Tom Sutcliffe: How Kathy and Scott taught me to tolerate the Olympic Games

'We' asked the guests to come and courtesy demands we don't make them feel bad
  • @tds153

I don't know whether you've already encountered Kathy and Scott Cleveland from Eagle, Idaho, but if you live in London you may well bump into them in the next week or two. They have tickets for the women's gymnastics, the beach volleyball and table tennis, among other Olympic events, and they don't exactly look like standoffish types.

If you don't live in London you can make their acquaintance anyway by means of the video in which they recorded their excitement at their forthcoming trip. It went mildly viral earlier this week – if such a thing isn't a contradiction in terms – and it's easy to see why. Because Kathy and Scott are sweetly guileless and unquestioning in their enthusiasm for the 30th Olympiad. "Yay!" says Kathy as they open their ticket envelope on camera. "Yay!" responds Scott, a Ned Flanders-ish type who later eagerly models the Uncle Sam hat he's planning to bring with him.

And a question occurred to me as I watched them. If I were to bump into them and they said, with that same perky, Mid-Western innocence, "Isn't it awesome? Aren't you thrilled?", what would I reply?

I know what my honest answer would be. "No," I'd say. "I'm utterly sick of the Olympics." I might even be moved to provide an itemised list of the reasons why. I'm tired of the corporate bullying that now seems as inalienable a part of the Olympic Games as the men's 100-metre final, I'd explain.

I'm bored with the coercive allusions to national interest and the general terror of being found wanting in Olympic spirit – a dread that recently had Ed Miliband uttering the transparently idiotic opinion that "nothing must be allowed to disrupt the Olympic Games". What, nothing? No human value or priority higher than the smooth operation of a sporting fixture?

Above all, I'm tired of the momentum of the juggernaut hinted at in that ridiculous statement – the sense that it's just too big and too crushing to be in any way diverted from its course. Its appetite for our money must never be denied, its sense of entitlement to our living space must go unresisted, its distortion of our civil rights brushed aside with specious references to the "Olympic family".

Too late now, some people say – and indeed the past few days have seen a surge of last-minute converts advancing reasons why Olympic sceptics should finally hush their mouths and embrace the cause. They are almost all unconvincing, it seems to me.

Take the weakest of them first of all: that resistance is futile. The war was lost seven years ago in Singapore, this line runs, the moment that it was announced that our bid to host the Olympics had been successful. Pretty much everything since then has been a rearguard action and the remaining snipers are a bit like Japanese troops on Okinawa, contributing needless pain to a process they can't conceivably prevent.

But surely dissent is at its most valuable when most endangered – and the nerve of those who stick to their guns when everyone else is defecting even more admirable?

In another variation of this line, some argue that since we've spent all that money anyway we might as well get some fun out of the whole affair. Yes, the price tag is grotesque, it's true – inflated by bogus claims about economic return and the lavish treatment of IOC satraps, but having paid for the circus it would be senseless to turn our backs as the elephant parades past.

This rationale has a little more weight to it. The sight of the Radio Times Olympic special may be terrifying to those of us who don't live for televised sport, but there's no question that it represents an all-you-can-eat buffet for some. The majority of people will be piling their plates high with obscure delicacies like women's boxing, water polo and canoe slalom – and feeling happily indulged as they do so. You might argue that an enforced jollity is worse than no jollity at all. You might even argue that there are more important things to be thinking of right now than who takes bronze in the 20k race walk – but pleasure rightly won't respond to rational rebuke.

The shabbiest argument is the one that suggests that it's our patriotic duty to "get behind the Games". That implicitly suggests that this triumph of the Prefect Classes, this national apotheosis of the Good At Games, is representative of the country at its best. But that surely isn't true. A definition of Britishness that doesn't include recalcitrant bloody-mindedness isn't worth a damn.

It isn't a patriotic virtue to do something just because everybody else is doing it and you don't want to make a fuss – or to meekly concede to the bullying enlistment in compulsory fun. The Britain I admire is better expressed by those guying Olympic corporate logos or swearing at the Boris announcements on Tube trains than it is by unquestioning flag-wavers.

But I think there is one good argument for a temporary ceasefire and it's Kathy and Scott – or at least what they represent. We might not have wanted the party in the first place and we might take a very dim view about who's been put on the VIP list.

But it's started anyway and the guests are arriving in droves. They have every reason to believe that the original invitation was sincere and no responsibility for the expense and labour of preparing for them. We – or "we" – asked them to come, and mere courtesy demands that we shouldn't make them feel bad by banging pots in the kitchen and muttering loudly about what an imposition it all is. The rows and the recriminations can wait for later.

So if I do meet Kathy and Scott – or their equivalents – I'll smile and say "Yes... it's wonderful... and we're absolutely thrilled to have you here".

Who knows – the white lie might even turn into a kind of truth.; @tds153