Simon O'Hagan: It's not just the medals that make a good Games

Did anyone ever treat Mary Peters or Daley Thompson as workers programmed to deliver the goods?

Share

There was a time when the only targets at an Olympic Games were those in the archery and shooting competitions. Now, however, we have medal targets – and yesterday the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, announced Great Britain's wish-list for the London Games, which start three weeks tomorrow.

Of the growing number of depressing things about the Games – the £9bn cost, the VIP lanes, the ticket prices, the kowtowing to the IOC, the corporatisation, the logo control-freakery, the rooftop anti-aircraft missiles, the composition of a special piece of music for GB runner Dai Green to chill out to in the moments leading up to his event – the whole notion of medal targets may be the most depressing of all.

I guess the £500m of Lottery and Government money that has been poured into Britain's Olympic training programme demands "a return", and 48 medals is what Mr Robertson has told us to look forward to. Well, great. But to reduce sport to the level of sales figures strips it of any last vestige of romance and is a refusal to acknowledge that athletic endeavour is nothing without its glorious imponderables. Like luck. Or someone doing a Bob Beamon.

Did anyone ever treat Mary Peters or Seb Coe or Daley Thompson as workers programmed to deliver the goods? In those days such a concept only existed in the notorious arenas and sports halls of eastern Europe, where sporting achievement was intended to underpin an abiding political philosophy. Once you create a culture in which the sportsperson's right to fail is removed, then it's not sport any more.

What if – perish the thought – the 2012 Games had gone to Paris? Would we be talking about beating all but the US, Russia and China in the final medal table? I rather doubt it, and that Britain's athletes happen to be performing at home does not justify this burden of expectation, however much has been spent preparing them.

"The majority of people judge the success of this event on where we end in the medal table," Mr Robertson said yesterday. Really? I'd have thought the definition of a successful Games is not whether the host nation dominates the action. It's much more about the atmosphere of the Games, the efficiency with which they are run, the lasting benefits, the warmth of the welcome visitors receive, the quality of performances irrespective of nationality, and the general impression the host city creates.

Most Spaniards – or rather, Catalans – would say that what mattered about Barcelona in 1992 wasn't the medals won by locals, nice though they were, but the prestige the event conferred on the city. This is what will make London 2012 special, not gobbling up a load of medals just because we paid for them.

Simon O'Hagan is an Assistant Editor of The Independent

 

Follow @SimonOHagan

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
Author of Adrian Mole: Sue Townsend  

Errors and Omissions: A protagonist is one thing that doesn’t travel in pairs

Guy Keleny
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit