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

Share

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.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk; @tds153

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker