What is about to unfold in Great Britain—10,490 athletes competing in 302 medal events, for which NBC and its affiliates plan a record 5,535 hours of television coverage—is an awesome spectacle. For the splendor of it, the world can thank not Baron de Coubertin, the avatar of amateurism who founded the modern Olympics, but capitalism.
The Athens example notwithstanding, after all, the money that funds the Olympics comes largely not from governments but from the private sector. NBC (not a Cuban or North Korean television company but an American one) agreed to pay a reported $4.38 billion for the rights to broadcast four Olympics, a sum that is itself made possible by NBC's sale of commercial sponsorship time to advertisers. Even "broadcast" is now a misnomer, as the games are streamed on the Internet and available on cable channels. Another nearly billion dollars in Olympic funding comes from worldwide marketing sponsors like GE, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Visa.