The Olympic ideal is a mythical distraction
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
I like watching sport but the blinkered idealism that surrounds the Olympics is difficult to bear. I say that as someone who spent five hours watching the Olympic road race yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. It was everything that is good about cycling. People pushing their bodies to the limit over a gruelling but scenic course. There was blood, sweat and tears in equal measure leading to a tight, gripping finale. I watched it because I love road cycling and this is as good as road cycling gets. However, this is not good enough for the broadcasters and promoters of the Games who are constantly trying to tie the noose of mythological symbolism around the whole affair.
I really enjoyed watching the cyling road race but, let’s face it, most of those involved are habitually micro-dosed to the gunnels with EPO, growth hormones and anabolic steroids. It’s pretty well known that if you keep the dosage low you’re unlikely to get caught as the Mexican supplements leave your system so fast. Personally, I don’t actually care if they are doping, I would let them. Sport is unfair, there are lots of variables ranging from equipment to training methods and, as we saw yesterday in the cycling, the sheer misfortune of crashes. The real value in sport for the spectator is not sullied by the athletes cheating, drugged athletes are more competitive, perform to a higher level and therefore create more enjoyable spectacles.
The reason we are against doping is that we buy into higher ideals that don’t exist, or if they do there is no way of knowing which athletes practice them. Lizzie Armitstead may well be clean but in her recent denials she sounded a lot like Lance Armstrong did for a very long time before he was busted. He never officially failed a drug test either. With micro doping, passing a drug test the day after you dodged one doesn’t make you innocent. The BBC talks about our athletes like they are fighting for us knee deep in the trenches of the most important battle the UK has ever faced, that they are doing some great service for the nation. They are not, they are in it for themselves. They are among the most selfish people you could ever hope to meet; and there is nothing wrong with that, as that is what life is all about, and we can get a lot of enjoyment from watching them without having to elevate them to guardians of the galaxy.
The survival of the human race is not dependent on Tom Daley being able to fall gracefully into a swimming pool without the hint of a splash. The World Health Organisation will not be frantically trying to find the number of the British equestrian team at the dawn of the next ebola outbreak. Anthony Joshua has not yet to my knowledge defeated terrorism. What most of these people do is exceptional but it doesn’t have much practical value except to themselves and the multinationals for whom they pimp running shoes. They don’t even succeed as role models. I ate 3 mint aeros watching that road race. As they push their bodies to the limit we are in the middle of an obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic. Still, it’s not the athletes’ fault that they are marketed as saints but it does grate when they start bubbling in interviews and moaning about how hard it all is. Don’t bloody do it if you are going to cry on TV about all the sacrifices you have made, especially if you are going to be back on daytime TV in three months advertising Santander loans during the Countdown adverts.
It’s not just the athletes, it’s the beatific glow surrounding the whole event. The idea that a massive competition is going to secure world peace. Whoever thought of that idea has never been to an Old Firm match. The history of the Olympics has been a history of boycotts, corruption and cheating as much as sporting achievement. Only an organisation that is as wilfully deluded as the IOC could have an opening ceremony that heavily promoted saving the rainforest at an event that is sponsored by MacDonald’s. Yet decade after decade, a succession of dignitaries stand up at the opening ceremony and excrete some platitudes about the power of sport to bring the world together. At least when Hitler did his Olympic speech he had the self awareness to kept it perfunctory and redundant of superlatives.
Every Olympics is marred by scandal, corruption and bribery. Whether that be in the process of winning the games which is often tainted by bidders buying off Olympic officials. Or, the dark-handed nature of how contracts are awarded to those that are trusted to spend vast sums of public money on what often turn out to be white elephant infrastructure projects. We are told the vast expense will benefit the poorest in society but there is little evidence of this. There is however a lot of evidence of cities using the Olympics as an excuse for social cleansing. Tokyo, Seoul and Atlanta all rounded up their homeless and reprobates and interned them or shipped them elsewhere. There is nothing that says Olympic spirit like persecuting and hiding the least well off in society.
Then we have the corporate involvement and branding laws surrounding the games. They are so strict that four years ago an 81 year old woman was warned by Trading Standards over one article of dolls clothing she knitted. The garment which was sold for charity for $1.60 happened to be emblazoned with the Olympic rings. It is not just the Olympic logos that are fiercely protected, there are 12 official sponsors of the Games and although now relaxed, rules make it difficult for other brands to get a look in. That’s because the true ethic of the games is making money. It is about companies piggybacking on the Olympic Dream in order to sell us tyres. These strapping fit super successful athletes are the perfect vessels on which to peddle aspiration. All we need to get where they are is a Big Mac and Coke bought by the dregs of our Visa card.
That’s if you are lucky enough to have a credit card. If you live in the favelas of Rio you may have nothing at all and one of the strongest images of this Games must be the Olympic torch being protected by armed guards as the corporate beacon passed by protests manned by some of the worlds poorest. Those left behind by the globalisation that the Olympics flame represents tried to extinguish it; raging at the resources spent on the infrastructure for a bloated sports day while they struggle daily with poverty and disease. How it must sting to have the flames of that chimera lick the outskirts of your dilapidated neighbourhood.
The Olympics is a big, fake, symbolic distraction, like the Tooth Fairy, that people don’t grow out of. It’s an excuse for the BBC to put Brexit aside in favour of segments showing Sally Gunnell hula-hooping interspersed with interviews of hyperventilating 8 year olds by the sides of pools and pitches the length and breadth of Blighty. Well, maybe we need a break from reality, I certainly enjoyed the cycling road race. Saying that, it works as a distraction well enough without believing in any of the magical bullshit that goes with it.
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