself.
But for the Olympic movement, the Games promise a return to history with a new, far more ambitious conception of what makes an Olympic Games and the Olympics possible: a world-class city built around the Games themselves, in a way that brings the Olympic ideals directly into the world.
That vision, at least, is still being discussed here and in other countries around the world.
This week, in his last address to the IOC in London, President Jacques Rogge promised a new vision of Olympics.
“The Olympics are not just the pinnacle of sport in any country, they bring a people together from all over the world,” he said. “Today that is more important than ever before. The history of the Olympics shows that countries, cities, are able to rise above their economic, political and even religious differences and come together at a time of great social importance.”
It is a vision that reflects a profound shift in thinking among Olympic leaders. The Olympics have been changing dramatically over the last half century. In the past five Olympiads, the event has grown more expensive, and had more athletes in more events than ever before. In 1964, at the first modern Olympic Games, there were more than 100,000 athletes from around the world participating in six Olympic sports.
Today, there are around 3,200 athletes competing in 10 sports. But those sports still number fewer than half of the Olympic sports, and the proportion of athletes