Road To London: Show Them The Money?

by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor

We are just over 100 days away from the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Usain Bolt is already appearing on every TV commercial and billboard in the country, Londoners are being warned about travel chaos when the Games hit town, and I still don’t have tickets. It’s a great time to be here.

It has been a headline-packed few weeks since the last Road To London post, and with plenty to talk about, let’s get right to it.

Show Them The Money?

As you will have all seen, commented on, and tweeted about, the big talking point over the last week was whether guys should get paid for playing ball at the Olympics—kicked off by Ray Allen, and taken on by Dwyane Wade.

Here’s what DWade said, in case you missed it:

‘It’s a lot of things you do for the Olympics—a lot of jerseys you sell,’ Wade said. ‘We play the whole summer. I do think guys should be compensated. Just like I think college players should be compensated as well. Unfortunately, it’s not there. But I think it should be something, you know, there for it … The biggest thing is now you get no rest,’

‘So you go to the end of the season, (Team USA) training camp is two weeks later. You’re giving up a lot to do it. It’s something you want to do. But it’s taxing on your body. You’re not playing for the dollar. But it would be nice if you would get compensated.’

To be fair to Wade, he then took to Twitter to clarify:

“I responded 2 a specific question asked by a reporter on my thoughts of Olympians being paid. I never asked to be paid to PLAY.”

“What I was referencing is there is a lot of Olympic business that happens that athletes are not a part of—and it’s a complicated issue.”

“BUT my love 4 the game & pride 4 USA motivates me more than any $$$ amount. I repped my country in 2004 when we won the bronze medal and stood proudly to receive our gold medal in 2008 in Beijing. It’s always been an honor for me to be a part of the USA Olympic family and I’m looking forward to doing it again in London this summer.”

I’m not going to jump on the guy—although he probably should have dodged the question, as teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh both managed to do when asked the same thing—but Wade is right, it is a complicated issue

To me, there are two sides to this. The first is around getting paid to play basketball at the Olympics.

The Olympics are the purest expression of sporting achievement. I think most, if not all athletes would agree that participating in the Olympics should be about the personal pride of having represented your country, your family, your home town and anyone who has helped you become an elite athlete, in front of billions of people. And that’s exactly the same whether you play basketball or soccer, run the hundred meters, swim, or ride bikes around a track.

So no, guys shouldn’t get paid for the physical act of playing basketball at the Olympic Games, they should be honored to get the opportunity.

The other side of the argument, the one that Wade hinted at, is one that people seem less keen to acknowledge because it dirties the purity of the Games.

The Olympics are a money making machine, the biggest money making machine in all of sports—bringing in billions of dollars for the host city, broadcasters, and a host of brands who clamor to be a part of the circus. Replica jerseys and apparel, shoes, and merchandise are big business. The London Organizing Committee has a revenue target of $1.5 billion for merchandise alone, and adidas paid $150 million to be an official 2012 sponsor.

By playing (and winning) at the Olympics, guys like Dwyane, LeBron and Derrick Rose are chalking up huge sales for the Organizing Committee, adidas, Nike and anyone else with a logo on a shoe or shirt this summer. In any other situation, that contribution would be recognized. Do they actually need a cut of profits? No, they are multi-millionaires, that is why it gets the rest of us fired up. Do they deserve a cut? Arguably, yes.

Beef alert: Russia vs Great Britain

There was a time when it looked unlikely that Great Britain would be represented in the Olympic basketball competition this summer. To a lot of people it’s probably news that Great Britain even has a basketball team. But, after a lengthy campaign, they got approval from FIBA to take the ‘host nation’ spot in the final twelve—great news for Luol Deng and his team, and all UK hoops fans.

Not such great news for the team who’s spot at the Olympics Great Britain took—Russia, who would ordinarily have gained automatic qualification for finishing third at last summer’s European Championships, and now has to go through a qualification tournament.

Russia’s head coach, David Blatt, is not exactly cool with the situation, and told Ria Novosti:

“Only because the Olympics are in London this year, the British team received a free pass, and that was at our expense, basically,” Blatt said. Asked whether he felt the British deserved the berth as Olympic host, he replied: “Sports-wise, no.”

“That’s the politics of the situation, and that’s what it is. It’s part of the picture, not a whole lot that I can do about it.”

As a normal person with the ability to use reason and logic, I totally agree with Blatt. Great Britain are probably not good enough to play at the Olympics, and there are several teams that, in a basketball sense, deserve to be there more than them. As a basketball fan who happens to be British, I’m not so sympathetic. We’re the host nation. We have a basketball team. That team gets to play at the event, like every host team has, ever. Sorry, Russia. Maybe see you in the summer.

Weird Olympic Merchandise #3

We’ve all been there. You’ve had a crazy day at the office. You get home, kick back in front of the women’s weight lifting, and sip a glass of fine cognac, poured straight from your official London 2012 Union Jack Crystal Decanter.

Best of the Rest

Adidas launched their Olympic #takethestage campaign in the UK last week with a cool TV spot featuring Derrick Rose, David Beckham, and a bunch of famous British people. Check it here.

Rajon Rondo has no interest in playing this summer. Ever.

Who’d have thought a shy guy like Shaq would still be in the headlines after retiring? This time, the big fella is criticising the US team for lack of fundamentals.

Good news for Doug Collins fans, bad news for Evan Turner. The Sixers coach will be a game analyst for NBC this summer

James Bond will officially open the games, obviously.

Ben Gordon will make his long awaited debut for Great Britain this summer, joined by fellow new boy Byron Mullens.

Last month we got to see the new Nike USA jerseys, this month we saw the new adidas Great Britain uniforms, designed by Stella McCartney. The response wasn’t entirely positive, with some people wanting to know why there was a distinct lack of red.

A cool sounding hoops movie to look forward to this summer – The Other Dream Team, the story of the Lithuanian team from the ’92 Olympics, hit Sundance Film Festival and got great reviews. Find out more here.