Olympics for all? ……By Richard Pierce
I’ve not always loved sport. As a fat child, I viewed it with a certain amount of disdain, I think, regarding reading alone in my bedroom as a much more important pastime than getting sweaty or even wasting time watching other people get sweaty for no good reason. And then, as I grew a little older, though not thinner, my dad started to let me stay up late on European football nights, and I grew to love that time we spent together watching what looked to me like old men suddenly growing young and twinkle-toed and doing things with a ball that I could never have dreamed of doing. That’s when sport became a thing of beauty to me.
By 1972, I was totally given up to the watching of sport, and lapped up the Sapporo Winter Olympics, and then the Munich Olympics – and was totally and utterly distraught by the massacre there, having by this time also moved on in my reading to the Greek classics. In 1974, just before we left Germany to move back to England, I was asked by a friend of my father’s to go to watch Scotland play Brazil in the World Cup at the Frankfurt Waldstadion. Time has blurred many of the images from that day, but one thing I recall clearly is Billy Bremner, with his white wristbands on, missing a sitter from about 3 yards out, putting it a foot wide of the Brazilian post, with the keeper nowhere.
Wind forwards almost 40 years, and here we are, in an Olympic year, the Olympics in the UK for the first time in my life time, and me thinner and more active than I was when I was 14, and as obsessed by watching and playing sport as I ever was.
I’ve been lucky enough to be at three Olympic events so far, all of them poles apart as far as the watching environment’s concerned. The first, Olympic Ladies Football in Coventry (free tickets thanks to the local primary school, high up in the windy North Stand); the second Ladies’ table tennis in the cheap (but excellent) seats in the Excel; the third a hospitality area right by the finishing line at Eton Dorney for the rowing, with free food and drink (and this last one thanks to the enduring generosity of one of my oldest and dearest friends).
At some point at Eton Dorney, I sat down with my glass of fizz and started to wonder about the intellectual integrity, not just of me sat there supping fizz, but of the Olympic Games as a whole. And I don’t mean to start banging on about politics or corruption or doping here. My mind was focused on something different altogether, leaving rational thinking about economics to one side. I don’t do rational very well.
My interpretation of the Olympics has always been that they were started by the ancient Greeks to replace war, to stop from happening again the tragedies and losses of the Trojan War, to allow the peoples of Greece to live in peace with each other, and having their named champions fight bloodless games in the name of their states in the shadow of Mount Olympus. That these were games played by the people for the people, that anyone who wanted to watch could watch, that anyone who wanted to take part would be considered, and the best chosen from those who vied for a place.
Extend that now into modern times, and the ideal is all but destroyed. We live in times of war; we have lived with almost continuous wars since the end of the 19th century. This is a bloody age we live in, with conflict worldwide, with threats of conflict where no conflict is now. And we also live in a greedy world, a place where everyone is motivated by selfish gains, not by selfless pursuit, where gamesmanship commonplace on and off the field, and where those in poverty are placed under even greater strain by those who live in luxury.
These thoughts naturally confused me, and still do, especially in that privileged position at Eton Dorney. However, they didn’t stop me from wondering how the Olympics could have been made accessible to all, how a mechanism could be devised by which attendance at every Olympic event could have been made free of charge, how governments should, in a true Olympian spirit, make financial contributions towards this mechanism, directly depriving their machines of war of the oxygen of money and aggression. These funds could be generated by supertaxes on the super-rich and on the banks. Spectators would take part in ballots to see who could go to watch and where. There would be no competing for where the Olympics would be held, because we would have a rota hundreds of years ahead determined by referendums held worldwide. And this, naturally, as a precursor to yet another one of my Utopian dreams – a world government, one world currency, and one global system of taxation.
Is it really too much to ask and to hope for that we should return to true amateurism when it comes to taking part in the Games, whether competing or watching? Is it too much to dream of that the true darkness of the human spirit could be suppressed for a fortnight every four years to allow the beauty of sporting efforts and achievements to shine through? I wish it weren’t.