State and money triumph over true athletic spirit
SCMP August 13 2008
The Olympics may be just into its stride but, already, several lessons
for future Games are clear. The first is to reduce the role of the
opening ceremony, stop using presidential attendance as proof of political
correctness and focus on the athletes. It's said London will have a
hard time equalling the Beijing opening show. Let's hope it does not
try to reproduce this monument to showy nationalism but focuses on
the internationalism of individual competition.
Great spectacle that it was, Beijing's opener was a mix of hi-tech
wizardry and Pyongyang's visually stunning mass games - particularly
those in 2005, the Korean Communist Party's 50th anniversary. Anyone
who has seen the latter in the flesh not only knows how much was borrowed
from the North Koreans but what sort of triumph of the state over the
individual it represents.
The Olympics is supposed to be about individual prowess, the search
for perfection regardless of nationality. But mass-rally triumphalism
prevailed, impressing the local population and some foreigners but
leaving many others - particularly those with civilisations as ancient
and distinguished as China - disconcerted.
For many, it is a relief to see that Russia and Germany now win far
fewer medals than in the bad old days of their communist regimes, which
would use almost any methods to prove the superiority of their state-controlled
systems. And well done India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan,
Brazil and Mexico, which, combined, have roughly double China's population,
for winning - it can be confidently predicted - only a handful of medals
But if communists have abused the Games, so too have capitalists.
The focus of Jacques Rogge and his unaccountable colleagues who run
the International Olympic Committee has been one thing only - money.
Pity China that the Games are being held in August rather than in late
September when the climate would have been far more suitable.
The US network NBC and a few major sponsors in effect control the
IOC. Likewise, the timing of many events has been geared to the demands
of US audiences, to the great inconvenience of many athletes and the
vast majority of the world.
Nor can one blame China for searching out obscure sports, such as
women's weightlifting and pistol shooting, to win medals when there
is a cascade of medals available in swimming, a sport which generally
favours Caucasian physiques. Michael Phelps is undoubtedly a great
athlete but that he can even consider the possibility of winning eight
golds at a single Games is proof of the devaluation of medals in some
sports, swimming in particular.
Clearly, no country in future will want to spend the money or be able
to repeat Beijing's quasi-Maoist mass organisation. Thus these Games,
however successful, are a signal for reform of the whole system. That
will include the removal of many if not all team sports, which mostly
have bigger international venues elsewhere.
Beijing's over-the-top nationalism and security obsessions have set
off a foreign media reaction that may have exaggerated negatives such
as pollution and created much hypocritical grandstanding about Darfur.
BBC World TV, which defiles a famous brand with increasingly tabloid
instincts, chose the first day of the Games to air a biased, inaccurate
piece of 'investigative' journalism attacking China's links with the
Darfur wars. So, let's outlaw nationalist sentiments from Games openings.
And - an even more difficult task - let's reform the IOC. This self-important,
self-perpetuating body, many of whose members are in reality political
appointees, demands that the Games be apolitical then makes decisions
which are purely political - like banning most of the Iraqi team -
and allows hosts to use them for overtly political purposes. And its
obsession with making money from TV rights and sponsorships further
distort both the spirit of the Games and the capacity of countries
to host them.
TOP OF THE PAGE