The other day there was Sebastian Coe (who I remember as that slim young magical runner, not the middle aged Lord Coe he has become) did one of those “Here come the Olympics” Press occasions, this time to announce 100 days to go until London launches into its third Olympics. This time of course it will be a vastly different event to those of 1908 (when the modern games had barely begun) and 1948 (when Britain used it, though in a very austere way, as a way of firmly leaving the war behind). And that difference over the course of just over 100 years I suppose sums up why my interest in the Olympic Games now verges on zero.
The sums of money now spent to hold an Olympic Games are obscene. Huge stadia are built, transport reorganised, media outlets pay for exclusive rights, gimcrackery souvenirs are produced in landfill quantities. Most facilities continue in use for a short time, then fall into disuse, then get demolished. Rarely do facilities built for the specific conditions of the games suit what an individual city may later need. The result of all that is that the major criterion used to evaluate Games “Bids” (and that is a whole other topic) are whether a city and country can afford them. No poor country could hold a modern games, and that in itself is a damning inditement of the loss of the “Olympic Spirit”. As is the tendency for winning cities (most notably China) to bulldoze poor housing and move beggars off the streets, so as not to detract from the glossiness.
And if poor countries can’t afford to hold the Games, athletes from poor countries can’t afford to hold Olympic medals. Once upon a time the Olympic mythology echoed “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” credo. Not any more. It has long been known that the number of medals a country wins (and the Olympics was supposed not to be a competition between countries but athletes) is directly proportional to how much money a country spends (so much so that Australian Olympic officials keep demanding more and more money otherwise our “medal count” will go down). These days sports training is a science, and equipment is also very important (the Australian bobsled team was complaining the other day they had a $5000 dollar sled and needed a $25,000 one to be competitive. I hate to think how much things like cycles and rowing boats cost). Athletes from the great majority of countries in the world have no chance of winning a medal, no matter how much natural talent a swimmer from, say, Guinea-Bissau might have.
Look if the Games were like those of 1908, where Australians with a bit of natural swimming or running talent paid their own way to Britain to chance their arm (and legs) against the best other amateurs who turned up, I would be happy to wave a little Australian flag and cheer them along. But Olympics 2012? I doubt I’ll bother watching.
What about you?