Thursday 19 July 2012

More to the olympics than gold

The opinion poll finding that most people in Wales think that the Olympics will be of no benefit to Wales is hardly a surprise.  It would be a bit like an opinion poll finding that the majority of people believe the world to be round.  Whilst there’s always a minority whose beliefs fly in the face of the objective evidence, most of us are willing to believe that which is factually evidenced.
More interesting though would have been the supplementary question which appears not to have been asked, and that is whether the UK should still be staging the Games regardless of the question of economic benefit.  There is a sort of assumption that ‘no benefit’ leads automatically to ‘don’t do’.  That doesn’t only apply to the Games, of course; but I’d challenge the assumption.
Part of the problem with the Games from the outset has been the UK Government’s obsession with trying to prove that they have a financial benefit, for the UK even if not for particular parts thereof.  But is that really the basis on which we should decide?  Certainly, there are questions about the way in which the expenditure has been treated; it is perverse that those elements of spending aimed at regenerating a particular area of London are counted as being ‘UK’ spend rather than local spend.  And there are major questions about whether staging the Games has become too big a commitment anyway as different hosts vie to outdo each other from one Games to the next.
But there is, or should be an underlying spirit to the Games.  Partly it’s about peaceful rivalry and competition between the athletes from different states, but even that seems to be a sometimes tribalistic divergence from the real spirit.  That is surely about the world’s best athletes, in a range of sports, coming together to challenge each other and compete.  Isn’t that worth doing anyway?  Most of the athletes are, I suspect, more interested in testing and proving their own prowess than in which flag they compete under; the flag is merely part of the route to the Games.
The whole event has become so big and so expensive that smaller countries in the world, such as Wales, could never dream of hosting it under current financing models.  That’s a pity; the world is so much bigger than merely the capital cities of the larger countries.  It would be more in the spirit of the Games themselves if all countries contributed an annual amount on a sliding scale to an international fund, enabling a cheaper event to be held in more places.  Who wouldn’t want to host the Games then?


Anonymous said...

John - the whole point of hosting the Olympis in london is to create a British nationslist festival.

Didn't you notice all the Union Jack bunting and flags when the Olympics (not british, but Olympic) Flam went around Wales? Why wasn't there Olympic bunting?

It's a BritFest designed to erase Wales from the map. To celebrate it is to celebrate the death of Wales as a political and distinct nation and be happy with a folksy ethnic identity.

It's a British propaganda exersise for which the British state is ready to spend £9bn to keep the UK united.

Robert said...

The games of course is London based and to be honest I have little interest in the games, Wales as a country should be represented, but the fact is Politics and democracy is a London based thing.

I vote for an MP but after that my voice is in the wilderness.

As my MP said it's important to me to us you vote yes to get you elected but it hardly makes much difference to me who the hell is in power.

Wales is slowly becoming a power on it's own right and the more power we get perhaps we can demand that Wales be seen as a country not a Provence of England, and then our flag will fly at the games.

Unknown said...

I agree that this year has been a deliberate and relentless UnionJackFest. The Olympics are an important part of that.

On the Olympic ideal, the 'ethos', in whose name we are being asked to shed our critical faculties, doesn't that include Amateurism? - the reward is taking part? That is a sham, and so is the whole event, from the Nazi Torch to the closing ceremony, (apart from Boxing still the only true amateur event) how can anyone claim it is value for money?

They hold Circus events! (Rhythmic gymnastics and Synchronised swimming!) they have some school sports events - the hop skip an jump, and volleyball, but no egg and spoon? NO three legged race? No Dad's race? Who get's to choose?

Is is too late to cancel it, and get our money back?

Adam Higgitt said...

I completely agree, both with your premise and your proposal. I live only 45 miles from the Olympic village and the benefits, as measured in monetary terms, is likely to be nugatory even here. Overall, I suspect that UK taxpayers will pay out more than they will receive however you choose to measure it. And I suspect that even some of the intangibles - the so-called legaciy of encouraging more people to take part in sport - will also be minimal and/or transitory. In a few years' time the considerable investment in the 2012 London Olympics will probably mean no more than some new infrastructure in a hitherto run-down part of London, some quite modern sporting facilities and possibly a handful of young people who have been inspired to take up or become more serious about sport.

And yet, for the reasons you suggest, I'm still glad it's happening. The Olympics ought to be a roving festival of sporting achievement and a celebration of human physical excellence - and as many places as possible ought to have a shot at hosting it. The whole process is nowadays so tightly controlled by the IOC that it would be a small step for member countries to be required to contribute a per capita levy such that each event could be funded by this money. Even then, there would still be places that couldn't host the games (I'm thinking of parts of the world where the government in question cannot guarantee some of the inputs that are essential to the running of the event) but it would widen the list of potential hosts dramatically.

G Horton-Jones said...

From the outset it was the London Olympics. hosting the event has only been possible by an enormous expenditure in a small part of this island ie London.

Anonymous is right but omits to spell out in black and white that it is not even English event.It is a London event

It is not a British event for the British are Brythonic Celts and the United Kingdom is a catchphrase and has never been a reality

Wales could host the next Olympics but then we would have to use the facilities now available in London which we have also paid for.

That would be getting real value for money

Based on Anon £9 billion that would solve Wales being screwed by the Barnett formula for a while

Welsh Agenda said...

It's a matter of priorities, as we are constatntly told there is only a finite (shrinking) amount of money. The question we should ask is should this be spent on education, healthcare, infrastructure and helping the poor, disabled and unemployed from destitution; or should it be spent on providing an all expences paid jolly for multi-millionaire VIP's (including some of the most loathsome people on the planet) promoting nationalis (not only British nationalism but by hosting and normalising some of the worlds most brutal regimes) and subsidising the profit amrgins of the games sponsors.

Can you guess which I would spend the money on?

John Dixon said...

Anon 10:30,

I disagree completely with your statement that "the whole point of hosting the Olympis in London is to create a British nationalist festival". It implies that, if I may be forgiven a piece of shorthand here, the 'British Establishment' is clever, organised, and devious enough to spend enormous amounts of money just to have an opportunity to "erase Wales from the map". I sort of wish that they feared or respected us enough to feel it necessary to do that, but they really don't.

Does the government - would any government in any country - want to use the event for its own purposes? Well, yes, of course.

Whether governments should use the Games like that is rather a different question; but it's inevitable under the current structures. Equally inevitable is that only the richest countries can host the Games.

Adam understands the basic underlying point that I was making, with his reference to "a roving festival of sporting achievement and a celebration of human physical excellence". There is a value to holding a global sporting festival which celebrates this aspect of humanity, and that value is being lost in the issues of cost, politics, and nationalism. Sadly, that aspect is getting lost - and not just with the London Games 2012, but increasingly over the decades. There's a spirit there which we need to recapture; it's something that we can share as humanity.

Siônnyn raises a valid point about whether all the sports currently regarded as Olympic events really belong there. And the opening and closing ceremonies have got completely out of control as well. But I don't see how any of that is an argument against the principle of holding the Games. They're arguments for reform, not abolition.

The financial question is raised by several, most pointedly by Welsh Agenda. Now, of course we have to make choices about how we spend money - but... There's a danger that we follow those economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The argument that there are better things to spend our money on is one which would lead us to end all subsidies to sport and the arts - they're all fripperies which we can't afford at a time of recession, aren't they?

One doesn't have to support the scale of expenditure, or the nature of some of the events and ceremonies, or the way in which governments and politicians seek to use the Games; but there is, at heart, something of human value in the Games which much of the political debate is burying. And I feel that the human spirit underlying the Games needs to be recovered and celebrated. I'm as critical of much of what has happened around the whole process as anyone, but yet I still think that the Games are a 'good thing'.

I'm unhappy about much of what the UK Government (present and previous) have done in connection with the Games. I'd have preferred tham to be more central within the UK - Birmingham perhaps. I'd prefer that they could be held on a less extravagant basis in more countries and that the cost could be shared rather than all falling on the host country.

And yet, despite all those reservations, I still think they should be held, and I think that more countries should be able and willing to host them (whilst accepting Adam's caveat at a practical level). We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.