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

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

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there