Faster, Higher, Nastier.

6 Feb


As the Winter Olympics in Sochi officially open today I am steeling myself for two weeks, or whatever, of being really annoyed.

From the media to people on public transit, everyone will be talking about the games — as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

But if Vladimir Putin’s playground on the Black Sea has revealed anything about mammoth sports events like the bi-annual Olympic spend-a thons, the FIFA World Cup and so on, it is that there is practically nothing normal anymore about them.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a big sports fan, but I do understand that lots of people are, and that they like (for some reason I’ll never figure out) to watch people zip around an arena or dive off a diving board, in ways that all seem exactly similar, for three seconds. I also get the fact that people become all charged up watching their nation’s football team duke it out with another’s and hopefully win. I have lots of friends who look forward to these emotional moments, including one who got physically ill as he watched Brazil lose incomprehensibly to France at the 1998 World Cup.

Sports, and sports competitions, have been with us since prehistoric times; our engagement with them is natural.

But what I don’t get and in fact find increasingly absurd, if not criminal, is the way they must take place somewhere new all over the world, year after year. If sports are really what sporting events are all about, then there’s no reason why they can’t take place in the same venue all the time. Or at least, by this point, at anyone of the scores of already existing ones.

This idea, however, would be anathema to the various money-hungry sporting bodies and their corporate backers. Their periodic show-downs are far more about cash than sportsmanship and athletics. They — and the governments who keep jumping up and down with their hands up like smarty-pants school kids — are only to happy to see billions of dollars of public money wasted on a consistent basis for infrastructure that has little, in some cases no, sustainable value.

Sochi, with its mega-millions lost to graft and corruption (i.e. the bank accounts of Putin and Co), is probably the most egregious example. Qatar is running neck-and-neck with it, however, literally working hundreds of migrant workers to death in slave-labour-like conditions as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup games they greased many a FIFA palm to obtain.

Last year, a reporter with the Guardian asked the Qatari labour ministry why so many young Nepalese workers were dying of heart attacks on its building sites. The response: “This question would be better suited for the relevant health authorities or the government of Nepal.” Nice.

Like South Africa a few years ago, Brazil is offering us another example of the inherent irony of developing countries spending money on a few days of fun-and-games instead of desperately needed (and, need I even say it, more useful) public services and infrastructure. Millions of people demonstrated against the vast waste of money last year and apparently the Brazilian government is busily spying on potential sources of more popular interference this summer.

At Sochi, meanwhile, an eye-watering $50 billion has been wasted. People have lost their houses and been shoehorned into apartments to make way for its tawdry stadia and such, and even stray dogs, mostly abandoned pets, are being killed en masse in a misbegotten effort to polish this Putin-esque turd.

The absolutely worst thing about this iteration of the Olympics, however, is the poisonous political atmosphere in which they are taking place: the dictatorial Putin’s establishment of an intolerant, inhumane and downright nasty set of anti-gay laws only makes me wonder how on earth this nation, like Germany in 1936, was allowed to host them in the first place.

I applaud the fact that many athletes may well try and embarrass him, but most of the media attention will, of course, be on athletic performances. And Putin is only too aware of that.

As the international competitors hole up in their ring-fenced quarters and concentrate on winning, so will the reporters as they cover each result of each event ad nauseum. Viewers may be treated to the odd story on the rampant physical attacks on people because of their sexual orientation — maybe — but that is not the focus here. The real story in Sochi is going to be about physical prowess, and ethics won’t get much of a look in.

And that should make us question the entire way we let these sports event into our lives.


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