Cutting us down to size
My foreboding by about Day 3 that any more Olympic success for ‘Team GB’ would only encourage the gormless Brexit tendency to start crowing about how it proves Britain can punch above its weight and go it alone in the world without the garlic-munching losers in tow soon proved tragically correct.*
The Guardian (17 August) reported:
In a video released on Twitter on Wednesday, Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign backed by the businessman Arron Banks, used footage of a string of medal winners, including Andy Murray and Sir Bradley Wiggins, with the slogan: “We may be small, but we truly are Great Britain!”
The slogan neatly betrays the crass ignorance of Brexiteers. The ‘great’ in Great Britain refers, not to our ability to outshine Johnny Foreigner in just about every sphere of human activity bar the intellectual, but to the greater geographical entity that is mainland Britain and associated small islands, including England, Scotland and Wales. The ‘United Kingdom’ adds Northern Ireland to the constitutional mess.
We can at a pinch describe Britain as a small country, being about 800 by 300 km – anyway, 243,000 sq km in area (3,700 sq m per person. Crowded?). It does however harbour a population now said to be 65 million, including the approximately two million EU migrants whom the Brexit campaigners would like to see go home to their respective nations.
As the deluded pack of disappointed xenophobes and Empire loyalists have now got their way, Britain is likely to be quite a smaller nation in the not-too distant future.
Knights and Dames, You Are the Ones
“Theresa May wants an extra-long honours list to celebrate Britain’s Olympic heroes” – Telegraph, 20 August
Coming, astonishingly, second out of 208 nations in the medals table, above (if you count it on the points system, ie we won more gold and silver medals, they won more overall including bronze) the 1.4 billion-strong Chinese, 280 million dopey Russians, a boxer from Mongolia and the whole of the rest of the EU practically put together, it cannot be denied that TeamGB (as it’s controversially known – it used to be the fuddy-duddy British Olympic Association) done good; especially the high-jumpers being over the moon.
My heart has plummeted like a not very well synchronised 10m diver today, however, on a statement from Buckingham Palace. ‘Brenda’ has generously issued her congratulations to all the medal winners, ominously assuring them that, following a terse ph0ne call from Switzerland, further honours would be forthcoming ‘with no limits’.
Coming in the wake of Dave Cameron’s notorious resignation honours list, that has thoroughly devalued the whole weird panoply of Commanders of the Bath, Keepers of the Corgis, Bearers of the Royal Bogbrush, Hammers of the Scots and so on, this is terrible news.
Olympic sport exists in an elitist bubble of its own. The honour of winning an Olympic medal, whether for oneself, one’s team or even one’s country, is invested in a system that has pumped over £350 million into supporting, supplying, coaching and honing our athletes to perfection, at a cost of about £6 million a medal. If we were genetically engineering medal winners, I should not be surprised.
Entrants compete for places and medals; for glory, Lord and honour, for continued funding, and winning ought to be enough for them. It is everything they have trained for, and everything we have paid for through our taxes, scratchcards and weekly Lottery losings to support them to try and do.
Indeed, since London, few of our medallists have enjoyed conspicuous success on the world stage in the run-up to Rio; the swimmers, even the cyclists have taken everyone by surprise, while no-one expected the hockey team to get near the final. Britain is not interested in grubby professional world titles; in front-loaded races and fixed matches – only in the noble Classical ideal of ‘taking part’ in the no-longer amateur Games.
Unless there’s good PR in it.
As Knight follows Dame, the mood of elation in the country is sure to translate to a slew of ill-considered and, frankly, pretty meaningless royalist baubles to heap on top of athletes who have already been rewarded in the ways they and we value most: with winners’ medals, public adulation, places in the record books and the promise of fresh grants. In that sense alone we are becoming more like some terrible totalitarian state, desperate to draw attention away from our abuses of power, managerial incompetence, sinking currency and expanding food banks by achieving the symbolic glory our leaders lack in spades.
Of course there can be no objection to, say, Sir Mohammed Farah being created a Knight Commander of the British Empire; only a certain geopolitical irony. His back-to-back victories in the 10k and 5k meters events are almost unprecedented, genuinely ‘historic’: I believe only the Flying Finn, Lasse Viren has ever matched him. He has announced that he will be retiring in 2017, three years before Tokyo, but that he might try to come back in 2020 for a crack at the one distance title that has eluded him, the 42 km Marathon.
Surely then would be the time to decorate the Mobot, not when he is hot off the track at Rio and still has some way to go in his career? Maybe a more welcome gesture from HMG would be to reverse the ruling deporting his brother back to Somalia?
Likewise, Dame Laura Trott is only 24, and despite now being the holder of four Olympic titles, still hopefully has further tens of thousandths of a second to shave off in the Velodrome-crunching business. Athletes can and should be honoured by their country, but not just for immediate success, in a mood of national euphoria bordering on media hysteria; or to buy votes.
Has it really added to the sum of human happiness, that after the last couple of games sports commentators now have to emphasise that it’s: ‘Sir’ Bradley Wiggins, ‘Sir’ Chris Hoy’, ‘Sir’ Steve Redgrave, ‘Dame’ Kelly Holmes or ‘Dame’ Tanni Grey-Thompson? It sounds a little disconcerting; although they may have given us more heart-stopping pleasure than a whole garden-party of dodgy donors to Tory central office, they are still very ordinary ‘extraordinary’ people; many of them perhaps still too young to bear the weight of public high-office.
The honours system is supposed to reward service to the Crown, acts of bravery, altruism, communitarianism; not just the ability to run and jump; and that takes a little more time and patience. A few years’ more in the saddle or on the track; a post-retirement administrative, coaching, media or advisory job, passing the torch on to the next generation; charity work, governorships, chairing inquiries, running a pub in Cornwall; that extra maturity is what will surely better qualify our current crop of successful young athletes for promotion a few yards down the road, for adding value in the sport and kudos to the country, rather than the winning of trackside medals, which are surely in themselves the ultimate, the most appropriate rewards for sporting excellence?
Of course, pride-wounded Australia, China, New Zealand will come back at us with a vengeance. Who knows how many of our medal winners at Rio might turn out next time to be just a flash in the pan? Is it really the mark of a mature society to heap further honours on young shoulders, merely for winning honours they have already been accorded?
But no. And who can blame ‘The Firm’ at Buck House and a post-Brexit Tory government desperate to right the capsized Finn Class yacht of state, for rowing themselves in on the action, buying a share of success by spraying around a few cost-free gongs, ribbons and scrolls of their own? The oft-times repeated podium-dirge of the national anthem can only have come as music, too, to the ears of IAAF president, Lord Coe, who in the leadup to the Games was under increasing pressure to say what he knew about Russian doping. Who cares now?
I feel a little sorry, though, for the long queue of likely recipients, who seem by and large to be decent young people who will probably never realise the profound sense of relief their success will have brought to our broken and discredited political masters; how flabby politicians, the palace, the media and the honours system will ruthlessly exploit British winners for their own faintly disgraceful benefit.
*This was before the gormless Brexiteer, South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler, posted a tweet (or whatever you do with them), having added up (for a joke, she says) all the medals won by ‘the British Empire’, i.e. Britain and the Commonwealth countries, past and present, proving that we had beaten both the rest of the world and the EU.
It’s surely one of those fatuous ‘jokes’ you make after a mildly inebriated gala dinner at the golf club, not in public. I can’t somehow imagine Australia agreeing to be part of the British Empire ever again, Fiji or Zimbabwe, but it’s nice to have Usain Bolt back on board. Worse still, by the time the BBC story broke the ‘joke’ had garnered 564 Likes. Not as many as the Boglington Post, which has been proving unexpectedly popular this week.
OMG!!! 47 views TODAY (24 Aug)… The BogPo’s gone virile!
Tout de grace
I suppose there’s an Irish joke somewhere in the news that Mr Pat Hickey, the unpopular 71-year-old head of the Olympic Association in Ireland, has been dragged by Rio police from his hotel room in his dressing-gown and slung in top-security chokey pending investigations, following the reported discovery of 700 tickets issued free to his organisation for distribution to officials and other favoured persons, apparently for sale online at prices up to £8,000. Three more Irish officials are under suspicion.
The joke of course being that the Brazilian organisers couldn’t even give legitimate tickets away. The stadium venues were more than half empty for most of the events, owing to the unaffordable prices, muggers and transport hiccups; not to mention foreigners’ fear of catching Zika keeping them at home, and the parade of numerous obscure and frankly tedious ‘sports’ no-one in Brazil has ever heard of.
A Bolt from the blue
I must confess, I too am baffled by the dominance of British cyclists, especially 10-times gold medal winners Laura Trott and her fiance, Jason Kenny. Neither of them looks strong enough to fetch in the cat, yet they managed time and again to get their skinny tyres in front of more powerful-looking riders and keep them fuming in their wake until they’d all finished whizzing round.
A lot of French and American and Italian and Korean muttering went on after the events, and I can sort of see why. Trott is tiny, and spectacularly ordinary-seeming in every way, like a suburban schoolgirl who’s just got her GCSE results – although apparently she’s 24, and has done this sort of thing before.
Now, I’m not qualified in sports medicine, but I could detect nary a ripple nor a bulge of muscle in her legs, no knot or cord of sinew about her diminutive person. The Canadian designer bikes also appeared fairly normal, if you can afford one, with no sign of any hidden Star Trek warp drives. (Until I looked it up, I’d recalled, falsely, that ‘Cervélo’ was Spanish for beer, which seemed very British.)
Looking at the many hundreds of athletes represented, you can see that Mankind is evolving a range of shapes and sizes best suited to Olympic events. The swimmers, for instance, all have massive dorsal fins, guppy mouths, slack jaws and pale, round eyes. You can find the type any day on a slab at your local supermarket. Their lower bodies seem to taper off into legs that are gradually fusing together.*
Sprinters on the other hand have impressively muscular upper bodies like college footballers, or weightlifters, that you cannot tell me have not at some stage in their careers been inflated with buckets of anabolic steroids. These huge engines, sucking in thousands of litres of oxygen per second, like the ramjets of F-35 combat aircraft, when they are working, sit atop a set of massive glutes that balloon into mighty thews of steel, propelling the athletes like Exocets out of their blocks and (hopefully) into the record books, behind Mr Bolt.
Any runner hoping to win a race of 1500 meters or longer, however, needs to look like Mo Farah: basically, a smiley lollipop on a stick. I cannot understand where these distance runners derive their boundless stamina from, as they clearly have on their skinny frames an ounce neither of fat nor muscle to burn. They are all sinew, like corded wood. If pictured on the cover of Vogue, the women in particular would immediately attract thousands of feminist tweets demanding justice for size-zero supermodels kept in a permanent state of sub-lethal anorexia by evil (men) fashion designers.
But then I am reminded of a young woman I occasionally used to agree to play at squash, with added trepidation. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with anorexia, you’d think a gust of wind would actually not manage to blow her over as she was so etioliated it would pass round her, and her not above 5′ 5″; yet she used to beat me every time; and probably go for a run afterwards, while I was still in the bar, morosely nursing a pint of Cervélo.
At all the many sports I’ve attempted to participate in (see previous Post for remarkable longlist), my own body shape has, alas, not equipped me to excel. I have, as you would expect, evolved an enormous brain-pan, with odd bulging nacelles on either side that phrenologists tell me contain my advanced analytical skills, and massively enlarged typing fingers – two on the left hand, one on the right.
Beneath a burgeoning tummy, however, a thick pad of adipose tissue hidden below pendulous manboobs, the rest has generally atrophied, my socks and shoes merely accoutrements tied on with colourful ribbons taken from my many freestyle bogling medals, God Save the Queen repeating endlessly on Windows Media Player.
A pensioner can dream.
*Odd, but the underwater shots showed that freestyle swimmers hardly use their legs at all when doing the front crawl. I was taught at school to paddle up and down like mad, which is presumably why I almost drowned several times and ended up as the 50m breastroke man on the team.
They’re so yesterday!
I see that skateboarding is one of the new ‘sports’ being admitted to the Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC is obviously completely out of touch with the yoof of today, who have abandoned fuddy-duddy skateboards entirely for those scooter things with tiny wheels.
Some of them are not so youthful, either.
Having evolved one long, muscular pushing leg and one shorter leg with no foot, just a peg, they whizz past us on our walks through the dogshit-strewn exurban space that passes for our local park, on their way to Olympic glory.