mm462: Impervious to the Olympics


© Claudio Negri |

MUDGE’s Musings

Long ago, yr (justifiably) humble svt was quite the sports fan. Some of this was genetic; my long-deceased father was a baseball fan, first and foremost; during his prime he was pleased to have season’s tickets for both Chicago ball clubs.

His oldest son is more of a fair weather fan. And the weather thus far this season has been quite fair, thank you very much, on both the North and South sides of town, although all such observations are via television or Internet; stadium tickets, parking, refreshments are luxury goods.

Professional and college football I find more compelling; even though I never have been at all athletic, the large size of football players fits my self image better, I think. Those seasons are just about to begin; it’s been a long several months football-free drought. But, interest is vicarious; the past two seasons, courtesy of my Naval Academy children, I have actually attended a couple of live college games, but it’s been 30 years or more since I’ve attended a professional contest.

For many years, I was a happy subscriber to Sports Illustrated, and a voracious consumer of televised sports of all kinds, although until the past few years penury deprived me of many years of ESPN.

And, every four years, and lately, since the Winter and Summer games have been split, every two years, I was a consumer of televised Olympics.

A fellow denizen of, michiganrafter, much more into things athletic (and commercial) than am I, had a listing the other day of the Top Ten Olympic Moments, and I could recall and concur with all of his choices.

That was then. It’s no accident, I think, that most of his top 10 occurred at least 20, and some more than 30, years ago.

Sport has changed.

Or, perhaps, I’ve simply awakened from my juvenile sports-based fantasies. You know, the ones about hitting the winning home run, or somehow overtaking and tackling the speedy running back thereby protecting a victory, or throwing a discus an impossible distance.

No, I think sport changed. Or, my romantic perceptions of sport were corrected by reality.

— After Sports Illustrated, and the daily newspaper sports sections, and the nightly ESPN news roundups, became more about multi-million dollar contracts, off-field criminal behavior and performance enhancing drugs than contests on the field.

— After a family of four requires a couple of benjamins to attend a professional sporting event. Exactly where do the billionaire owners in their penthouse skyboxes think the next generation of fans is going to come from, if their parents can no longer afford to take them out to experience for themselves the awesome sensory experience of a live baseball or football game?

[Prediction: NFL 2030: games played in a studio, before an invited audience of a few hundred plutocrats, with canned crowd noise piped in like 1950s television sitcom laugh tracks. Not sure that it’s a sustainable business model, guys.]

— After it became increasingly obvious that the Olympic games, ever portrayed as the ultimate purity in amateur athletic achievement, became a showcase for professional performers, first covert, now flaunted, and mainly a quadrennial showcase for global advertisers.

And the cities and nations who competed desperately for the “honor” of hosting these global festivals were often discovered to have resorted to flagrant bribery to win the privilege of burdening with outlandish debt its citizens for 30 years or more. Honor, indeed.

And now, finally, the pinnacle of political and commercial cynicism, the 2008 China Olympics.

The 2008 China Olympics, the glowing triumph of a repressive authoritarian state pretending that, due to its undoubtedly amazing commercial, industrial and economic achievements over the past 30 years, it merits inclusion in the ranks of democratic nations.

The 2008 China Olympics that wants the world, beyond all sensibility, to ignore its brutal totalitarianism and bask in its shiny 21st Century facade.

Millions cheerfully ignore what the Chinese government wants to hide, and takes gleaming Beijing at face value.

Undeniably, the country (or at least its coastal economic powerhouses) is transforming itself into what superficially looks like a modern, 21st Century nation.

While it represses its Tibetan minorities.

While it beats insensible those who dare to freely express the truth, recently in the cities of the West, to our collective shame.

While it maintains the Great Firewall of China in what ultimately will be a failed effort to prevent the virus of true democracy from infecting that burgeoning middle class the elderly autarchs are so proud of.

Well, I don’t buy it.

I will resist the impulse to switch on the TV; or search out the on-line video streams that I’ve heard are threatening to overwhelm Internet I.

In the same way that, most years, I’m really not that into whose obscenely overpaid mercenaries of whatever sport, wearing the colors of a city most of whose residents can no longer afford to view their sporting events in person, defeats another city’s mercenaries.

Enjoy your Olympics, people. Drink your Cokes, use your Visa cards at McDonalds. After all, we’re all in debt to China out to seven generations, why not enjoy some of its spectacle and worry about all that tomorrow.

Just don’t call it sport. If war is politics conducted by other means, sport is business conducted by other means, dressed up in colorful flags and shiny stadiums and well paid, photogenic professional mercenaries, so as not to distract us with the messy reality of political prisons, despoiled and polluted landscapes, and cowed peasantry.

And the Olympics is such business writ large.

I’m not buying it.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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6 Responses to mm462: Impervious to the Olympics

  1. Matt Urdan says:

    Hey thanks for the link and the reference! It’s much appreciated.

    I agree with you for the most part, and my commentary over the next two weeks on the Olympics will include political opinion and observations.
    But I would like to note that the Olympics, as commercialized as they are, also represent the best of humanity.

    I can’t remember which event it was, but Bob Costas yesterday interviewed Georgian and Russian medalists who competed against each other in the same event. They hugged on the medal stand and made the political statement “If our countries could put aside their differences and embrace the Olympic dream of peace, there would be no more war.”

    I think that’s admirable, inspiring, and hopeful.

    Olympic athletes don’t want war. For the most part, their motives are pure–very few gold medalists, on balance, will sign multi-million dollar endorsement contracts, especially those in the more obscure sports like fencing.

    The Olympic ideal remains an ideal. In Ancient Greece, all the warring states declared an Olympic truce so that Sparta and Athens could compete on the field of sport, not the field of battle. Yes, there will always be bragging rights, yes, there will always be political overtones, yes, national pride will always be at stake. But that’s not the fault of the athletes, that’s the fault of our governments.

    Last night, in the Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay, however, I was whooping and hollering just like anyone else. The French team declared they would crush the US Team. Eric Lezak out-touched the French anchor in world-record setting time. That’s a kind of achievement and payback that the Olympics are famous for, and I while watching that race, I had no problem jumping in and participating with all the other US flag-waving hordes.


  2. mudge says:

    With enthusiastic viewers like you, the Olympics will do fine without this old curmedgeon!
    Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the dialog.

  3. Took me time to read all the comments, but I actually enjoyed the write-up. It proved to be Really useful to me and I’m certain to all the commenters right here It is always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained I’m positive you had fun writing this post.

  4. Armand says:

    Very well said.

    Looking back at the downfall of sports as we knew it, it becomes very clear whey ‘Reality TV’ is so popular now – it’s the next level of quasi-real-time shenanigans for the masses.

    I think you missed your true calling. Weren’t you supposed to be a syndicated newspaper columnist?

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