Monday, February 13, 2006

High culture and highly expensive sport

It's all very well for BondBloke to cast aspersions upon the blog-writing capacities of fellow Blog members, but some of have more than just essays (for which read 'books') to write. For starters, coming out in sympathy with BondBloke and his literature course, I have been watching DVDs of Macbeth and Death of a Salesman, and - what is even more worthy - ploughing through Tess of the d'Urbevilles. I always thought Hardy was wordy when I was forced to read him at school, and I get rather irritated by all that Wessex country bumpkin stuff, but I guess Tess is in its own way quite an absorbing read. Whether I'll be absorbed for another 300 pages, only time will tell. In addition, we had our very own "blog" outing (no - nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats before you ask) to Craignethan Castle on Saturday when, suffice it to say, the sunny vistas visible on the website linked to here were not really in evidence. Now RoadRunner tells me he wants to do "more castles". I thought it was just that he wanted to revisit somewhere he hadn't been since he was in short trousers - the old nostalgia trip. But now it looks as if it is shaping up for the full Scotland Historical Tour...We'll keep you posted. Anyway, it was lovely to be chauffeured by RoadRunner, especially since the BondMobile is in very bad shape at the moment.

So much for the high culture. What of the expensive sport? Now, like many others in the UK I was briefly absorbed by the sight of (mostly) middle-aged women with sweeping brushes four years ago. No, this was not a response to Godfrey Bloom's famous exhortation to women, but rather the triumph of Rhona Martin and her team in the 2002 Winter Olympics at the esoteric sport of curling. Perhaps I will feel that I should start watching the TV transmissions again at later stages of the event, but even if I do, it is likely that for the most part most of what happens at the Olympics will pass me by (apart from the toe-curlingly ecstatic clinch between Laura Bush and Cherie Blair which was pictured on the front of the Observer over the weekend (sorry can't find it anywhere online...but you can imagine what I mean)).

Now the viewing habits of a middle-aged woman in Edinburgh are one thing, and they are probably shared by most parts of the viewing public even though I see that Google have gone and put a little image of the Games on their home page, but perhaps a more serious criticism is how few parts of the global sporting body the Winter Olympics manages to touch. In an excellent piece in the Washington Post entitled Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete, Paul Farhi tells us that "the Winter Games are ... elitism, exclusion and the triumph of the world's sporting haves over its have nots." He goes on to provide the details we need:

"Throughout most of the Winter Olympics' history, the parade of participating nations has been a short one. Until as recently as 1994, fewer than a third of the planet's countries took part. This year, in Turin, Italy, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expects delegations from about 85 countries, an all-time high, but still barely 43 percent of the world's total. Even that exaggerates the extent of participation. Many of the nations in the Opening Ceremonies will be represented by tokens, some consisting entirely of sports bureaucrats, not athletes. Ethiopia, a nation of 73 million, will send its first "team" to a Winter Olympics this year -- a single skier...

In the history of the winter competition, dating from its inception in 1924, competitors from only six countries -- the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany (East, West and combined), Norway, the United States, Austria and Finland, in that order -- have won almost two-thirds of all the medals awarded. Only 17 countries have ever amassed more than 10 medals during the past 19 winter Olympiads. Only 38 countries have won even one medal."

And so on, and so on. Now I am sanguine enough to realise that the Summer Games are hugely (and cynically) commercialised and increasingly provide an advert fest for the Olympic movement's (a private concern, after all) "preferred partners", which are themselves huge global brands. I also recognise that access to training facilities and the purchasing of the necessary time to train, in all sports, is often as important as "natural" talent. But that having being said, it is certainly clear that the Summer Olympics are something much, much closer to a global festival of sport than are the Winter Olympics.

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