Friday, August 20, 2004

Change the Olympics Now

My friend John Robson, excellent commentator for the Ottawa Citizen (and some of whose writing has appeared on our Blogsite) recently wrote a piece on how to improve the Olympics (August 13, 2004: ‘The Olympics should return to their pre-hype days’). I hope he will forgive me if I add a couple of ideas to his clever piece.

First, the Olympics would be massively improved if they focussed on sport and the good of human competition itself and less or, not at all, on nationalism. In short, ban international team competition.

Therefore, do away with team uniforms, national flags and national anthems. Leave national medal counting to the crass and unenlightened. Let athletes appear as athletes themselves. It is their personal abilities (or team co-operation in team sports), after all, that the games in their best principled basis, were supposed to highlight.

Second, ban professional athletes and make the Olympics, once again, only for amateurs. That would make the nobility of amateur sport - - where what is done is for the love of the sport itself - - reappear amidst the horrors of the current malaise in which “dopage” as the French call it, is simply one aspect of the human tragedy that is the contemporary inflated and dumbed-down hyper-sports world.

Third, go to a zero tolerance on drug use in sports. One bite and you are out. Lifetime bans need to be introduced and drug-tests made compulsory for all athletes until the current scourge shows signs of being eradicated.

Fourth, I completely endorse John Robson’s idea of giving the games a permanent home in Greece where they belong. Do away with the massive waste of time, life and energy that are these absurd competitions for “site of the next Games.”

Fifth, get rid of the IOC and make the organization of the games trim and neat and voluntary. The obesity of the IOC itself is a travesty and serves only to assist massive corruption. Corrupt judging, international politicking, drug-taking, the hoopla of celebrity driving obscene sponsorship programmes - - these are not the spirit that ought to animate sports and particularly not something that claims to be associated, even if just in spirit, with the ancient Greeks. Return to virtue in athletics.

Having played what was an amateur sport at the national level myself (rugby) and had other friends play at the Olympic level in recent years, there could not be a greater contrast between the spirit of honest amateur competition and the gross politicking that mark the new contests.

Years ago, in England, there arose a group of people who wanted to preserve that most sacred of things - - the quality of English beer. It turns out that the big breweries had developed, over time, the practice of buying up local breweries, many that had been in existence for centuries, and closing them down or, worse, continuing the name of these breweries but destroying the quality of the beer - - adding all kinds of chemicals to make them more cheaply, etc.

The group that arose called itself the Campaign for Real Ale - - CAMRA for short, and began a movement to “protect the pint” to ensure that “real ale” not chemical derivatives, would continue. Well, CAMRA went from a fringe sort group to one that became more and more powerful. Eventually the big brewers listened and did not phase out the local breweries and local beers. The boycott of cheaply produced fizzy beers proved successful and to this day, real beers properly produced can be purchased all over the UK.

Something similar is needed with sports. We need a CAMRO, or Campaign for Real Olympics. Such a group would boycott the plastic, super-sized glitz that masquerades for proper sports in the pseudo-Olympics and would seek to save and protect the spirit of genuine amateur competition. It would produce guides, standards and would become, over time, the quality standard for real sports.

To qualify as a “real athlete”, one would not be sponsored by governments or large companies. One would take pride in being a genuine amateur and would recognize the virtue that comes from sport being a part of ones’ life rather than the focus of life itself. An aspect of the horror of the contemporary scene is the kind of nonsense that permits the Chinese to take youngsters from their families at age 12 if they show promise as badminton players to turn them into the kind of single-minded monsters that dominate the contemporary sport.

Sports must be an aspect of a life well lived - - they should never be its focus. When they have become the reason for living then they are not what sports should be. It is but an aspect of our contemporary “values” that the virtues of proper sport have been lost sight of.

Mind you, perhaps this is the kind of sport our times deserve - - they are certainly the kinds of sport they (and we) have created. It was Plato long ago who observed that: “as it goes with the Games, so it goes with the City”. Time for a change.

Iain T. Benson ©