Talking Points

The Olympics start this week — and nobody cares

In one of my characteristic moments of having no idea what day it was (a state I've lived in more or less constantly since March 2020), I got the inkling this week that the Opening Ceremony must be impending and did a requisite Google search of "Olympic first day." 

It took me a couple of slow moments to realize that the displayed results were telling me the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris — not the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which in fact start on Friday. And if that's news to you — that, yes, the Olympic Games start this week — then you're very much not alone. This year's enthusiasm for the Olympics seems to be at an all-time low.

There are any number of reasons for the lack of excitement. For one thing, the Winter Olympics have always been the less-glamorous cousin of the Summer Games, lacking fan-favorite sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving, and volleyball. Beyond snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim and alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, there aren't as many recognizable returning athletes in 2022: Lindsey Vonn retired in 2019; Canada's sweethearts Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir likewise aren't competing; and Apolo Ohno's long been off the rink. Plus, NBC's coverage of the Summer Games in Tokyo in 2021 was so atrocious that it's hard to rally to figure out their streaming schedule once again.

The circumstances surrounding the 2022 games also don't help: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant China has drastically reduced celebrations. Major U.S. networks won't send reporters to cover the events on the ground. And ongoing ethical questions around holding the games in China at a time of atrocious human rights violations by Beijing has made many in the U.S. disinclined to watch.

Still, this is the Olympics. We normally only get to enjoy them every two years! No one is more aware of that than the athletes heading to China this week, whose years of practice on snow and ice have gone into a moment that's now ... virtually ignored. Some 49 percent of would-be viewers in America recently told pollsters they planned to watch little or none of the Beijing Games. Ratings are looking to be truly dismal.

That's a real shame. Athletes can't control where the games are hosted (much less the timing of a pandemic), and for many, Beijing will be their only time competing at the highest level of their sport. The world ought to be watching.