Going downhill fast: sport abandons taste and sense
Like most sports fans I shudder to think how many hours I have spent glued to the television or sitting in the outer and screaming my lungs out at the spectacle of the hour.
It would easily average at least four hours a week, which is a pretty normal level of consumption. It’s also pretty normal that these viewings have often taken place in an emotionally-charged environment, as if to illustrate the old maxim (attributed to Liverpool manager Bill Shankly regarding soccer) that sport isn’t matter of life or death, it’s much more important than that.
But the Winter Olympics has given us a pretty bleak reminder that in the overall scheme of things, sport doesn’t really matter that much at all. And with the Olympic Movement framed as it is around the principles of excellence – faster, higher, stronger – it seems ghoulishly appropriate that the Vancouver Games have set a new mark for tastelessness.
The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in training on Saturday - just a few hours before the Opening Ceremony went ahead anyway to ensure that all the TV deals and sponsorship arrangements were met – is easily one of the most horrific incidents in the history of sport.
Despite the obvious sorrow of IOC president Jacques Rogge, and the fact that the Opening Ceremony was adjusted to include a minute’s silence, it still seemed extraordinary that the event went ahead at all on the very day an athlete had been killed.
There was a certain glibness to elements of the response. Delegates were commended for their good taste in changing into dignified black ties. The commentary surrounding the tragedy provided great cliché, of the “he died doing what he loved and it’s a tribute to him that the games went ahead” variety.
The flags were flown at half mast, but only until midday Tuesday as, hey, this is a sporting celebration after all and we don’t want to cast a pall over it for any longer than we have to.
Cancelling the opening ceremony in its entirety would have been a much better option than trying to turn something which, by definition, is a bit of jazzed-up frippery into a dignified memorial.
And then there’s the changes to the luge track, which commentators at the Games have attributed to legal intervention, rather than any altruistic regard for the competititors.
Writing on the American sports website Fanhouse this week, blogger Kevin Blackistone described the Winter Games as less a competition among athletes than “a dare against catastrophe”.
“The official symbol of the Winter Games should be two fingers, crossed,” he wrote.
Blackistone quoted Australian luger Hannah Campbell-Pegg, who nearly lost control in training before Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash:
“I think they are pushing it a little too much. To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.”
It shouldn’t be a matter of life or death. By declaring “Let the Games Begin” just hours after a young guy met his end, the IOC has cast itself as callous and forced at least one sports fan to reach for the remote.
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