Friday, 1 August 2008
What's The Story (Olympic Glory)?
The Tibetan Shot Put hopeful
demonstrates his technique ahead
of next week's Olympic event.
And so the Olympics are upon us again. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since the last one, but mankind’s largest cock measuring contest is back. This time, it is the turn of Beijing to spend a fortune for the privilege of housing a million foreigners for a month.
There have been doubts as to this vast industrial city’s suitability to host the games. The kayakers for instance, have been warned not to submerge themselves in the river unless they welcome the idea of glowing radioactive green, and the marathon runners have been preparing for the air quality with a strict regime of 20 Marlboro a day.
Niggles aside, China has really pushed the boat out for this year’s games, spending more than is conceivable on a stadium that is supposed to resemble a bird’s nest, and which unfortunately for them, has turned out to look just like a bird’s nest.
Much has been said in the run up to the games regarding China’s woeful human rights record, at home and abroad, and many politicians spoke hopefully after Beijing was awarded the games that we may see changes in the communist nation, with the softening of some of their policies and ideals now the world was looking on.
This was wishful thinking of the highest order, and as Amnesty international’s 2008 report shows, has done nothing to alter the behaviour from the ultra restrictive communist government towards freedom of speech and forced labour. No doubt on the surface it will be all smiles in Beijing during the course of the games, and it is doubtful whether despite the inevitable protesting, the Chinese silencing committee will be seen or heard with the world’s eyes fixed on the country; it would after all be a PR nightmare. As for the potential for unrest, one needs to look no further than the farcical torch rally to see the weight of opinion against Chinese human rights policy, and not even with their huge resources can the government replace the entire city with secret service men as seen alongside the flame procession.
As for the sports themselves, China will be hoping to do rather well. Like any communist state, the Chinese government holds its own country in massively high regard, and likes nothing more than revelling in the achievements of China on the world stage. And what achievements they are. Twenty years ago in Seoul, they took home just 29 medals, falling way short of the podium. By 2000, they were third with 59, and last time around in Athens, were pipped to the post only by the ever-omnipotent USA, who took home only 4 more golds than the Chinese. This year, they will be certainly hoping to keep the Americans on their chubby little toes.
Part of the reason for their success is obvious. If the world were a school playground, the Chinese team captain would have far more kids lined against the fence to pick for his team. To put this metaphor into some kind perspective, by comparison Britain would be left with the fat kid and the nerdy one with glasses.
However, sheer population does not automatically denote success. What you need is a system, and that’s one thing the Chinese are rather good at. You see there isn’t many sports that China has great tradition in. Given that re-educating Tibetans is not yet officially recognised as an event at the games, they are left with only a couple of historical specialities. Martial arts are the main one, for which the rest of the world turn up every four years for a total pasting, and the other for some bizarre reason is table tennis. So instead of the British approach; training up anyone who shows promise in their chosen discipline, the Chinese do it the other way round and find sports, however alien, and make people good at them. This explains the production line of freakishly talented (if in many ways totally abused) young gymnasts we have seen over the past few decades.
I read a news piece recently concerning the Chinese rowing team. The government were looking for a sport that had the maximum number of categories, (i.e potential medals) and decided that rowing was it. They set aside a pile of cash, hired one of Europe’s best coaches, picked out 10,000 men and women and put them in a camp for a year and hey presto, a world beating rowing team is born. A little soulless yes, but a winning formula nonetheless. This strategy has enraged the rowing world and put more than one nose out of joint in Henley-On-Thames. In fact, in a television interview recently Steve Redgrave, the sort of Olympic hero whose life you just know is an empty void since his retirement, said that it just wasn’t on that the Chinese rowing team had come from nowhere, and what’s more, they must probably all be on drugs anyway. Nothing like embracing new competition eh Steve?
As for team GB's chances, Redgrave will be happy to know that rowing is amongst our top sports, with experts predicting a gold medal or two despite the challenge from the potentially chemically enhanced Chinese robots he seems so concerned about. We also have a small boy hoping for diving success, which angers me somewhat, because when I was young the swimming pool staff never let me on the high board. He must have his own pool.
Elsewhere, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by disqualifying our best sprinter, tennis’s Andy Murray will be hoping nobody good shows up so he can bag a medal and the badminton mixed doubles pair who claim they aren’t a couple, but everyone knows are at it, are aiming to go one better than the silver of four years ago. Sadly, there is no GB football team, and the absence of such a squad entering the games looks set to continue after the Scottish FA refused to participate, claiming their independence would suffer as a result. Hmm, I really think they have missed the point.
There is little doubt that Beijing will be a success, from a logistical point of view anyway. The IOC will be hoping for a peaceful few weeks, with sporting prowess taking the headlines, but the games may be remembered from a far more political standpoint. ‘One World, One Dream’ is the maxim under which the 2008 Olympics are being played. Quite whose world, and what dream are unclear, but one thing is for sure, if you are anywhere near Tibet or Darfur, it certainly isn’t yours.