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Discussion point XXIII

The Olympics are a vulgar, ruinous hullabaloo the chief functions of which are to facilitate graft on a spectacular scale and to act as a vehicle for the promotion of despotic values. They are, at best, unedifying and, at worst, intolerable.

51 comments to Discussion point XXIII

  • michael farris

    I think you’re being entirely too kind.

  • Minekiller

    ….and the Chinese team won’t be laced to the eyeballs on durgs….?

    Olympics. Farce…

  • Nick Timms

    The original idea of a meeting of individuals from all over the world to compete against each other in various sporting events was great and would still be worth watching.

    I stopped watching years ago though as it is a competition for politicians not individual sportsmen and women and, as always, politicians appropriate other peoples money to pay for their pet projects.

    Now if a breakaway movement were to start up. One where nationalities are not allowed to be mentioned, only the individuals name and sporting achievements. Where the organisation seeks funds through voluntary donation, it may be possible to have an exciting and enthralling competition.

    I feel sorry for any serious sportsperson. With the Olympics as the supposed pinnacle of sporting achievement they have a stark choice. Compete in the ultimate competition and compromise their personal political beliefs, or boycott the whole shabby thing and miss out on one of the most important events in a sporting career. Tough choice.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I agree.

    The extraoardinary thing is is how the people who run these Games have convinced a vast number of governments that it is a matter of prestige and honour to stage them, fork out huge sums of taxpayers’ money to hold them, etc. It is like state subsidised art: why does not a leading government, such as that of the US, stand up and say that it will refuse to pay for the Games, and does not want them?

  • I’m not sure that every Olympics promotes despotic values.

    Your other charges are quite correct and, I would add, the view of the Olympics as some sort of ‘ultimate’ competition is mistaken. In the case of many of its sports there are more respectable global competitions, for others there inclusion in the Olympics is the only reason anyone has ever heard of them.

    All this of course makes the obsession* with the national ‘medal tally’ quite absurd.

    *I’m not sure if this is an international phenomenon, but it sure seemed to be the primary topic of conversation here last time around.

  • Now if a breakaway movement were to start up. One where nationalities are not allowed to be mentioned, only the individuals name and sporting achievements.

    I’d watch that. If the games were held in the same place every time too, that’d put more focus on the athletes than on the usual “will the stadia be finished on time and on budget?” tedium we get for months before each one.

  • “to act as a vehicle for the promotion of despotic values.”

    Fully agreed. It’s the “single warrior combat” concept, in which two soldiers from different armies fight each other, with the binding results perceived as the will of God. (This allows me to feel incredibly superior when the U.S. defeats North Korea in the pole vault.) The glory of the victorious warrior shifts to his leader by osmosis.

    Equally frustrating – most of the coverage of a U.S. or Western European Olympiad is broadcast to an audience of stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, or retirees. To hold their attention, the broadcasters are obligated to show mini-documentaries of each athlete’s traumas and tragedies. A parent who died three years earlier, a deceased coach, affliction with a stutter, etc.

    The only way anyone can be heroic is to become a victim first.

  • Gregory

    But it does make a good telly show, doesn’t it? :)

    Look, don’t treat the Olympics as what they market it to be. It’s entertainment, pure and simple. Not particularly fantastic either – just good entertainment. And mostly clean. And having a whole buncha blokes in the pub cheering when Thorpedo wins yet *another* gold (okay, this dates me, doesn’t it? Just be grateful I don’t mention Mark Spitz) is a cool experience too.

    But the heydays of the Olympics are long past, when Emil Zatopek could clown around and still beat just about everyone else, or when Jesse Owens got advice from Lutz Long.

  • Sunfish

    It is like state subsidised art: why does not a leading government, such as that of the US, stand up and say that it will refuse to pay for the Games, and does not want them?

    That happened here a few decades ago. In 1976, the games were actually awarded to Denver. Then-state representative Dick Lamm led a successful campaign to revoke any promises of public funding. When the organizers found out that a Denver Olympiad would actually be forced to pay for itself rather than leech off of us, they moved the games to Austria.

    I’d like to see the US do that this year, especially after the AP article I just read featuring Chinese cops manhandling protesters in San Francisco.

    Actually, even more than an Olympic boycott, I’d like to see the thugs in question repatriated in rubber bags, and the US official who gave them permission to abuse US citizens facing a needle in Terre Haute, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • ….and the Chinese team won’t be laced to the eyeballs on durgs….?

    As a libertarian I have no problem with ‘durgs’.

    Equally, I have no problem with the Olympics, AS LONG AS I DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM. Which is why I was glad Madrid didn’t get them this time round (although we’re bidding again apparently…. DOH!)

  • I always enjoy the Olympics from a sporting point of view. However, if they were genuinely about sport, what you would do is hold them at the same venue every time, or rotate them between a maximum of three or four venues. That way you wouldn’t have to build new facilities every time and the locals running the games would have experience of running them.

    As it is, the games have become a dreadful forum for political posturing and a truly awe inspiring opportunity for politicians to go on junkets at taxpayers expense. (There is also a huge class of hangers on, many of who have been involved in the running of previous Olympics, and who then get hired at huge expense as “consultants” when the government and bureaucrats in the city that has won the games realise they have no idea how to run them).

  • Stephen Willmer

    Hitlerine bread and circuses.

  • God,

    Who cares?

    Even talking about it encourages them.

  • Nick M

    If the Olympics are as popular as claimed (and the claims rise as high as “Greatest show on Earth” etc.) then…

    … then how in the name of living fuck can they not be run as a profitable business?

    Barnum and Bailey managed it.

    Why are we talking about how much it will cost London and not how much London will make?

    A Rolling Stones or U2 or Madonna world tour costs a bloody fortune to put on but it makes a stonking profit.

    The Olympics. Truly fucking pathetic.

    Of course there is arguably also the point that nobody gives a tinkers chuff about most of it.

  • Nick M

    Sunfish,
    I agree fully with your view on the Chinese thugs in sportswear. So much like our own dearly beloved chavs…

    And you know what? If I was a potless peasant in one of the less fashionable regions of China. You know the ones – the ones where blood transfusions weren’t (maybe still aren’t) screened for that deadly virus (HIV) that only affects the decadent West (over 500,000 infected) and I didn’t have a phone or a metalled road then I’d be mad as fucking hell over the billions being spent on a glorified sports day.

    That may not be a libertarian approach but I’m a consequential libertarian, usually.

    Example: This year the LHC goes online at CERN. The UK’s future participation is in jeopardy because our government can’t pony up GBP70 Mil. This is exactly the sum that our Supreme Leader promised as Danegeld to mosques to “combat radicalization”. Right, so we quit particle physics for a bunch of fucking nutcases with beards (I’m was a fluids guy so, in mitigation, I’d say it’s exchanging one bunch of bearded nutcases for another) but that’s not the point. The real point is that I don’t trust the treasurer of this club or any potential replacement.

    Hell, if I want to watch Blondie then I buy a ticket and I have a great evening and Debbie and the lads make a few bucks (as does the Manchester Apollo) and everyone leaves happy. If someone wants to watch “World Class” hop, skip and jump can’t it work the same way?

  • So the people are in the streets everywhere. London – stiff upper lip protests and Brown decided not to touch the torch. France – pull off a riot and put out that flame like only the French could. San Francisco – hanging off the bridge to stop the hanging. Maybe we should create a special Oh-Limp-Pics for those not-so-free societies to be paraded every four years. It will give us all a chance to show how we feel about injustice around the world. It is obvious that the media will only report on it if there is a sound-bite and a photo opportunity. Maybe something for tyrant to carry the torch of torture every four years. Mm, I think I have an idea… http://angryafrican.net/2008/04/09/oh-limp-pic-games-celebrating-tyrants-everywhere/

  • then I’d be mad as fucking hell over the billions being spent on a glorified sports day.

    That may not be a libertarian approach but I’m a consequential libertarian, usually.

    How is being mad at hell at the vast expenditure of state money on something pointless not libertarian?

    I would think it’s libertarian to the core.

  • What used to be a festival of nationalism has become a festival of Tranziness and biochemistry.

  • Nick M

    Michael,
    From a strict libertarian POV the Chinese state using the cash instead to improve the lot of folk in their backwaters isn’t OK either. A libertarian is against the state spending cash on pretty much anything but there are degrees of pissing it up the wall and quite frankly putting a village in Western China on the ‘tricity grid is very different from hosting the 110m hurdles. It’s like you or me dining out at a top restaurant with the money that should have gone on the mortgage.

  • renminbi

    Our foolish Mayor Bumbleberg wanted the 2112 games, but thank God-better London than us.
    Who gets the gold for making the PRC squirm the most?
    OT-Angry African-That looks like Grand Street looking west on your blog page.

  • jerry

    ‘That way you wouldn’t have to build new facilities every time and the locals running the games would have experience of running them.’
    Bingo – ding ding ding –
    You win the prize.
    But if we do it your way, there won’t be TONS of MONEY to be, um, spent, yeah, that’s the word, ‘spent’.
    Can’t use words like skim, waste, dip into etc.
    If it wasn’t for the construction and consultants ( kind of like reinventing the wheel every 4 years ) there wouldn’t be buckets of money to be, um, yeah spent !!

    As any city that has hosted this so called event has found out, financially, long term – it’s a net LOSS.

    As for the prestige, sorry, couldn’t care less.

  • Even absent the repellent 1936 Games, there has always been a whiff of the fascist brimstone about the Olympics. The opening ceremony is reminiscent of a Third Reich rally crossed with a Moscow May Day parade. I half-expect to see the athletes goose-stepping as they pass by the podium. Couple that with the heroic graft and the appalling deluge of money that always seems to be spent on facilities, and it hard to see how the Olympics have any redeeming features whatever. The UK will be in hock for decades to pay off the £20 billion that will be squandered for the 2012 Games.

  • Ivan

    This discussion has reminded me of the ridicule that Joseph de Maistre heaped two centuries ago on his contemporaries who wanted to revive the Olympics back then:

    http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/history/links/maistre/essay-XLVIII-LXVII.html

    Some years ago, the French people took it into their heads to establish, at Paris, certain courses, which were gravely called, in some writings of the day, Olympic Games. […] Nothing can be more simple; but, without asking them why they did not call these games Parisian, instead of Olympic, I shall proceed to make other observations. In order to institute Olympic games, the Oracles were consulted: gods and heroes participated in them; they were never commenced without the offering of sacrifices, and the performance of other religious ceremonies; they were regarded as the great Comitia of Greece, and nothing was more august. But did the Parisians, before establishing their courses revived from the Greeks, go to Rome ad limina apostolorum, to consult the Pope? Before jumping the breakneck, for the amusement of tradesmen, did they celebrate High-Mass? With what great political considerations did they associate these courses? What were the names of the Institutors? – But enough: the most ordinary common sense feels instantly the nothingness, and even the ridiculousness, of this imitation.

    I think he was basically right; a modern spectacle named “Olympic Games” can only be a ridiculous mockery of what the original Greek Olympics stood for, in just about any imaginable respect. Their modern incarnation just adds even more disgust, for all the reasons listed in the original post and the comments above.

  • Ernie G


    ….and the Chinese team won’t be laced to the eyeballs on drugs….?

    The drag racing community solved this problem years ago. They came up with different classes:

    1. Strictly stock
    2. Modified
    3. Full fuel.

    Perhaps the athletic community could come up with a similar plan:

    1. Strictly clean
    2. Lightly juiced (mild stimulants, painkillers, etc.)
    3. Full fuel (anything goes).

  • Ernie G

    David Gillies:

    “Even absent the repellent 1936 Games, there has always been a whiff of the fascist brimstone about the Olympics. The opening ceremony is reminiscent of a Third Reich rally crossed with a Moscow May Day parade.”

    Not to mention the godawful pretentious music they play on the TV throughout the whole affair.

  • RRS

    If so, why all the attention by the intellectual yobs?

  • If so, why all the attention by the intellectual yobs?

    ha ha, n1 mate.

  • matt

    Hell, if I want to watch Blondie then I buy a ticket and I have a great evening and Debbie and the lads make a few bucks (as does the Manchester Apollo) and everyone leaves happy. If someone wants to watch “World Class” hop, skip and jump can’t it work the same way?

    The market wouldn’t support very much of it. Track and field isn’t much of a ratings-getter without the nationalistic jingoism thrown in, and gymnastics is even less so.

    All the other sports are either interesting only to tiny slices of the population or else shown constantly in other formats.

  • Condor

    I would like to hear from de Havilland on this

  • nick g.

    If we go back to the ‘Real’ Olympics, we might have individual sports somewhere in Greece, with the world invited in. The actual Olympic site would be an archaeological preserve, but we could start a new sport city nearby.
    We get some real athletic events, limited to non-team competitions, Greece gets another tourist attraction, and the other olympics gets a black eye. A win all round.

  • tranio

    all these anti Olympics posts from a bunch of unfit, computer monitor peering types.

  • Paul

    The market wouldn’t support very much of it. Track and field isn’t much of a ratings-getter without the nationalistic jingoism thrown in, and gymnastics is even less so.

    If the athletes competed naked, as they did in the ancient Olympics, than I think the market could support quite a bit of it indeed.

  • anonymous coward

    The film Baron Munchhausen and the running of the Olympic torch are Dr. Goebbels’ most enduring achievements.

  • Sunfish

    tranio:

    all these anti Olympics posts from a bunch of unfit, computer monitor peering types.

    Exactly right. The Human Genome Project was such a success that human cloning has been perfected, and the entire Samizdata commentariat has been cloned from him.

  • Nick M

    tranio,
    You really are a wanker, aren’t you?

    I spend a large chunk of the day in front of my Trinnies because – shock horror – it’s my job.

    The whole point of the original post is, I assume, not anti-sport but against an evil tyranny which is using sport to bolster it’s image. My wife decided to go swimming this afternoon. She did so for a variety of reasons not one of which was concerned with bigging-up the Great Helmsman or his sequels.

    So I can’t comment on the games unless I can run 100m in 10s flat? Maybe not, but I’m still paying for it when it hits London in 2012.

  • Laird

    Dammit, Sunfish, you let the cat out of the bag!

  • JerryM

    If the athletes competed naked, as they did in the ancient Olympics, than I think the market could support quite a bit of it indeed.

    or

    http://www.trojangames.com

    Hilarious!

  • RAB

    I have just come back from scrabbling up and down Devil’s Bridge and precipitious places like that.

    I was also, aged 11, entered for the 100yds, 200yds, the long jump, the high jump, the triple jump (never even made the sand. Just couldn’t get the hang of the steps), the Javelin, the discus (a very weird weapon of war indeed) and the shot( for those of you who know what I look like, well, the very idea of me competing in the shot is ludicrous!)
    What the hell were my teachers thinking?
    I am entered into more competitions in an afternoon than Daley Thompson had to face in a week!
    But one coped in those days you see…
    I won the javelin by the way. Always was good at chucking things
    So Tranio, I’ll race ya up Cader Idris anytime ;-)

  • Sunfish

    Laird,
    I wouldn’t let my cat out of the bag in this crowd. Not with Nick M running around threatening to dress cats in sailor suits. The only reason that he doesn’t kill me and eat me as it is, is because I outweigh him about 19-1.

    And now, I shall return to my mom’s basement, where I dispense the insults rather than receive them.

  • 1. I have never dressed a cat in anything.

    2. I have no intention of eating Sunfish.

    3. I am not skinny.

  • Sunfish

    1. I have never dressed a cat in anything.

    Yeah, but weren’t you the one talking about it?

    2. I have no intention of eating Sunfish.

    Not you. It’s my cat who was going to eat me once he grew up.

    But he’s seriously going to end up holding a bottle of teriaki sauce in a lolcatz picture, captioned “it rubsez lotionz on his skin or it getz hozes again.” Because in some feline dream, we’re all basically going to be stir-fry, hold the vegetables.

    The cat is also the one who I outweigh 19-1. Although I had to put him on prednisone, and he bulked up a little. Now that I think about it, that makes me nervous.

    If I don’t post, it’s because my cat got my tongue, and then got the rest of me.

  • simple solution –don’t watch
    Olympics have often brought complaints–1936, Russia etc
    The hypocrisy: boycott because China bad but fill your house with items made in China because you don’t give a damn.

  • Midwesterner

    The local excitement around here is that it has been confirmed by DNR geneticists. Mountain lion(s) from the S.D. population have arrived here. While farther north they will take moose, around here they live on our out of control white-tail deer herd. The nearest sighting is a few hundred yards from our (now heavily wooded) farm. It/they apparently like hay mows in abandoned barns.

    Thursday (hard rain, just above freezing, 40 mph wind gusts) I am out in our (essentially abandoned) barn looking for something and I apparently disturbed an upstairs resident. There were some thumps and movement in the mow. It was a curious and novel experience to realize that there could be a puddy-tat up there big enough to consider me an appetizer.

  • Mike Jackson

    Lapides nailed it. What a bunch of crap.

    “I am special. I am brave. I hate the Olympics. Notice me.”

  • tom

    the olympics have become a vanity project for our ‘leaders’. not much difference between the olympic parades today and those of hitler’s germany or stalin’s russia in this respect. they are also, as stated, an opportunity for graft on a grand scale. as far as the athletes are concerned, they are primarily an intelligence test – the question is, will they get caught out in drug use or not?

  • Vercingetorix

    The hypocrisy: boycott because China bad but fill your house with items made in China because you don’t give a damn.

    Otay, Mr. Non Sequitar, guess you can’t stand against tyranny (!!!) without going iPodless, huh?

    Btw, how’s the Ron Paul revolution working for you guys?

    “I am special. I am brave. I hate the Olympics. Notice me.”

    Yeah, all about us. Nothing about the graft, largesse, and political BS that go with the Olympics.

    Hey, I also have some bad things to say about the UN, maybe I’m just in need of a manicure and a shiatsu, huh?

  • Jim C.

    At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare…Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

    Instead of blah-blahing about the clean, healthy rivalry of the football field and the great part played by the Olympic Games in bringing the nations together, it is more useful to inquire how and why this modern cult of sport arose.

    Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit”

  • Anthony

    The United States government has not ever subsidised an Olympics directly, that I know of. States and localities have done so, though.

    The 1984 LA Olympics turned a profit, the first one since the 1932 LA Olympics to do so. Maybe the IOC should just put the games there every year, and let the Americans figure out how to make a profit from it.

  • I’d rather they base them in Greece. For good. Build a fantastic, classically inspired olympic village, stadia and venue. Throw out all the daft “synchronised swimming” et al. events.

  • RAB

    Gotta keep the Womens Beach Volleyball though!

    C’mon!