Mark Steel: Let's make a virtue of being useless

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Anyone British who watched the opening ceremony in Beijing must have had the same thought, that we'll never manage that and utterly humiliate ourselves.

Whoever's in charge will announce that, to save money, we won't bother with fireworks, but: "We can have just as much fun with a Dalek from Woolworths that glows in the dark if I can remember to buy the right size batteries, and we've bought plenty of trifle from the Co-op so everyone should get some," but they'll run out before the end so Yemen and Zambia will have to lick the bowl. The poor Albanians will be jostled all afternoon by countries who arrive late because of signal failure at London Bridge, and have to barge past them to get to their place. And nothing will be ready. The swimming pool will have no water in it and the competitors will be told to run backwards and forwards along the bottom.

Or throughout, the commentators will be telling us things like, "Still no sign of the fancied Ukrainian in the 200m breaststroke final. The last we heard he was still at reception trying to get 50p for his locker, but apparently they've run out and can't open the till as it's broken and the engineer's busy trying to mend the vending machine as the Brazilians are very angry that they put in 70p for a packet of Quavers which got stuck. So for the time being here's a replay of the badminton, that finally got started after the mix-up with being double-booked with a pilates class."

We could make a virtue out of being useless, and declare ourselves above the vulgar glitz of most Olympics. Except that to earn the right to stage it, we had to plead to the International Olympic Committee. This is a committee that's had nine presidents, of which three have been barons and two have been counts. Maybe they'll decide soon to represent a wider section of the population and choose an emperor. Another president was the delightful Mr. Samaranch, a senior organiser for General Franco's dictatorship.

Everyone's desperate to please the president, so there were probably countries who suggested "Give us the Games and we'll introduce clay Republican shooting". But Samaranch only wins silver medal for "Most right-wing Olympic president", as Avery Brundage was an admirer of Hitler, even praising the Third Reich at a rally in 1941.

Yet the Olympic Charter states: "No kind of political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas." As if the decision to choose Beijing was nothing to do with politics. They must have thought: "Say what you will about shooting monks and executing dissidents, but they certainly know how to put on a kayak slalom event without a hitch."

Awarding Beijing the Games, we were told, would help human rights because the Chinese had promised to make an effort, what with everyone watching. And who could have guessed they'd break their promise. Perhaps we should try this approach with others who can't stop their brutality, such as serial killers. So we get reports such as: "Fred West today was convicted of dozens of murders, and so has been awarded the Olympics, after he promised to try to stop killing people and proposed a very exciting schedule for the cycling."

And yet I watch every possible moment, and spent twice as much time studying the women's archery as I have on the war in Georgia. With the Olympic Committee being the way it is, surely they can arrange for invading and occupying to become an Olympic sport, then it would be so much easier to stay in touch with current affairs.

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