Tag Archives: sport

Olympian Values (UPDATE)

I’ve been sitting back and enjoying the show that is the ongoing farce of the Chinese Olympics. I have two main reasons for not taking a stand. Firstly, I’m quite ambivalent about the Olympics in general and so singling out China feels a little hypocritical. Secondly, I’m acutely aware that in a sense both sides are right and both sides need each other in order to progress.

Simply put, if the Olympics were not being held in China this summer, the profile of Tibet would not be as high as it is now (higher than it has been at any point in the past 12 years in my view). So is this a case of the pro-Olympics people being right – that the Olympics is raising these issues? Well yes, up to a point. But if it wasn’t for the protesters opposing the Olympics these issues would not be getting an airing.

One thing in particular though that does amuse me is this constant hailing of “Olympian values”. What are these exactly? I get the whole world coming together thing, but is there really anything noble in a bunch of athletes doggedly competing with one another to see who is best? These pressures lead to athletes taking performance enhancing drugs; the Russians and the Chinese have traditionally taken this to extremes, hothousing athletes in order to wave their medal successes around as a status symbol proving their political ideologies are superior. Hitler tried the same trick, only to be made to look like a fool. What is so great about all this global willy waving?

And if there is something noble about the Olympics, how come the IOC don’t insist that countries who host the games must abide by, for example, minimal human rights criteria? If you want to join the EU, the price you have to pay is to sort out your human rights record. As a result, Turkey is actively doing so. What is stopping the IOC from doing the same? One can only infer that egalitarianism isn’t an Olympian value.

Arguably, the truth is quite the opposite. One thing the IOC do insist on is that host nations pass laws to stop companies from being able to use the word “Olympics” in order to promote themselves unless they are official sponsors of the events. Freedom of speech comes second fiddle to worshiping at the altar of capitalism. This is a price which China had far less of a problem with paying than the UK.

Olympian values then seem to be rooted entirely in body fascism, ruthless competition, vainglorious pride and the worst excesses of monopolistic commercial practice. These are the values that the Olympics variously inspires and insists upon. If supporters of the Games wish us to treat them as anything other than a political football, then perhaps they should get their own house in order first?

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention here was the comment by the police chief in charge of handling the Olympics protests yesterday who made the extraordinary claim that under the law, if you supported the Olympic torch on Sunday you were not regarded as a protester and vice versa. Apart from the fact that under the strict letter of the law this is balls, think about it for a second. If you are a supporter of freedom and democracy, the government considers you a potential enemy of the state. If you are an apologist for a repressive dictatorship, the government considers you to be friendly. Good night.

Foolball economics

I’m confused about what Don Foster wants us to do about the price of football tickets in the UK:

“This just goes to show that rip-off Britain is alive and well.

“If European clubs can keep their prices down, there’s no reason why English clubs can’t follow their lead.

“Despite the recent enormous TV cash windfall and the promise to freeze ticket prices, many clubs are still massively overcharging their fans.

“Last season we saw empty seats at premiership grounds – when will clubs wake up to the fact that ordinary fans are the lifeblood of the game?”

Now, I should preface this by mentioning that football is not my greatest passion, but isn’t all this just a consequence of the business model adopted by football clubs in this country, as opposed to, say, Spain?

UK football, at least at the top level, isn’t a sport, it’s a business. Global brands compete with each other on a world stage, trying to attract the attention of Indians and the Chinese as much as English football fans. Foster is just plain wrong to claim that English fans are the ‘lifeblood’ of English football; if that was how it works, this wouldn’t be an issue. Lowering prices would hurt them in two ways: firstly it would diminish the amount they could extract from TV companies (if people can just turn up to watch a football match locally, complete with all the ambience of a live match, why would they bother watching it on TV?); secondly, it would harm their sales of corporate seating. You can be sure that the price they charge for tickets maximises their profits.

Football fans know all this, and while they like to whinge they are always ultimately happy to cough up, so what’s the problem?

If you do have a problem with it, the answer is very simple: switch your support from a team in the Premiership to a team lower down in the pecking order. People are doing this. On the other hand, if you want soulless corporate football, you have to pay for it.

Don Foster’s intervention implies, although does not state explicitly, that the government ought to do something about it; otherwise what does it have to do with a DCMS spokesperson? His allusion to “rip off Britain” is just plain daft: you can’t simply ‘buy’ a team in mainland Europe in the way that you could buy a car to avoid the over-pricing that was rife in the motor industry a few years ago.

There are lots of things that you could argue the market cannot adequately manage. Football is not one of them. The fact that most fans are chumps is another matter.

Nogo for Logo

I’m not the most sporty person in the world, and as such I’ve tended to keep my mouth shut about the ever escalating costs of the London Olympics lest I be dismissed as a killjoy. But the unveiling of their new logo today does suggest that collective insanity has broken out amongst the Olympics planners.

I’m hazarding a guess here, but I suspect that logo will be about as long lived and affectionately remembered as the one for Consignia (which for anyone who might have blinked in 2002 was the name that the Royal Mail were intent on calling themselves until they realised they were about to commit hari-kiri). Indeed, panic measures like this suggest that management is in panic mode. The message I’ve learned from the news today is that the London Olympics are in even deeper doo-doo than I thought they were.

Not one penny of this £400,000 will be spent on sport facilities or regenerating poor parts of London. It may be a churlish thing to point out, but that is how the vast expenditure of the Olympics has always been sold to us.

To me, the logo looks like an abstract drawing of an explosion, something rather more redolent of the events of 7 July 2005 rather than 6 July 2005. And, far from ‘yoof’ it looks like something you would have found in Smash Hits circa 1984. Last thing I knew, Andrew Ridgley wasn’t cutting edge, but then again I don’t get Lily Allen either. Maybe we should get Duran Duran to do the Olympic theme, and have the ceremony opened by Roland Rat.

Alex Salmond: flying the flag or flying a kite?

It’s good to see Alex Salmond reminding us quite so quickly about why the Lib Dems would have made a terrible, terrible mistake to go into coalition with him. He knows he can’t get this plan through Parliament, so why bother? The answer to that question is too obvious for me to bother answering. Stick to claymores, Alex.

But fundamentally, why would Scotland want the burden that would be its own Olympic Team? Every four years Team GB returns from the Olympics with a handful of medals and the media eviscerates them for not having enough. If Salmond gets his way, Team WLOGB would not be noticeably affected, but Team Scotland would come back with even less. Just what would this do for Scottish pride?

It is fair enough that they insist on having their own football team. It keeps Del Amitri in work, anyway. But why is it such an indignity for the Scots to cheer on their fellow Brits every once in a while? What happened to all this guff about Salmond wanting to be England’s friend?

Now Eurovision on the other hand, that might be a different prospect. If we’re doomed to be screwed over by the Balkans, why not Balkanise our own entries and take advantage of the voting system? We wouldn’t be able to trust the perfidious Scots to vote the right way, but with our Skype accounts we could all rig the Scottish phone-in to give England votes. In any case the incomer English population would probably help, just like those pesky Russians in Estonia rigged that vote. Salmond could do worse than to wash his hands of all responsibility for Flying the Flag.

And, of course, Del Amitri might get some work on the side (on a semi-serious note, I suspect the Proclaimers would kick serious arse at Eurovision: how about it, lads?).