Ask The Experts: Summer Olympic Socioeconomics

SMU Professor Peter Weyand, one of the world’s foremost experts on human performance, talks about the biggest threat to the Rio Olympics.

By John S Kiernan

To get a better understanding of the Rio Games’ biggest storylines, we posed the following questions to a panel of experts in the fields of sociology, economics, public policy and more. . . 

Peter WeyandPeter Weyand

What do you think is the biggest threat facing the Rio Olympics?

The Rio Olympics face a threat without precedent in the history of the modern Olympics. The threat is at the core of the Olympics raison d'être, or reason for being, and is progressively eroding its competitive and general integrity. The issue is cheating, primarily, but not exclusively, via the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The threat has been steadily driven by professionalism incentivizing cheating at the same time technical advances have availed more powerful ways of doing so. Consequently, the day has long passed when great and inspiring Olympic performances can simply be admired. In today’s environment, they are inevitably doubted.

Is the achieving athlete clean? Is the performance is real?

The integrity problem affects everyone the Olympics touches. Spectators are left to wonder whether they should believe their eyes. Athletes face the quandary of being competitively disadvantaged if they are clean and doubted if they excel. Sport administrators are faced with a scientific and technical challenge they seem unwilling or unable to recognize in its scope and severity.

The trajectory of the endemic integrity problem will determine the form of the modern Olympics - and perhaps that of all high-level sport. A failure to meet the challenge will bring gladiator sport that offers nothing more than entertainment in a debased form. The alternative of a relatively clean and fair sporting future is not an impossibility. However, realizing positive outcomes will require a substantially more aggressive commitment to those ideals the modern Olympics were founded to promote.

Read the other questions and the full story.