Unless they start giving Olympic gongs for curmudgeonly whinging, I don’t think I’m in the running “to medal”, as we apparently say these days. I realise I should be feeling a surge of patriotic pride and enthusiasm – especially as each medal is likely to cost the long-suffering taxpayer about A$9 million a pop – but I can’t quite get into the spirit of things.
It’s not just the eye-watering cost, although the Games do throw inequality into sharp relief. “Brazilianization” is, after all, an especially revealing neologism that emerged to capture grotesque divides between rich and poor around the world, but which are especially visible in parts of Latin America.
For all the – noticeably less-prominent – hype that surrounded the rise of the BRICs generally and Brazil in particular, poverty remains endemic in Latin America. This makes decisions about public spending all the more important and revealing of national priorities.
It’s been pointed out that Brazil intends to spend (at least!) 16 times more on the Olympics than it does on combating the Zika virus, for example. Spending all that loot on a decent sewage system might be a better long-term investment, too, albeit a rather less-glamorous one.
No doubt many of the locals will get caught up in the Olympian hoopla, but there’s likely to be a major hangover when the bills have to be paid in a shrinking economy wracked by corruption, political infighting, and structurally entrenched economic problems.
Corruption is also endemic to the “Olympic family”, too. One of the world’s greatest jobs is being part of the committee that selects the venues for the Games. Everywhere you go you are fawned upon, showered with gifts and other incentives to encourage you to think well of your hosts. But subsequent decisions are made entirely on their merits, of course.
And then there are the sports themselves. Running round in circles as quickly as you can. Lifting heavy objects. Golf!? I’m a regular swimmer, but even enthusiasts would have to concede it is a bit on the dull side.
In any case, there are plenty of other places to gawk at young people with the bodies of Greek gods these days if you’re keen on that sort of thing, without having to sit through an entire competition.
The only thing more tedious than some of the Olympic sports are the excruciating interviews with “sports personalities”. Why would we imagine that anyone who has spent their formative years working themselves into a lather in the gym would necessarily have anything startling to say for themselves? “I’m going to try and run/swim/cycle/whatever faster than the foreigners.” Hey, good plan. It could work, too.
Muhammad Ali was the great, much-lamented exception to the general rule of the terminally clichéd sports interview. That is, until his brains were permanently scrambled by his peers.
But whatever you think about the merits of boxing as an Olympic sport, Ali did have the great merit of not being a cheat. This is more than one can say about many who take part.
Things have improved a bit since the East Germans used to send teams of improbably proportioned male and, ahem, female athletes to demonstrate the superiority of actually existing socialism. Some of the ladies looked as if they could throw a tractor further than I could a discus. But no doubt they are now seen as pioneering icons of post-feminist identities and body images.
And yet it seems some habits die hard. The Russians are the most notorious cheats these days, but one suspects they’re not alone. At least we can rely on the IOC to take decisive action.
Perhaps it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit sad when so much effort, money and prestige is attached winning? These are supposed to be games, after all – possibly even fun. Is national success on the sporting field really so important or such a meaningful indicator of national status and success?
Until they include the egg-and-spoon race as an Olympic sport I’m giving the Games a miss.
Authors: Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia