While South Korea is hardly a totalitarian state, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games nonetheless had its own share of unsettling undercurrents, from geopolitical threats (North Korea) to doping scandals (Russia).
While there are many features that the Berlin and Pyeonchang Olympics do not share, I was reminded of books that focus on the dark underbellies often concealed by the flashy surface pleasures of sports.
There are a number of excellent books about the outsized role that football (aka soccer) plays in Brazilian society. Dave Zirin's Brazil's Dance with the Devil (Haymarket Books, $17.95) features excellent reporting that documents the huge economic and political consequences of Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
In order to build the required facilities, the Brazilian government incurred debts and forcibly evicted thousands of people, leading to massive protests and police crackdowns.
Every big-money sport has its share of exposés, with college athletics receiving newfound scrutiny in recent years. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football (Anchor, $16.95) by investigative journalists Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian and Indentured: The Battle to End the Exploitation of College Athletes (Portfolio, $18) by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss take aim at the NCAA for raking in enormous profits that are not shared with the players.
Both books emphasize the enormous sacrifices made by student athletes with only a small chance of long-term success. These books, and many others, serve to contrast the joy provided by athletics with the inequities that often lurk in its shadow. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.