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Useful And Fantastic: Festivals Of Sport

Val Yule suggests that the time has come for a really modern Olympic Games.

The spectacle of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games has brought happiness and excitement into millions of lives across the world. This unique peaceful meeting of nations has promises that could still be fulfilled. How?

Could these sports gatherings return closer to their idealistic origins by including the poetry and theatre of the old Olympiads?

Could they return closer to their original value which was encouraging the skills required by their times? The hunter-warrior skills needed by the ancient Greeks are less needed today. We might replace as events some of the more recent odd novelties - synchronised diving, beach bikini ball-games? - by skills that are more needed in the modern world that could also be breathtaking spectacles on global televisions. See http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/indiangames.htm
In some sports, the Third World might for once have an advantage - pedalling to replace electricity for communications; weightlifting people, as needed in hospitals; freighting water on your head; and as one writer has suggested, house-crafts, those most maligned and ill-considered essential exercises that could become glorified with prospects of gold medals. There is already an “olympics” for trade-skills that can be expanded, and hyped up with more publicity.

The Finns are already entering into the spirit of really modern Olympics. A report (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26407599/) tells of wacky sports originating in Finnish rural villages now becoming so popular that other nations are having contests to select competitors for world championships in Finland. More interesting sports include wife-carrying, mosquito-killing, swamp soccer, finger-wrestling, throwing boots and ice-golf. Come on Australia, where is your gum-leaf whistling and, going better even than cycling, re-cycling?

The table of medals won at the Beijing Games correlates roughly with the money nations have spent to obtain them. Gold is paid for with gold. It has been estimated that each gold medal won by Australians at games over the past 20 years has cost taxpayers an average of $40 million each. A swimsuit designed to give a speed advantage over everybody else costs $4 million to produce.

Eighty-one countries won medals at the Beijing Olympics. Looked at another way, 128 countries won no medals at all; that is, 62 per cent of the 205 countries competing. Three quarters of these unrewarded countries are so wracked by economic and social problems, or even war, that it must have been difficult to send any athletes at all, let alone pay for training.

It is a tremendous boost to national morale when someone wins a medal for their country. No boost to morale for those countries.

Winning medals has of course been a tremendous boost to morale for the poor or troubled countries of Jamaica, Romania, Kenya, North Korea, Ethiopia, Cuba, Indonesia, Algeria, Colombia, Croatia, Serbia, Egypt and Afghanistan. How much did their medals cost them?

India and Israel were low in the medal count. Were they spending on other things, and less on training Olympics sports stars?

Is there any way for future games to ensure that all athletes of all countries have more of a level playing field in the amount of financial support they are given?

Taxpayers of countries high in the medals tables do not appear to begrudge the enormous sums they pay to groom potential athletes and for the costly entourages at their Institutes of Sport. Forty million dollars? No worries. Part of this problem is that adult arithmetic is not good for any sum over $999. We simply cannot comprehend what $40 million is, as Northcote Parkinson pointed out in his Law of Triviality. We may be keen to save 5 cents at the supermarket, but cannot imagine the difference between $40,000, $40 million or $400 million or even the size of our foreign debt.

Yet the cost of the Olympic Games and all their human organising paraphernalia now makes significant impacts on economies, at a time when as much as possible should be invested instead in defences against a future of possible environmental calamities.

Most of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic estimated expenditure of up to US$44 billion has in fact been for a radical restructuring of the city: Delhi plans to do the same for the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

But will London’s projected expenditure of over £9 billion for the 2012 Games be for a similar city transformation, or be more directly spent on a “better Games” than ever before?

Other financial matters are stirring. Should taxpayers receive any return from our gold medallists who they helped pay for, and which has opened the door for enormous future personal incomes?

Gaining far more wealth than the athletes however, are commercial interests, including the IOC, which expected to make US$3 billion from the Beijing Games, and the now well dug-in vested interests of the sports institutes themselves.

Amotz Asa-el, writing for the Jerusalem Post, pointed out that while Nazi-Stalinist style political hijacking of the games has reduced, the games have become a financial circus. “What originally was intended to promote political tolerance, personal modesty and competitive honesty has been corrupted into an orgy of corporate greed and political intrigue.”

Yet the spectacle of the Games has brought happiness and excitement into millions of lives across the world. This unique peaceful meeting of nations has promises that could still be fulfilled. How?

Dennis Altman recognises that “the Olympics have become a display of global consumerism and national triumphalism, but it is unrealistic to expect otherwise”, and foresees that if governments’ expenditure reduces, corporations will take over sponsorships. Must we give up on fairness so easily?

Could the Games be made fairer by similarity of equipment? By medal tables that included the outlays spent to acquire them?

Could these sports gatherings return closer to their idealistic origins by including the poetry and theatre of the old Olympiads?

Could they return closer to their original value which was encouraging the skills required by their times? The hunter-warrior skills needed by the ancient Greeks are less needed today. We might replace as events some of the more recent odd novelties - synchronised diving, beach bikini ball-games? - by skills that are more needed in the modern world that could also be breathtaking spectacles on global televisions.

In some sports, the Third World might for once have an advantage - pedalling to replace electricity for communications; weightlifting people, as needed in hospitals; freighting water on your head; and as one writer has suggested, house-crafts, those most maligned and ill-considered essential exercises that could become glorified with prospects of gold medals. There is already an “olympics” for trade-skills that can be expanded, and hyped up with more publicity.

Imagine, millions everywhere preparing for a fair Olympics using skills that are needed everyday.

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