Boston 2024 seeks youth groups for dubious ‘Olympic Day’ event

June 19, 2015
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Boston 2024 is inviting local youth organizations to join in a June 23 “Olympic Day” program that claims to encourage sports participation, but also doubles as free Olympic advertising.

Such quasi-educational Olympic programming has been controversial in previous bid cities, and one academic critic tells the Gazette that Boston 2024’s effort is more of the same “propaganda.”

Boston 2024 did not respond to Gazette questions about Olympic Day.

Olympic Day is an in-house holiday created by the International Olympic Committee and overseen by national Olympic organizations. Held on June 23, it celebrates the founding of the modern Olympic Games and claims to promote sports-playing and the Olympic ideals of “fair play, perseverance, respect and sportsmanship.” The celebrations can take a wide variety of forms, and national committees may provide Olympic athletes—or athletes who aspire to be Olympians—for visits with children.

In practice, however, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s version of Olympic Day appears to rely heavily on prefab “branding” of virtually any existing youth sports events from May 31 through July 1. The USOC’s Olympic Day website touts it as a “turnkey” event that provides Olympic gear for the day. “Alignment with the iconic brand of the United States Olympic Committee” is one of the featured benefits.

In exchange, participating organizations provide photos or videos of Olympic-clad kids—materials that the IOC and USOC can use forever for any “noncommercial” purposes the nonprofits choose.

Boston 2024 is focused on this “turnkey” approach, according to a June 1 email sent to a local youth sports organization that the Gazette agreed to keep anonymous. A Boston 2024 official offered to register any of the local group’s events as an Olympic Day program.

“If you send me the information of the event, I can do [the registration] for you, and we would send you a kit with stickers, a flag and a few other items free of charge,” the Boston 2024 email reads. “All you would have to do is send me the information and later send in a photo of your event.”

The email says nothing about what Boston 2024 will do with such photos and makes no mention of the IOC and USOC taking full copyright control of such materials. Boston 2024’s marketing materials for its controversial bid already have heavily used photos of children and young adults in Boston 2024 T-shirts or similar, apparently free, gear. Because Boston 2024 is a nonprofit, that is likely considered a “noncommercial” use.

The Boston 2024 email also said Olympic Day is “meant to promote Olympic values among the kids” and to “help encourage kids to be more involved in sports.”

Helen Lenskyj, a retired University of Toronto professor and an Olympics critic, has written extensively about this type of program in such books as “Olympic Industry Resistance.” Her books report that Olympic organizing committees typically provide schools and youth groups with prefab “educational” materials and events that are uncritical about the Games and show little effect on health, sports participation or other behaviors.

Lenskyj reviewed the USOC’s Olympic Day “toolkit” at the Gazette’s request and declared it “full of Olympic industry propaganda.”

She pointed to the the use of the “‘iconic brand’ as a selling point and referring explicitly to ‘Olympic messaging’ [as] both clearly showing that Olympic Days are tools of the Olympic industry, rather than Olympic sport.”

By “Olympic industry,” Lenskyj means the billions of dollars generated by the IOC through sponsorships, TV rights, marketing and similar activities.

Lenskyj also said there is “limited” or no evidence that such events have any real educational or sports-participation results. She pointed to recent media reports from Britain, where a major selling point for London’s 2012 Olympics was a promised boost in sports participation. After an initial post-Games spike, sports-playing has plummeted, especially among lower-income classes, according to the Guardian and other media.

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