The sporting fallacy of the Olympic ‘Games’
Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury AAP
With the word ‘Olympic’ again prominent on the back pages of London’s newspapers beneath the names and faces of athletes so ‘elite’ that they are only ever seen by we mere mortals every four years, I am struck with the inadequacy of the word ‘games’ which follows it.
What part of the Olympics is a game?
Channelling my inner pedant I see lots of competition but no games and as the parent of a two year old daughter armed with both a tea party set and her mother’s bossiness, I am a man who has learnt a thing or two about games recently.
The delineation between game and competition begins somewhere around the level of seriousness with which the task is undertaken and whether the focus be on the participants’ enjoyment or result.
But with the title, Olympic Games, are we stuck and my search must continue.
Cynically I would suggest the games part of the Olympics is the bit where we all pretend that the organisers aren’t corrupt mini-megalomaniacs with ethical borders more porous than that between Texas and Mexico.
We crowd them with our great and good, listen to their speeches, cheer when they pronounce this ‘the best Olympics ever’. I’m quite sure some of them see this whole IOC thing as a bit of a game too.
Closer to the bone is the game where we pretend that we don’t notice when foreign born athletes drape themselves in the colours of their newly adopted country with exactly the same self-interest for which bankers are currently vilified and against which hundred of people are protesting in various ‘Occupy’ camps the world over.
More to the point we pretend not to notice the crass, win-at-all-costs mentality this identifies in our sporting administration and the way we have all come to rely on it to maintain our sense of self worth.
Too much of a whinge? Perhaps, but why did the Australian government lower the residential requirements for foreign born athletes from the standard four years, applicable to non-olympic hopefuls, to just two years?
Obviously the intention is to capitalise on those athletes’ prime years but try to find an answer as to why that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable.
Does our government really believe that it is in the national interest that these people be able to represent Australia as quickly as possible?
Are Australians so delicately perched on their self-perception as world beating sportspeople that we value winners more than we value ourselves?
The issue isn’t a xenophobic one but rather more mundane. I am no great nationalist but shouldn’t Australian sporting representatives be representative of the state Australian sport?
If we do well in the Olympics shouldn’t that be because we are doing well in the backyards, fields and stadiums throughout Australia?
I am, I fear, doing precisely what I wanted to avoid and that is ‘harping on’ but the more I tease out the point the less satisfied I feel with the entire thing.
The answer is of course, as I am sure to be told in the comments section below, to just get out there and support your country but lacking the necessary wool and hooves to do so I must sadly decline the invitation in advance.
The other point often made is that these athletes, like everyone, have the right to earn a living in their chosen profession. And so they do however, this argument is then extended unquestioned to include their right to represent Australia.
There is a strange sense of 19th century colonialism in that thought and if the argument were true it follows that every athlete has the right to represent any country they should chose with the only hurdle being that they must be prepared to relocate there.
Why not just remove that hurdle altogether?
Why not begin the Olympics with a huge auction of athletes with countries bidding for the services of the world’s best. What a perfect way to put some excitement into the perversely dull and often embarrassingly jingoistic opening ceremonies.
Imagine the excitement as the world waits to see which country Usain Bolt will be running for and who is going to get lumped with Jamaica’s bobsled team.
Of course this would greatly advantage wealthier nations but isn’t that already the case?
The other option is that we turn the auction around and give the choice to the athletes instead.
Personally I find this solution much more acceptable to the subversive side of me and picture an opening ceremony where athletes reveal how much they are willing to pay to represent the flag of their choice.
An international popularity contest where athletes could show a little solidarity with countries going through a bit of a rough spell. After the shocking year New Zealand just suffered, I’d be happy to offer my services to the Tall Blacks for a game or two should they need me.
There is something so much more wholesome about throwing your lot in with a country you would pay to support rather than one that is desperate to pay for your services.
Perhaps the field could be expanded from just countries competing to include causes and charities. The world’s finest athletes could find themselves boxing for breast cancer or synchronised swimming for children in Africa.
I’d much rather see Help for Heroes or the Starlight Foundation heading the Olympic medals table than China or the USA.
As absurd as this is, it would provide a wonderful ethical counterbalance to the corruption at the heart of the Olympic movement and perhaps ensure a legacy beyond the usual white elephants of unused facilities and ridiculous debt. I can’t decide which but I feel I am either onto something or on something.
Either way, this feels right.