Wednesday April 9th, 2008

There is something wonderfully ironic about the Olympic torch, which is making its journey around the world with what appears to be, a big "KICK ME" sign on it for China.

Ah, what goes around ...

The torch was conjured up out of whole cloth by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Games, and then embedded in our dreamy Olympic consciousness by the magnificent gossamer photography of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite movie maker. Now, three-quarters of a century later, the torch has come back as an unexpected curse to haunt another totalitarian government to which the International Olympic Committee has hitched its wagon.

The ignominy that China is going to endure with protests, which will cling like moths to the torch e're it goes, will far exceed whatever positive attention China might receive when the Olympics are in the world limelight for a fortnight in the dead of summer.

The reflected heat from the torch uproar will also help expose what a humbug the IOC can be. This is the organization that loves to call itself a "movement." Come on, would we accept it at face value if baseball commissioner Bud Selig stood up and crowed about the "Major League Baseball Movement?" Would we bow our heads if Mayor Oscar Goodman asked us to pay homage to the "Las Vegas Strip Movement?" Get serious.

There's no real difference, but only the IOC still calls itself a movement and gets away with it. Hey, it's no more than an international cartel that puts on a big show every four years. It's just NASCAR with accents. And to tell you the truth, I think the Olympics are yesterday's party. Once upon a time -- before globalism and jet airplanes and cyberspace -- bringing athletes together quadrennially in one place might have made sense. Today, it's an unnecessary excess. And while insular Americans may not understand this, soccer's World Cup has become much more important to many more people worldwide.

The Olympics has really ended up as a festival for those sports that nobody much cares about for the other three years and 50 weeks. The showcase is track and field, but how many of you can even name a single American track athlete in this year's Games? How many of you can name a single track athlete from any nation? The Olympics is a symphony orchestra without the violins and brass.

But hooray for all the Olympic athletes. Please, everybody, just threaten to boycott, but let the athletes all go to Beijing and have their day in the smog. It was so unfair when, in 1980, President Carter sacrificed our Olympians to make a point against the Soviet Union. But as the torch wends its way, spreading the bad news, I really think we might be seeing more than a censure of China. We may also be witness to the start of the Olympics' real decline.

I love London. I wish it hadn't got itself stuck with the 2012 Games. I love Chicago. I hope it gets lucky and doesn't get stuck with the 2016 Games. Every dog has its day. No movement is perpetual.

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