Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympic Fatigue

The Olympics are almost over, thank God.  I can honestly say that I've managed to avoid most of it, despite the BBC's attempts to fill the entire schedules of every one of its channels with obscure and unwatchable sports over the past couple of weeks.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling those who take part in the Olympics - I'm well aware that simply to qualify for the Olympics, let alone win a medal, represents an incredible level of achievement.  It's just that I'm not particularly interested in most sports.  Not even when the UK is winning medals at them.  I do find it fascinating the way that the British population suddenly become, say, dressage fans, simply because our riders start doing well at it during an Olympic games.  The other day Simon Jenkins wrote a piece for The Guardian, in which he drew a parallel between the current media adulation of  the UK's successful Olympic athletes and the way in which the Soviet Union used to use sporting success to deflect attention from its economic failings.  The article endured an unsurprisingly hostile reception, but I can't help but feel that he has a point.  The constant media references to 'our Olympic heroes' can't help but stir memories of all those athletes, cosmonauts and the like were raised to the status of being 'Heroes of the soviet Union'.  Ostensibly to inspire their fellow workers but, in reality, to distract the public from continued shortages of consumer goods, poor housing and intrusive state security, theses 'heroes' were also there to help engender a general 'feel good' feeling in the Soviet population: if the people see us beating the world at sports or the space race, the theory went, then they'll believe we're doing well economically.

Is it any different with regard to the UK's Olympic athletes?  I don't think there can be any doubt that they are being used to try and create a 'feel good' factor in a Britain battered by the EU referendum and the racism and xenophobia it stirred up, and with a fragile economy likely to suffer further setbacks as a result of leaving the EU.  Not that there's anything new in politicians using sporting achievements in this way:  there's no doubt that Harold Wilson was happy to use the euphoria created by the 1966 World Cup victory to his advantage.  He had also relied upon a repeat performance by the England team in 1970 to create a feel good factor which would benefit Labour going in to that year's general election.  Unfortunately for Wilson, England's footballers came up short.  However, I noticed today that Britain's Olympians were being used as part of a particularly crude political propaganda, with one of the right wing tabloids emblazoned with a headline screaming that our 'Heroes' were going to be denied a victory parade by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.  Ignoring the fact that, whenever asked about this, Khan has clearly stated that he was in favour of organising some kind of homecoming, you can clearly see the political subtext in the story: he's a Muslim, he's a bit foreign looking, so obviously he he's an unpatriotic Britain-hating leftie bastard.  Pathetic really, but what else should we expect from the right wing press?  Anyway, that's another reason we should be thankful that the Rio Olympics are nearly over - it means that the media will have find a new vehicle for their pseudo-patriotic political agendas.

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