Reflections on the Olympics

2012 suffragettesTony Traub offers his personal view.

The Olympics have been like heaven to a devoted sports fan like me. Wall to wall coverage of both mainstream and obscure sports has made compelling viewing. I would have never dreamt of watching sports like handball, volleyball and taekwondo but must admit the more I watched, the more I was fascinated.

I think the same applied to millions of people both in UK and throughout the world. People got a real buzz when watching athletes stretch themselves to their physical and mental limits. One could identify with the genuine joy that competitors felt when excelling in their respective sports. And the multicultural angle was most evident when a Somali immigrant was greeted with ecstasy by the huge stadium crowd.

Of course we must not be deluded by all the hype surrounding the games. The Olympics have evolved into a billion dollar business, far removed from the original high ideals. The first main issue is corporate sponsorship. This was the basis of the whole financial structure which underpinned the Games. Big companies like McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Adidas had exclusive branding rights to the Games. The giant credit card company Visa had the exclusive payment rights, frustrating for anybody who only had Mastercard. One does not have to go into great details about the exploitative nature of these companies. Related to corporate sponsorship is the issue of sexual inequality. Lizzie Amistead, the cyclist who came second in the women’s road race, highlighted the huge gulf between men and women in the earnings league. This was also the case with women’s boxing and in fact I just read piece that showed the huge earnings projections for the men’s champions as opposed to the women (Nicola Adams will probably still have to rely on Lottery funding and doing odd jobs to support her boxing).

The second issue to bear in mind is that a lot of these sports are for the elite. Sports like rowing, sailing, equestrianism and others are for the elite as they require a great deal of funding. Having said that, National Lottery funding has meant that a lot of these activities can be funded properly so that less well-off people can practically become professionals. This situation was enhanced by the fact that the Government increased the share of National Lottery funding which goes to sport from 13 to 20 per cent. However, this does not fundamentally change the overall position in terms of the socio-economic divide in participation. Athletics is a bit different because people from ordinary backgrounds can join local clubs.

Another important issue to bear in mind is that of nationalism. The public was implored to get fully behind Team GB. This was most evident in the BBC coverage which was to be frank cringing. If I hear another BBC interviewer ask a competitor how they felt and whether it had ‘sunk in’ yet that they had won gold, I will scream! The situation was all the more extreme because of the Games being in UK.

The claim from the Olympics organisers that the games will enhance local sports activities is bogus.

It all comes down to resources and these are strictly limited. The sale of playing fields years ago shows that the commitment to grass roots sports is just hollow.

Finally, the claim that the Olympics shows the caring side of the country is laughable. There were suggestions that the good will shown by volunteers could be transferred to the country at large. This will of course not stand up to the test of hard reality in Cameron’s spending cuts government.

To conclude yes the Olympics were in some ways very life-affirming but we mustn’t in any way throw away our critical faculties. But nothing will stop me enjoying that moment when Nicola Adams got her gold in the boxing and displayed her sheer unadulterated joy. OK, she will soon come down to earth with a bang when the harsh reality of economics set in but it was still a great sight.

I am looking forward to the Paralympics and it seems like this will be another sell-out crowd. One thing I hope it does is contrast the dedication of disabled people in their respective fields with the shameful track record of the Government in this area.

  1. The Olympics was a jingoistic jamboree used by the establishment to bang the drum of British nationalism. Two days after it finished this same establishment wheeled out Gordon Brown to attack the yes vote for Scottish independence by making a specious connection between the GB team winning a load of pats on the head (medals) and the need to keep the Scottish State chained like a whipped dog to the venal English Ruling class.

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