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Do the Olympics actually matter?

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John Beattie | 16:13 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2012

Are the Olympics a good or a bad thing? Do you admire or abhor the drive for a medal?

I just want to take a few moments to have some brief thoughts about this and get your feelings on it too.

But before I get started, perhaps the Olympics demonstrate perfectly that mankind is not perfect.

In a world where Nasa's mission control claim that "failure is not an option", failure, actually, is part of every day life.

There have been empty seats, broken seats, food stalls that have run out of food, and claims that some water fountains have been at a trickle.

In order to get a ticket for an event and upon hearing that only those from the "Olympic family" can get them, I looked up my history and luckily my father's grandmother was from Ireland and called Ora O'Lympic.

On the plus side, a man has offered his spare Olympic seats to a couple who travelled from Australia to watch the boxing but found that their tickets were fakes.

Ann and Graham Smith travelled to London from the Gold Coast, but found their tickets had been bought from a bogus website.

They are bowled over with the perfect beauty surrounding an act like this, while the ticket-supplier wishes to remain anonymous.

And the armed forces have seen their popularity rise rapidly here thanks to their interaction with the general public. Today I was frisked by a very young lad from Possil in Glasgow. I haven't been called "Sir" for a long time.

But what of the Olympics? I just want to ask a few harsh questions as any observer should.

According to sportscotland's 'Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation in Scotland: 2005-07 Overview', just 47% of Scottish adults take part in sport once a month, which means that 53% don't.

So, why might people not be interested in the Olympics?

I'll pick just four aspects:

The first question has to concern money. Are the Olympics about sport or about commercialism?

I've made a radio report about there being only one type of credit card accepted in the Olympic park, there is only one kind of burger you can buy, and only one kind of cola.

The principal sponsors, who are massive companies, buy into the goodness, the purity and the wholesomeness of sport. But you could argue that as soon as major companies get involved in anything it ceases to be pure.

The second aspect is around the role of the principal actors: the athletes.

Are athletes really such great role models? They are paid by you and me to do their job full-time. To win they have to really want to win.

They win for their country, their families, and their employers, but fundamentally the drive to win comes from within.

If I look deep inside myself, it is my weakness; a strange need to win things. People who don't see winning as key will see it as selfish, a needless drive that the world might do without.

Modern athletes are media trained too and every move is choreographed or controlled in a fashion unimaginable in 1948, the last time the games were here in London.

You will note, for instance, that the current Team GB message is to thank the support, thank everyone who helped them along the way, admire the noise the crowd made, express pride, and say how just getting to where they got to in the race was just wonderful.

The Australian athletes of old were even "podium trained" so that they brushed their hair and smiled hard, no matter the medal.

And what of nationalism? There is inherent in all of us a yearning to belong somewhere. It's expressed as coming from a family, or a town, or a country.

But perhaps some might despise the fact that countries pay people to practice, let's say the javelin, for four years so that an anthem rings out and a flag is raised.

Just ask the North and South Koreans.

And finally, do we just accept that some people are not interested in the Olympics?

You might be a sportsman or woman involved in another sport and still have no interest in the sports on display here in London.

How many of you, for instance, go three-day eventing?

To me, one of the beauties of the Olympics is learning something about a sport I've never seen before.

What do you think? Are you a fan of the Olympics?


  • Comment number 1.


    Nope! No interest in sports. Except chess.

    What does it matter who wins, so long as it's not England?


  • Comment number 2.

    Hmm. Well, yes. Scotch Git sums it all up very concisely.

    'England' aren't actually competing, of course, but SG doesn't sound the sort to allow a fact to get in the way of a good bit of invective.

    Guess that's it for debate in this blog then, John?

  • Comment number 3.

    I was asked a question.

    I provided a response.

    Feel free to disagree!

  • Comment number 4.

    SG .... errm .... actually, you answered John's open question with a fatuous, rhetorical invocation of 'ABE'.

    What's to 'disagree'?

  • Comment number 5.

    Is that a rhetorical question?

    fatuous git

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I like the olympics. But I do think it is too nationalistic. It seems to be as much about nationalism as about sport. And the BBC is as guilty of this as anyone. The BBC's coverage is predictably obsessed with British medals (or lack of). I don't see nationalism as a good thing. I don't fully understand why racism and sexism are out of bounds but nationalism is still encouraged. Are they not similar? As long as people allow themselves to be taken in by nationalism, racism and religion (all of which are based on human ignorance and stupidity) then there will never be peace in the world.
    My favourite events so far have been women's beach volleyball and women's gymnastics.

  • Comment number 9.

    I too like the Olympics. I might even watch some of the football even though that is one sport I really don't like. I don't care for the nationalism of many Brits and other countries but I do care about sportsmanship which is often displayed by the competitors in the Olympics.

  • Comment number 10.

    I would be interested to know how the statistic regarding Scottish participation in sport compares to other countries. I suspect Chinese participation levels are quite low as a percentage but they are totally dominant at the Olympics. I would much rather live in a country where people enjoy a few hours a week playing village cricket or 5-a-side football with their mates than a country where the majority work too hard and do no sport and a few naturally gifted children are hand picked at an early age and made to work much too hard to acheive glory for the state. I'm not sure who that benefits other than the country's unelected leaders.

  • Comment number 11.

    The olympics are brilliant. Evey time they come round I dedicate those weeks to just watching the events unfold.

    You have to admit the best programmes on TV are a look back over great Olympic moments.

    I find it hard to see why anyone wouldn't want to watch the world united at one event all watching together.

    Im sitting in a cafe in a sleepy town in Croatia and every TV screen Is showing the events, even if it is mostly table tennis and handball over here..

    It doesn't matter though because everyone is happy to get involved and enjoy the spectacle.

    The Olympics are brilliant and yes large sponsorships do dominate certain aspects but put that aside and theres always plenty to remember and cherish

  • Comment number 12.

    The Olympics is fantastic as it allows us meer mortals watch men and women, and in some cases children, perform sporting events to an incredible level. The variety of sports is brilliant to watch and yes to learn about new sports. It also allows both children and adults watch sports that they may want to try but never thought about before.

    However, the disappointing fact is that sponsorship takes over and in a way ruins the whole ethos of the Olympics. For shopkeepers not able to put olympic banners on their windows is just plain stupid. That people can only use one type of credit card in when at the Olympics, that people can only eat MacDonalds chips, that MacDonalds is a sposor anyway is in a way morally wrong! How can product that is in no way healthy is a major sponsor of the biggest world wide sporting event is disgusting! As usual it demonstrates that the world revolves around money and ethics just goes straight out the window.

    The athletes are amazing, the sports are amazing but I can do without the money it takes to run such an event.

  • Comment number 13.

    Team GB. Great name, it trips off the tongue. It sounds good in a sports chant, it has a defiant resonance as teams break from their huddle. It sounds cozy and reflective and yet invigorating when BBC commentators wax lyrical about it's members. But it is what it is, a marketing tool. It's Cool Britannia.

    Firat of all, a team should have a common goal; and with 23 different sports being pursued at the Olympics how can they possibly have any sort of common purpose? It seems to me that the only commonality is that they all have the same deliciously misrepresented flag on their uniforms.

    Secondly (and I may be misinformed here), GB (Great Britain) ony includes England, Scotland and Wales; so are there no NI athletes in the team? If so, it needs to immediately be renamed Team UK. I am clear on the geography that we are actually called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I am just a little hazy as to the makeup of the Olympic team.

    Lastly, and I refer directly to teh opening ceremony here, the Olympics has demonstrated that the identity of GB (UK?) is the of the identity of England. Now I am Scottish and consider myself that first and British second. But when my country forms part of Britain I would certainly expect it's culture, traditions and history to form part ofthe fabric of the greater entity. But it appears that in this global event, that it wasnt appropriate to market anything that is particularly Scottish to the world. What we saw was Englishness once again being portrayed as Britishness to the world and our identity as a country being eroded still further.

    And that argument would be true of Wales and even more true for Northern Ireland.

    Maybe us wee Gaelic countries don't sell enough Coca Cola. Maybe we just aren't sexy enough to matter in the great corporate scheme of things.

    Team GB? Now they WILL sell a great deal of Coca Cola and anything else that they are paid to do post games.

  • Comment number 14.

    A point of note - Gene Kranz never said "Failure is not an option," it was coined for the movie Apollo 13. However, when he came to write his biography he liked the phrase so much he called his book after it.


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