Paris, the site of the 2024 Olympics

Olympian effort: Spider experts analyze the Summer Games

June 4, 2024

Research & Innovation

The global nature of the Olympics creates long-lasting effects on society and culture. As preparations gear up for the 2024 Olympics in Paris this summer, UR professors provided insights on how the Games transcend sports and influence change around the world.

“From the coverage of some sports over others, the creation of stars like Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, and the politics of the host countries, the press plays a vital role in how Americans view and understand the Olympics — and it has since the very first modern Games,” said Stephen Brauer, a visiting English professor, who is an expert on sports media and its connections to American culture and politics.

Top stories will include gymnast Simone Biles’ comeback, Steph Curry playing for the first time for Team USA basketball, and Katie Ledecky swimming in her fourth Olympics.

“I’ll also be keeping my eye out for longshot winners — underdogs who surprise us or even athletes from countries who are not always represented on the medal stand. I find those stories are extremely hard to resist,” he said. “If there is an element of overcoming adversity as part of that story, then that would be even better. This is a theme we will see over and over again.”

Anne Toomey McKenna, a visiting professor of law and an attorney with expertise in privacy and electronic surveillance law, said France is deploying sweeping AI-based video surveillance throughout the Olympic events, using AI systems to flag potential concerns at the Games.

"These algorithmic watchers are being used much more frequently, giving governments and event organizers everywhere far vaster surveillance capabilities than humans alone can provide," McKenna said.

France changed its laws to permit broader AI-enabled mass-scale surveillance during the Olympics, and the immediate and long-term implications of this surveillance could have significant impact on privacy and citizens' civil liberties. 

“Such AI-enabled surveillance systems are poorly regulated, subject to little in the way of independent testing, and once the data — and it's a lot of data — is collected, the potential for further analysis and privacy invasions are enormous."

Earlier this year, law professor Andy Spalding, Jennifer & Samuel Tarry Research Scholar, spent two weeks as a visiting scholar at Sciences Po Law School in Paris, where he taught a research seminar on corruption, human rights, and this year’s Summer Olympics. Spalding’s research focuses on human rights and anti-corruption reforms in megasports, specifically the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cups.

“Megasports provide an opportunity to support social development and build a legacy of governance promoting accountability, transparency, and human rights that go beyond the sports and last long after the events are over,” Spalding said.

France designed an innovative and forward-looking legal framework, applying new anti-corruption measures to its Olympic preparations — which worked, he said. “Paris 2024 could mark the beginning of a new era in which we not only manage risks and minimize scandals but actually leave a positive anti-corruption and human rights legacy in the host country and beyond."

Thad Williamson, is a professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law, and an expert on sports in relation to social justice, diversity, leadership, and race.

The Summer Olympics draw a TV viewership of 3 billion — which can bring the eyes and ears of the world to a cause.

"In 1968, track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who both medaled in their Olympic events, used their success as an opportunity to call global attention to the struggle for racial justice in the United States," Williamson said.

“The Olympics are a massive sporting event,” he said, “but they are also a massive cultural and political event that can raise awareness concerning critical issues such as racial inequality.”