North Korea has been formally suspended from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by the IOC as punishment for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Games citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Olympics, of course, should not even really be on.
They should surely have been cancelled, with COVID rampant in Japan, the whole world still battling against the virus – how could our priorities be so absurdly out of whack as to put so many people at risk for a festival of games?
And yet… I am so very glad they’re on.
The fact of COVID has made the whole thing a farce anyway. Empty stadia, silent grandstands, the eerie airless ambience of sport without the roar of the crowd, zero atmosphere. It all feels so horribly hollow, doesn’t it?
It’s almost grotesque, the pathetic sadness of it all, a city desperately trying to keep a flame alive when we all know that in the only ways that count, it was snuffed out long ago. It’s a bizarre shadow of an Olympics.
And yet… I will be watching. And cheering.
Even without COVID the Games were going to be a huge economic bust for Tokyo, because the Games always are, for every city that hosts them. With the pandemic added on top, the cost is going to be astronomical.
At the end Japan will have nothing to show for this multi-billion-dollar folly. It’s no wonder the people of the country want nothing to do with it and the government’s popularity is in the toilet.
And yet… I still think it’s worth it. I still think the Olympics are a grand thing for a city to get for itself, and I’m still excited to think that in 2032, for the second time in my life, I might actually be able to attend the Games in my own country.
The Olympics aren’t even really a sporting event, are they? They’re a corporate branding exercise, a gigantic advertisement for the biggest and most rapacious corporations on the planet, companies that will exploit every last worker and suck every last resource from the earth to maximise their profits.
The massive corruption in the IOC, the cynical marketing ploys that top athletes allow themselves to front, the drugs and the cheating going on throughout the sporting world… it’s all part of the same package, a package that is much more about brutal economics than it is about athletic excellence.
And yet… I will be hoping that amid all the logos and the sponsors’ products and the commercials, the stars from my nation do us proud. I will be longing for heroes to emerge unexpectedly, for stories of bravery and fierce determination to sprout like weeds bursting through the cracks of the cold concrete slabs of materialism.
I will be clapping with delight for underdogs who triumph – or even those who just do their best. I will be yelling admiration for the great champions of the world who do things that no ordinary mortal could dream of doing.
I will be loving the Olympics. I will be holding the Olympics close to my heart. And in this year, when the Olympics seem more pointless and compromised than ever before, I will, I think, be even more grateful that they exist than I ever have been.
Because even in a world where sport has been thoroughly corrupted, and the simple joy of games has been drained by the greed of soulless billionaires and trough-feeding bureaucrats, and all the faux-inspirational slogans are being shoved in your face to sell you product rather than actually inspire, and the grim reality of this period of history means everyone seems to wish it wasn’t even happening…
Even in that world…
Even in that world there are people who have been working their whole life just for one shining moment on the world stage, that they may never get again.
There are men and women taking their last shot, men and women taking what will turn out to be their only shot. There are kids who have been dreaming for years of winning a medal, or of just getting a slim chance at a medal, or of having no chance of a medal but of just getting to be there.
And back at home, on millions of couches around the world, there are still all of us, hoping against hope that in spite of it all, there is still something in the world worth casting aside cynicism and allowing ourselves a moment to let the stars in our eyes shine.
As deluded and naive as it is to think so, we are still hoping that maybe for a couple of weeks, we can be deluded and naive and think the world is still what we thought it was when we were children.
For when the world is at its darkest, its most forbidding, and our backs are bent to breaking point under reality’s oppressive load – that is when more than ever we need to look at a mere game and believe, even if the belief is a foolish one, that all the bad in the world can’t entirely extinguish the good.
And all the cynicism of the human race can’t entirely obliterate the simple beauty of Faster, Higher, Stronger.