Will Self: PsychoGeography

Olympic hurdles
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Richard Ford, the American writer, asserts through the eponymous hero of his novel The Sportswriter that the trouble with professional sportsmen – and women – is that they're incredibly boring people. They may not have started the race of life this way, but a full-time job that entails not only the performance of repetitive actions, but intense concentration on them, tends to stub out whatever spark of originality, or individuality, they may once have possessed. However much you may love sport, you know in your heart of hearts that this is true. Simply recall the last post-fixture interview with your hero that you listened to. Were there pearls of wisdom? Was there elegant turn of phrase, or sly humour? I think not: it was a game of two halves, Harry, both of them described with excruciating clichés.

Of course, the amateurishness of the Olympics – or the Five Fat Zeroes, as I think of them – has long since been cooked-up with steroids and shot into biceps bulging with corporate sponsorship, so the participants in the great sham of Beijing will be quite as tedious as any pros. And if the athletes are dull – then what's conceivably duller than a sports administrator? Sports administration is the square root of tedium, and yet these hideous wonks get to waste locker rooms full of your and my hard-earned money.

I wouldn't trust the International Olympic Committee to organise a six-year-old's birthday party with any competence. And the idea that a numbskull like Sebastian Coe could have any say in major public policy makes my head woozy. I know that Baron Coe of Jockstrap was a coming Tory politician at one time, but even British politics has more dash than the 1980 1,500m gold medallist could ever exhibit.

So, we come to Beijing '08, and my central proposition: far from keeping politics out of sport, we should aim to get as much politics into it as possible, as a vital counterweight to all that reeling, writhing and fainting in coils. By the time you read this, the Olympic Torch may – or may not – have ascended to the top of Mt Everest, as crass a waste of human endeavour as you could hope to see outside the walls of an advertising agency. Yet this is only a way-post on the Torch's 137,000km journey across 20 countries, until some brain-dead apparatchik touches it to a cauldron of coal and the whole carbon-farting borefest gets underway.

Of all the mad progresses this world has to show, the Torch relay has to be one of the looniest. By the time it reaches the Chinese capital, the giant Bic will have been fondled by no fewer than 21,880 different individuals – even if only one of them had used it to light a fag, it would've proved more useful. As it stands, what is it? Aha, a symbol of the Promethean theft of fire from the Gods of Olympus, I'm told. Not so. A symbol of Joseph Goebbels' desire to legitimise the Nazi's 1,000-year Reich by playing up the spurious connection between German Aryanism and Hellenism. The first Torch relay was for the 1936 Berlin Games, and the torch itself was blazoned with the name of its maker: Krupps.

I say, bring it on: the politics won't stay out of sport – let's make sport all about politics. Let's have international and civil conflicts decided not by terrorised young folk in uniforms but lobotomised young ones in singlets. Let the Janjaweed and Sudanese tribes slug it out on the volleyball court, let the Zimbabwean elections be rigged in the wrestling hall, allow Tibet to free itself through the graceful callisthenics of synchronised swimming. Can things get any worse than they already are? Why not allocate development aid on the grounds of golds, silvers and bronzes? Instead of protestors and dissenters being bundled away from the path of the celestial flame, let them flock towards it, so many moths with intense convictions, only to discover when they're in range that it's a fucking flamethrower!

When the Torch arrived in Hong Kong, Henry Tang, the Chinese placeman in the former British Colony, gave a long speech welcoming it. C'mon, Henry, you can't welcome an inanimate object. Then the Torch was taken to a cultural centre; presumably, later on, it was taken out to dinner. Meanwhile, seven hapless dissenters were hustled to the airport and put on planes. Hopefully they were deported to Greece, met at Athens Airport by titanic relay runners, hefted across Attica to Delphi, placed in a giant crucible, then immolated by the sun's rays, concentrated with an enormous parabolic mirror. What runs around, goes around, eh?

As for Tibet, there are rumours that those ridiculous Buddhist monks may have the effrontery to smuggle themselves into Beijing, then set themselves on fire. For shame, stealing all the attention like that. There's only one eternal flame, fellas – and you ain't it.

Comments