Saturday, 20 August 2016

sport and politics

Is sport simply a matter of winning - or losing?
Jay Doubleyou: winning or losing?

Is it just a 'zero-sum game':
BBC Radio 4 - Four Thought, Series 2, Dominic Hobson: Sport is a Zero Sum Game

Tell me the truth about sport:
Alan Watt - The Truth About Sports - YouTube
Alan Watt: How Television & Sports Are Used to Control The Masses. - YouTube
Noam Chomsky on the role of sports in propaganda-based authority - YouTube

The Romans and George Orwell had one or two ideas:
Bread and circuses - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Amusing Ourselves to Death - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jay Doubleyou: sport as poetry in motion... ?

And it's still a game being played today:
Thai junta: Let them watch football | The World
Lots of circuses, not enough bread: EM’s failure to reform and invest | beyondbrics
Jay Doubleyou: bread and circuses

Looking at the 2012 Olympics in London:

The Olympics have always been a bit fascist, Tracey

21 JUNE 2011
Tracey Emin's observation that vintage Olympic posters "look a bit fascist" is cannier than she knows

It was announced yesterday that Tracey Emin would be among twelve artists who would be designing posters for next year's Olympic Games. As she posed for the photographers, Emin said that she wanted her effort to look different from posters from previous Games, "because they look a bit fascist, to be honest". I have yet to see any footage of Lord Coe as he stood alongside her, but I've no doubt that he must have winced considerably. Whatever Coe's reaction, the fact is, Emin is right - the posters do look a bit fascist, because the Olympic Games themselves are a bit fascist.

Essentially, both Olympism and fascism are secular religions that venerate the human body and seek the triumph of the will. The Olympic motto of "citius, altius, fortius" ("faster, higher, stronger") is something that could have been dreamed up by Hitler or Mussolini. Indeed, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, celebrations of the Olympiads and fascist rallies grew increasingly indistinct. Both were quasi-religious experiences, complete with increasingly sophisticated rites and rituals, and adorned with striking iconography. Even their salutes looked the same. (Just check out the Paris 1924 poster.)

During that period, the Olympics and fascism also adhered to a cult of personality. The founder of the Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, was almost regarded as Christ, and the IOC president, Henri de Baillet-Latour, as his chief disciple. As I wrote in my book Berlin Games:

"[T]hese men were regarded as being infallible, because they embodied an idealism that far transcended the grubby quotidian strivings of humanity. It was a pagan idealism, its pageantry godless, but its chauvinist adherents were nothing less than fanatic, men for whom no other point of view was acceptable. If anyone obstructed their ideals, then they would be subjected to the most vicious ad hominem attacks."

Sounds familiar?

And then there is the notion of race. Although anybody watching next year's 100 metres final would be hard pressed to claim that the OIympics were today racially discriminatory, early adherents of Olympism such as the future IOC president, Avery Brundage, spoke about the Olympics in the 1920s in ways that sounded like Alfred Rosenberg:

"Perhaps we are about to witness the development of a new race," Brundage observed at a dinner in Chicago in 1929, "a race of men actuated by the principles of sportsmanship learned on the playing field, refusing to tolerate different conditions in the other enterprises of life; a race physically strong, mentally alert and morally sound; a race not to be imposed upon, because it is ready to fight for right and physically prepared to do so; a race quick to help an adversary beaten in fair combat yet fearlessly resenting injustice or unfair advantage..."

The Olympians and the fascists also regarded the success of a nation as the result of the physical health of its people. Admiring Hitler's programme of enforced physical education, Brundage observed that countries that performed well at the Olympics, such as Finland, did well in other arenas. "What pleases those of us who are interested in sports is that the Finns carry the ideals from the playing field into other relations," Brundage wrote. "At least little Finland is the only country that recognises its obligations to pay war debts." The idea that athletic prowess is linked to sound financial management was a curious one to say the least, but such views were taken seriously at the time, not least by the Nazis.

When the Games went to Berlin in 1936, the union between the two movements was blessed. In many ways, the Berlin Olympics were the ultimate Olympic Games, because the Nazis were the only people who really "got" Olympism. For the Nazis, Olympism and Nazism dovetailed so neatly that, in the words of a memorandum from the Propaganda Ministry from October 1934, "the Olympic idea is a cultural requirement of National Socialism, which concerns the entire German people".

The Nazis added many little flourishes to the Olympics that are still evident today, not least the torch relay, which was the idea of the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee, Carl Diem. It was Diem who was later to rally thousands of Hitler Youth at the Olympic stadium in March 1945 as the Russians assaulted Berlin. Diem called on the assembled teenagers not to capitulate, and to show some "Olympic spirit". (In case Olympic spirit was not enough, execution stakes were set up around the stadium, ready to be used if there were any displays of cowardice.)

Since the war, the whiff of fascism has always clouded around the Olympics, not least in the form of Juan Antonio Samarach, who was a member of the Spanish Falange. And the Olympic movement still carries on with its funny rituals at its opening and closing ceremonies. It will be interesting to see what sort of poster Emin comes up with. In a way, I'd like her to do something a bit fascisty, because - ultimately - that would be an accurate reflection of the type of mumbo-jumbo that accompanies a few running races and some women's beach volleyball.

The Olympics have always been a bit fascist, Tracey

London 2012 Olympics: leading artists unveil official posters | Sport | The Guardian

Not everyone agrees:

Britain's Olympic success and post-Brexit vim are cause for celebration, not cringe


Team GB’s performance in Rio is both remarkable and refreshing, a ray of sunshine in the relentless gloom surrounding not just the usual dire outings in international football, but fears over Brexit, home-grown terror, a dysfunctional Labour Party, childhood obesity, housing shortages, a collapsing health system, rail crises … the list goes on. Britain’s magnificent haul of gold and silver has finally given us something to shout about. Hasn’t it?

Sadly, for many, the answer is a sneering No. According to the arbiters of socially acceptable opinion, national pride can only be one of two things: a money-grubbing charade, or a show of proto-fascism. For the Left-wing grandee Sir Simon Jenkins, British Olympic pride in Rio is not only the result of a nasty, cynical government spending spree, but also evidence of both a far-Right and a “Soviet” sensibility. For Sir Simon, the BBC’s coverage of the Games has turned British success in Rio into something “close to a British National party awayday”.

That the Left seems confused by Olympic success – unable to decide whether it’s an odious capitalist stitch-up or a jingoistic harangue – is hardly a surprise. After all, vitriolic anti-Britain sentiment has been on full display among them since before the European Union referendum.

Some Remainers didn’t even seem to think Britain deserved to exist outside Europe. As one Cambridge academic told me: “I don’t give a –––– about this country, to be honest; I only care about Europe”. Others spoke of the regret that “idiots” (meaning people who live outside London and Brighton and are over 60) were allowed to vote.

Following the result, veteran Leftist Polly Toynbee spoke for thousands of doom-mongers when she wrote of “the dark place” that “Britain for the British” would become after Brexit.

Little wonder that the idea of a triumphant Team GB rankles with such people: celebrating the victories of athletes draped in the Union flag is intellectually impossible for those who believe any move by Britain to assert its national independence is by definition a backwards and morally dubious step.

Britain’s detractors will always find a way to blame the Tories, or Ukip, or capitalism, or stupid voters, for what they are convinced is the parlous state of the nation. But why do the naysayers live here – many out of choice – and not elsewhere? It’s because Britain has a huge amount going for it, including a culture of full and free and frank public debate that allows them to engage so vociferously in self-laceration.

The period since the Brexit vote – seen as the beginning of the end – actually testifies to this country’s dynamism. Out of chaos, our political system rapidly produced a strong new Prime Minister at the head of a stable and popular government. Then there were the predictions of economic apocalypse: instead, unemployment has gone down and retail spending has risen sharply. The property market Armageddon hasn’t happened either in most places. If London prices are cooling, they were overdue a correction anyway. And the predicted 3 per cent slowdown in property prices this year is hardly worth weeping over.

Such facts will, of course, cut no ice with people who decry British “neoliberalism” – namely market economics. They don’t fit the narrative of British decline, so they will be ignored. Likewise evidence that Olympic glory is boosting a country that – away from the chattering classes in their metropolitan ghettoes – actually cares about sporting prowess.

It’s never been the British way to celebrate our virtues too loudly, of course. We can leave that to the Americans, with their flagpoles on the front lawn and their odes to the star-spangled banner. But as we reach the end of an Olympic Games where Britain may well finish second only to the US, perhaps we can learn a small lesson from the Americans about how to deal with national success.

We don’t need to wear Union Jack bikinis, but should learn to give credit where credit is due. Taking pride in Britain and its triumphs should – at the very least – be as acceptable as doing it down.

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