Afua Hirsch wants to tell us that she knows markets better than the IOC do. This could even be true as well. And yet:
The second scenario of how the Olympics approaches such a person is, I’m afraid, a more cynical one. In this version, the IOC is a corporate giant trying to sell a product.
Like other grandiose sporting conglomerates, it brokers lucrative broadcasting deals, negotiates eye-watering advertising contracts and enjoys a brand that makes others weep with envy.
If this were the case, you might conclude it’s doing pretty well. The IOC’s much lauded “commercial transformation” has seen its sponsorship revenues jump from $500m in 2000 to approaching $3bn today. McDonald’s sponsorship ended in 2017 after 41 years, but Coca-Cola sponsorship continues (are we really still meant to believe elite athletes drink Coke?), and the IOC has added digital companies such as Alibaba and Airbnb to its list of “partners”.
In this context, you would expect the IOC to look at an athlete like Saunders and see, in cold, capitalist terms, her potential to market its product. She was after all one of the most impressive people competing in the Games.
OK, let’s run with the capitalist bastards explanation then.
When the lovable shot putter Raven Saunders, who is a black, gay woman, won a silver medal, she used the occasion to cross her arms in an X – a gesture of solidarity at “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet”. There are two ways we might expect the Olympics to approach this.
It’s vaguely possible that that’s an appeal to a fairly specialist market. One that the IOC might not be trying to reach at the expense of the wider one they are.