Tag Archives: Olympic Games

Britain Delivered (Carefully Positioned Straws)

In his typically patronising and condescending style, David Cameron has declared today that the moral of the Olympic Games is that if you want to achieve great things, you have to work really hard to get them.

He is absolutely correct, of course. In the majority of cases working hard does lead to achievement. But it was a heck of a lot of money to spend just to discover one of the facts of life you learn in working class primary schools.

Cameron’s folly lies in the ridiculous way he tries to spin shaky economic justifications for conservative party politics out of the least likely threads.

Together with his daft pals he is hell bent on pursuing an ideological agenda that just does not fit with our current reality, regardless of the fake conviction with which he tries to sell it as the only economic option.

It is even more surprising that Cameron feels the need to use the Olympics as an argument in support of the Union. He sold the flag waving, trumpet blowing monarchical indulgence of the Jubilee as a perfect celebration of what it means to be British, despite many of us just not getting it.

And now he is suggesting that the Olympic Games have brought the four nations of the United Kingdom even closer together than before. Perhaps they did, but I would think that the coming together was on a purely sporting level, given the lack of independent alternatives, and for a limited period of time only.

When a Glaswegian feels naturally drawn to the sporting excellence of Jessica Ennis, or a Londoner feels an affinity with Chris Hoy, there is no political motivation or intent.

To try to construct one out of it is wholly inappropriate and is to admit that you are clutching at another one of your carefully positioned straws.

The incoherent, and at times inscrutable, closing ceremony hammered home the point to me that there are chunks of the United Kingdom that are utterly alien to each other.

It is a social union that looks and feels culturally fragmented, a political union that is based on the removal of autonomy, and an economic union that is so completely lop sided that it is only a matter of time before it topples over.

Britain delivered a great sporting event, according to Cameron. And I completely agree; but I would hesitate to believe in the economic and political fairy tales that he is trying to spin out of it.

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Is it Disrespectful Not to Sing your National Anthem at the Olympics?

The question of whether Olympic athletes should sing their country’s national anthem has divided opinion among many sports professionals, media commentators, and others, particularly with regards to certain individuals opting not to sing ‘God Save the Queen’.

Some regard it as disrespectful to the country they are representing, and the other athletes in their team, if they choose not to sing the national anthem, whereas others regard it as a matter of personal choice and no big deal.

I think the issue has perhaps become slightly more contentious, certainly in Scotland anyway, given the political debate surrounding the Scottish Government’s planned independence referendum.

But putting the independence debate to one side, I think there would always have been some form of conscientious objection from a few athletes coming from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, countries which have, often justifiably, felt of secondary importance to the perceived London centric policies and preferences of successive Westminster Governments.

Whilst the athletes will clearly acknowledge that they are representing Great Britain at these Olympic Games, nevertheless there will be a strong sense of nationalistic pride in their distinct countries that means some of them would be unwilling to sing an anthem widely used as an English national anthem, which is lyrically antagonistic to the Scots, and which supports a monarchy that feels utterly alien to their cultural identity, politics and social circumstances.

On the other hand, there is a sense of legitimacy about the criticisms levied against these athletes. They have voluntarily agreed to represent Great Britain; and whether they agree with it or not, the national anthem of Great Britain is ‘God Save the Queen’.

If the organising committees deem it disrespectful not to sing the national anthem, and have instructed the athletes to do so, then arguably it is right to criticise those opting out of this part of their involvement. They had the choice to decline their selection in the first place, regardless of whether this would have left them with no alternative.

But my position is this: I do not agree with the view that choosing not to sing the national anthem is disrespectful; nor do I think that it diminishes an athlete’s sporting commitment to his country or to the rest of his team.

For the athletes, their respect for the team, and for the country financially supporting their opportunity, is displayed in the honest hard work, discipline and training in the years leading up to the event, and in their attitude and performance on the day.

Perhaps if one of them were to stand on the medal podium, scratch their arse with one hand whilst gesticulating randomly to the crowd with the other, then we could say that they were being disrespectful.

Or perhaps if one of them had been guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, whilst ‘respectfully’ singing along to their national anthem, then we could rightly levy this criticism against them; and let’s face it, there have been many athletes representing many countries who have done that sort of thing in the past.

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Finding Real Value in the Olympic Games

My first memory of the Olympic Games was watching coverage of the Moscow Games in 1980.

I remember Allan Wells nodding his head to win the gold medal in the 100m sprint. I remember thinking that his finishing technique was just a bit too cheeky; effective, but cheeky.

So at that moment I decided I would be a sprinter. I wanted to be Allan Wells. I wanted to have his physique. I wanted to copy his movements as he came off the starting blocks and as he crossed the finishing line. I wanted to emulate my new hero. My friends and I drew running lanes on the road with chalk. It was our makeshift track.

Needless to say I didn’t become a sprinter. I was nowhere near fast enough and I was despondent when other people easily ran faster than me; I was supposed to be Allan Wells, after all! I preferred football anyway, and jumpers for goal posts, but the inspiration was there to participate in sport and achieve something.

That is what the true spirit of the Olympic Games is supposed to be about – inspiring different generations of people to take up sport. It is about dedicating your life to achieving something special (and it doesn’t need to be sport). It is about instilling core moral values and improving your life through hard work, dedication and commitment to a goal.

When I watched the Olympics in 1980, I had absolutely no knowledge of the commercial and political aspect to the games. I was simply inspired by the competition. But that is from the perspective of childhood. It even spills into the naivety of youth, for a short time anyway.

But the cynicism of adulthood sees it for what it is. The competition that inspired me before now just appears to be a secondary event. It is almost as if the spirit of sport has become a side show in the multi-billion pound extravaganza unfolding before our eyes.

Perhaps it was always that way. Perhaps it was always just a means of pushing political agendas and creating lucrative commercial opportunities for a small minority of organisations and individuals. Perhaps it was always this corrupt. I was just too naïve to notice it – but in my naivety I was inspired by the sporting purity of the Games.

Oddly enough, despite being cynical about the purpose of the Olympic Games today, and despite being angered by the fact that, once again, a small minority of wealthy individuals will earn significant amounts of money from this corrupt political circus, whilst our economy lies in ruins, and our nationalistic belligerence knows no bounds, I still feel inspired by the core values it pretends to promote.

I still feel inspired to go out and run. I still feel inspired to get stronger, fitter and faster than before. I still feel inspired to compete. Watching the Olympic Games in 1980 was one of the reasons why I wanted to join in competitive sport. It gave me a hero to emulate. Not just any hero, but a strong, powerful Scottish hero.

If London 2012 inspires enough people, both young and old, able bodied or not, to take up sport and improve their lives, then it will have been worthwhile. Let the commercially corrupt individuals take what they will, and let the political chips fall where they may, there will always be an argument in favour of these games if they inspire and motive enough people to improve their lives and embrace some long forgotten values.

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It’s Not Just Underground And It’s Not Just Over There

Hosting the Euro 2012 Championships this summer will give (Poland and) Ukraine an opportunity to present themselves to a global audience as progressive, inclusive and socially responsible countries; which are exactly the values promoted by UEFA.

Events of this nature bring major benefits to the host countries.

The investment in infrastructure tends to be significant. Hundreds of millions of pounds have already been spent to build new stadia, roads and rail links, giving an immediate boost to employment and leaving a lasting physical legacy for the country.

It is supposed to send a message of hope.

But recent television documentaries have highlighted the darker side of Ukraine, revealing the utter sham that is just about to unfold in front of our eyes.

Marcel Theroux’s report exposed the desperate poverty and abandonment of Ukrainian Street kids who live underground down manholes, in tunnels, sewers and drains; whilst Chris Rogers’ report highlighted the extreme racial hatred and violence that is visible around the country’s stadia.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/video/series-2012/episode-5

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jk4vr/Panorama_Euro_2012_Stadiums_of_Hate/

A global television audience will be treated to the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s premium sporting events. All of this will take place above the ground, with little indication of the hunger and hopelessness beneath it.

No expense will be spared as UEFA and the host countries attempt to put on a memorable spectacle and cement their reputation as upholders of social values and moral standards. Every effort will be made to keep the focus away from the racial hatred and organised violence among the local supporters.

But when the values promoted by UEFA are completely incompatible with a country’s culture of corruption, social neglect and racial hatred, the privilege of hosting the tournament should never have been granted in the first place.

It is impossible to take the message of hope seriously.

Perhaps it would have been different if specific social and cultural objectives had been agreed well in advance, achieving which would have justified the award. It would have been well earned.

But the type of culture witnessed in these documentaries is a culture that is not going to change, just because a bunch of swanky millionaires turn up for a few weeks, espousing values that many of them struggle to uphold themselves. It is a walking contradiction.

It is easy to sit here and criticise. It is easy to take the high moral ground.

But the sad thing is, when the tournament is finished, the rest of the world won’t think twice about the horrendous poverty and depravation that will continue to blight the lives of the street children and the many broken families throughout the country.

We will forget about the country’s corrupt officials; we will forget all about the extreme right wing attitudes of the country’s organised gangs; we will forget about the violence and racial hatred destroying the country’s towns and cities.

And we will turn our attention to the next big sporting extravaganza, the Olympic Games…

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