Tarnished Medals: Four-in-Five Canadians say scandals, corruption taint true spirit of the Olympics

by Angus Reid | August 3, 2016 8:30 pm

More than half would advise Canadian athletes to stay home amid Zika fears

August 4, 2016 – Doping scandals, health and safety concerns, and allegations of bribery and corruption have dominated the news coverage leading up to this month’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, and a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians feeling less-than-enthusiastic about the event and its organizers, perhaps as a result.

Nearly seven-in-ten Canadians say they would urge an athlete competing in an open-water event off Rio’s famously polluted coast to stay home, rather than attend the games. And a majority (55%) would advise athletes in all sports to do the same because of concerns they might contract Zika virus.

In general, Canadians are split on whether the Olympic Games are a worthwhile investment for the host country, and eight-in-ten say the events are more about corporate sponsorships and commercialism than athletic competition.

Key Findings:Angus Reid Olympics

Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology[1]


Part 1: Apathetic about Rio Olympics?

Part 2: Zika Woes

Part 3: Russian Doping: Canadians say ‘No’ to Blanket Ban

Part 4: Corruption, Commercialism, and Sport


Part 1: Apathetic about Rio Olympics

While it is yet to be seen whether the games will capture the world’s attention, preliminary responses from Canadians show ambivalence toward the three-week international competition.

Just over half say they’ll be paying attention (53%), compared to six-in-ten (60%) who say they followed previous summer games in London (2012) and Beijing (2008):

Angus Reid Olympics

One possible reason for lower interest in these summer games might be Team Canada’s performance. This country is much more competitive at winter games than summer ones. Where Canada finished first in medal count in Vancouver’s Winter Olympics in 2010, and third at Sochi in 2014, it finished 35th in the 2012 London summer games.

When canvassed in the lead up to the Vancouver games[2] in 2010, more than four-in-ten (44%) Canadians said they would follow the games closely and watch as much coverage as they could, three times more than the number who say they’ll do the same for Rio.

Asked outright which Olympic games they look forward to most, four-in-ten (43%) say winter, while summer, in fact, takes bronze – more respondents actually say “neither” (32%) than choose summer (25%).

Angus Reid Olympics

Part 2: Zika Woes

Brazilian Olympic organizers have been faced with serious challenges[3], the most well-publicized of which is the outbreak of the Zika virus. Concerns over the virus have led a number of athletes[4], including many of the world’s top golfers, tennis players, and basketball players to forego the event.

Some commentators have noted[5] that most of the athletes who won’t travel are professionals who don’t need the exposure or endorsement opportunities that amateur athletes hope for, but non-athletes also share in their apprehension – a number of NBC staff also refused to travel[6] to Rio.

The Angus Reid Institute asked respondents to consider a personal situation. If a friend or family member of theirs was an Olympic athlete, what would they want that athlete to do? In the case of the Zika virus, Canadians are split, though they lean toward safety. Just over half (55%) say they would like to see that person stay home rather than risk contracting the virus. Notable differences are seen depending on the age and gender of respondents:

Angus Reid Olympics

Health concerns are not limited to the mosquito-borne virus. Guanabara Bay, where many of Rio’s open water events are taking place, has been described by some as a “a toxic stew[7]”. Officials claim that the areas where events are taking place meet international safety standards, but some health experts have suggested competitors “keep their mouths closed”[8] while in the water.

The government had originally planned to spend $4 billion USD to treat roughly 80 per cent of the sewage flowing into Guanabara Bay, but financial woes have hindered efforts and reports are that just $170 million[9] were ultimately spent.

When presented with the same situation – where a friend or family member has hypothetically qualified for the Rio games, but in this case for an open-water event – seven-in-ten (69%) say they would like to see that person stay home rather than face the polluted waters – 14 percentage points higher than those who said they would advise that person to stay home to avoid Zika (see comprehensive tables[10]):

Angus Reid Olympics

Part 3: The Russian Doping Scandal

If the Rio games aren’t marred by the Zika virus or the water pollution, they may be marred in the public consciousness by the need of some national teams to be swifter, higher and stronger at all costs.

In 2014, whistleblowers revealed[11] a “culture” of state-sponsored doping in Russia. The allegations led to an independent investigation[12], which concluded in November 2015 that inaction on Russian doping had “sabotaged” the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and that doping was likely not limited to Team Russia.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called for a total ban on Russian athletes competing in the 2016 games, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to issue one[13], instead opting to allow each Olympic sport’s international federation to determine whether to ban Russian athletes, and which individuals to ban.

Asked whether they favoured a total ban on Russian athletes competing in Rio, three-quarters of Canadians (74%) say they do not, preferring to ban only those athletes who have been caught doping.

Angus Reid Olympics

As to their own athletes, nearly eight-in-ten Canadians (79%) agree with the statement “I believe that Canadian Olympians don’t cheat in competition – they play by the rules.” (see comprehensive tables[10]).

Part 4: Corruption, Commercialism, and Sport

Allegations of corruption against Olympic organizers are hardly new[14], but the seeming ubiquity of such charges leading up to Rio appears to be wearing on the Canadian public. Nearly every games in recent history[15] has seen allegations of bribery levelled at the IOC, and French police are currently investigating[16] corruption in the bidding process for both Rio and the upcoming 2020 summer games in Tokyo

Asked whether ongoing scandals have diminished what the games are really supposed to be about – an unequivocal 83 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement, with 45 per cent doing so “strongly”:

Angus Reid Olympics

Beyond the games themselves, Canadians take a particularly dim view of the Olympic Movement. Fully seven-in-ten (71%) say the IOC is a corrupt organization:

Angus Reid Olympics

Further reflecting Canadians’ generally gloomy outlook on the Olympics and their organizers, roughly eight-in-ten (81%) say the games “have become more about corporate sponsorships and commercialism than the athletes and competitions themselves,” (see comprehensive tables[10]):

Angus Reid Olympics

Whether accurate or not, the public perception that corporate sponsorships and general commercialism are the driving force behind the Olympics is not difficult to understand. The IOC is, after all, an organization that accepts $25 million to $50 million USD annually[17] from sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

And that’s to say nothing of the massive sums of money the IOC receives for Olympic broadcast rights, including nearly $8 billion[18] USD for American rights and almost $1.5 billion[19] USD for European rights. In Canada, CBC purchased the rights[20] to the Sochi and Rio games, but did not disclose the bid cost.

Whatever the cost to secure the broadcast, the CBC will be hoping for Canadian athletes to shine and draw viewers. After all, the stories, the drama and the athletes are what it’s (supposed to be) all about.

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.


Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology[1]

Click here for comprehensive data tables[21]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[22]

Image – Bryan Turner/Unsplash

Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693


  1. Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2016.08.04-Olympics.pdf
  2. lead up to the Vancouver games: http://angusreid.org/most-canadians-say-top-five-finish-at-winter-olympics-would-mean-success/
  3. serious challenges: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/columnists/ct-rosenthal-rio-olympics-0622-biz-20160621-column.html
  4. number of athletes: http://www.thewrap.com/every-athlete-sitting-out-rio-2016-summer-olympics-zika-fears-injuries-abound-updating-photos/34/
  5. have noted: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/athletes-skipping-the-olympics-because-of-zika_us_5771c2dfe4b0f168323ab98a
  6. staff also refused to travel: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/zika-virus-athletes-nbc-staffers-skip-olympics-article-1.2659244
  7. a toxic stew: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/world/americas/brazil-rio-water-olympics.html?_r=0
  8. “keep their mouths closed”: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/world/americas/brazil-rio-water-olympics.html?_r=0
  9. just $170 million: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/world/americas/brazil-rio-water-olympics.html?_r=0
  10. see comprehensive tables: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2016.08.02-Olympics-Release-Tables.pdf
  11. whistleblowers revealed: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/28/sport/russia-doping-whistleblowers-yulia-stepanova-vitaly-stepanov/
  12. independent investigation: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/09/wada-iaaf-russia-dick-pound-banned
  13. decided not to issue one: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/jul/24/russia-team-escape-blanket-ban-ioc-rio-olympic-games
  14. hardly new: http://www.sbnation.com/london-olympics-2012/2012/7/23/3177657/olympics-history-corrupt-scandal
  15. Nearly every games in recent history: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/438532/rooting-corruption-out-olympics
  16. currently investigating: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/mar/01/french-police-corruption-investigation-2016-2020-olympic-bids
  17. accepts $25 million to $50 million USD annually: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/where-all-that-olympic-money-goes/2016/07/30/34496868-568c-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_graphic.html
  18. nearly $8 billion: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/sports/olympics/nbc-extends-olympic-tv-deal-through-2032.html
  19. almost $1.5 billion: https://www.olympic.org/news/ioc-awards-all-tv-and-multiplatform-broadcast-rights-in-europe-to-discovery-and-eurosport-for-2018-2024-olympic-games
  20. purchased the rights: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/cbc-wins-canadian-media-rights-for-2014-2016-olympic-games/article4454231/
  21. Click here for comprehensive data tables: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2016.08.02-Olympics-Release-Tables.pdf
  22. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2016.07.26_olympics_solo.pdf
  23. shachi.kurl@angusreid.org: mailto:shachi.kurl@angusreid.org

Source URL: https://angusreid.org/rio-olympics/