A recent Philadelphia Metro article asks, “What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?” And then answers its own question by providing a series of crotch shots of male athletes competing in events including basketball, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, and wrestling. (The pictures are worth at least the proverbial thousand words.)
If you’ve been watching women’s beach volleyball at this summer’s London Olympic games, you might have noticed that the television coverage of the sport far exceeds the uniform coverage of its athletes. Which, many contend, is why the sport is proving extremely popular with both ticket-buying Olympic attendees, and television viewers across the world. The event is one of NBC’s most viewed (and is therfore slated for prime time coverage every single night – or is it the other way around?), and is drawing among the most expensive ticket prices at this summer’s Olympic games.
“Beach volleyball has rapidly become the second-most-popular Olympic sport,” an Al Jezeera newscast reports, “in terms of ticket demand and television audiences.”
Apparently, if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s our love of women’s beach volleyball.
Or is it? Because the sport, which made its Olympic debut at the 1996 games in Atlanta, is receiving its fair share of criticism this summer, too.
For starters, there are the aforementioned uniforms, which were put into code in 1999 by the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), who declared that men would wear shorts (and the optional t-shirt, or tank top), and women would wear bikinis.
“Federation Internationale de Volleyball,” Jane Fryer notes at England’s Daily Mail (whose images are also quite revealing), “really do stipulate that the bottom half of female competitors’ kit [uniform] can feature ‘no more than 6cm of cloth at the hip’ – unless it’s cooler than 16 degrees [low 60’s to those of us on this side of the pond].”
“The decision,” The Telegraph reports from London, “proved controversial with some players, including Britain’s Denise Johns, then the top player in the country, arguing the move was to make the sport sexy.”
Then, there is the event’s London venue, the Horse Guard Parade, which, as Greg Wyshynski notes for Yahoo! Sports, is simply “surreal: Centuries-old buildings … providing a stodgy backdrop for the raucous party music, costumed fans, and sand-court action.”
Not to mention the unlimited beer. And the cheerleaders, of course.
“During breaks in the action, over a dozen dancers in swimwear — some women in bikinis, all the men topless — rush out onto the court to gyrate, titillate and keep the crowd fired up,” writes Wyshynski. “They do the conga. They throw beach balls. It may not be what Heracles had in mind when he christened the games as “Olympic,” but it is a great excuse to have scantily clad people dance to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” during a gold-medal match.”
Scantily-clad cheerleaders. Really. At the Olympics. Because the bikini underwear “uniform” just isn’t enough? (No pun intended.)
Well, apparently not. Turns out the Olympic games are now overtly sexualzed – I mean stylized.
“At London 2012, music and theatrical lighting play a key role in creating anticipation and excitement,” Robert Mendick writes for The Telegraph. “Sports have been divided into five categories, which include ‘heritage’ events such as fencing, showjumping and modern pentathlon, to ‘energy’ sports such as swimming, cycling and beach volleyball. Each gets a musical score and lighting, video and stage show to match.”
“The first step for [James] O’Brien in the run-up to the Games was working with the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the international federations to categorize the events into five themes,” adds Wyshynski.
O’Brien is the Head of Sport Presentation of Olympics for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).
“LOCOG hired Phil Heyes, who directs Simon Cowell’s hit “The X Factor” in the U.K., as a choreographer along with Aicha McKenzie; Zoe Stevenson as wardrobe; and Debbie Dannell doing “Glam Squad” duties (i.e., hair and makeup),” Wyshynski continues. “This group worked with O’Brien in doing the creative for the MTV Europe Music Awards, which he produced for 12 years.”
“It’s like a brilliant spoof,” adds Fryer, “a sort of Hugh Hefner bikini Olympics crossed with a ridiculous game show.”
But why, again? Other than the Pavlovian dog and pony routine of sex selling and so forth?
I may be more curmudgeony than most sports fans, because I don’t like my sports spectatorship micromanaged by producers who specialize in “the society of the spectacle,” but must we have Olympic events rebranded as MTV Spring Break-style reality TV?
Don’t answer that.