Archive for August, 2012

Olympic wet-blanketism

August 13, 2012

There has been such an uplifting of spirits in England over the well-deserved success of Team GB that any attempt to temper the euphoria must, undoubtedly, appear as the proverbial wet blanket. Yet I feel it is my lot to dribble a little cold water onto this fiery blaze of pride and unbound optimism.

The talk seems to be that the legacy of the Olympics must be taken forth into English schools as a model of good citizenship. This is about to be done in a completely uncritical fashion, as far as I can see. Where is the benefit of competitive sports to individuals? Imagine benefit comes as 10 grams of magic olympi-dust, per head. These 10 grams are distributed to school children by the agents of the Olympic Gods: the class teachers. So, I go into my primary school where there is a class of 50 pupils, say. The teacher has 500 {50 x 10) grams of olympi-dust to give out. Unfortunately, only THREE winners can have the olympi-dust and that is given in the following ratio (admittedly, this is an approximation):

  • 1st Place = 250 grams olympi-dust
  • 2nd Place = 150 grams olympi-dust
  • 3rd Place = 100 grams olympi-dust

The rest of the class (47 pupils) get nothing and are expected to benefit from their experience of LOSING. Being a LOSER is the thing that MOST people get from competitive sports. I can see no particular advantage to imposing the experience of losing on the bulk of the younger generation, merely so that the elite few can experience winning. And I have to state very clearly here Fyrm’s Law:

The euphoria of the winner(s) is PARASITIC on the dejection of the loser(s). (Fyrm’s Law)

You will discern from many interviews with Olympic 2012 medallists what it takes to be a winner:

  • Almost total dedication to the sport, more or less to the exclusion of all else
  • A skewing of family life into the focus of the needs of the elite athlete
  • Huge financial support
  • A committment of a far from insignificant support team (including coaches, and other necessary individuals)
  • The designation of communal sports facilities to the elite hopefuls (possibly swimming pools, athletics fields, velodromes, what-have-you).
  • Probably a load of other stuff that I don’t know about.

How might a child who is basically bored by competitive sports cope in a school geared up to producing Olympic athletes? What happens to the self-esteem of those kids who are cack-handed, who can’t hit a ball, or who can’t run very fast? What about the kids who would simply prefer to read a book or play the piano, rather than do push-ups in the gym? And these kids might not necessarily be couch potatoes; they might like to toddle off for walks in the countryside or, heaven forbid, even potter round the city streetsĀ  doing a little bit of harmless jogging whilst plugged into their mp3 player.

A lot of media coverage has been given to the gold, silver and bronze winners during the 2012 Olympics. If the 2012 Olympics is going to affect government policy and investment strategies in England in the coming years, I would hope plenty of research is done also into the effects that losing has had on athletes that were not successful (and the affect on their families, too). The psychological theory of cognitive dissonance would suggest that, given the huge effort and committment (in time, energy, money and resources) that will have been expended in getting to the games, there will be strong internal mental pressures to rationalise it all as being highly worthwhile. This should also be examined head-on (and discounted as rationalisation) in any evaluation of the worth of elite athleticism for England in the future.

I will now crawl back under my wet blanket. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Olympic failure: a few tentative thoughts

August 5, 2012

As a general rule, good news does not make it into the media as much as bad news. However, this trend seems to be reversed in terms of the current Olympics coverage.

My TV news channels seem to be blocked solid with heart-warming stories of the truly deserving gold, silver and bronze medal winners. Occasionally, there is a rather awkward interview with a tearful silver medal winner who feels he or she ought to have gained gold. This usually involves an apology about how he/she/they let everybody down.

Many of the gold winners seem eager to stress how many others have contributed to their success: parents, family, coaches, clubs, and so forth. Often, commentators speak about the funding that has gone into gold medal success and frequent mention is made about the level of government support for sports facilities, corporate investment or, in the case of GB, lottery funding.

I do wonder how failure figures in all this. After all, there is only one gold, one silver and one bronze for each event. We do not see many interviews with the athletes who have failed to achieve a medal, yet presumbably they will have been training roughly as hard as the winners over the past four years or more. I would like to hear more about how failure has affected them. Do they feel they have wasted a lot of time in what has turned out to be a fruitless chase for a medal? What does it mean to an individual to have competed at that level, and yet to have come away with nothing, apart from the knowledge that they did not win? Do they get counselling, and to what extent is that effective?

As all the world seems to be embracing wall-to-wall enrapture of the Olympics, I cannot help but feel wet-blanket syndrome as I carp. It reminds me of how I felt at the recent royal jubilee celebrations in England. I am neither a revolutionary nor a flag-waving union-jacker. Roll on christmas.