The Great Olympic Shames
Some 3,000 years ago, the Greek gods decreed that there was enough war in this world, they declared that an athletic competition will held in their honour. They called on athletes from far and wide to come and honour their creators by excelling in sport, a flame was lit on the slopes of Mt. Olympus and a ceasefire declared for the duration of the games. Nations at war were obliged to stop, enemies were guaranteed safe passage on their way to and from to the games, and travel took months, even years then. That is where the fantasy stopped, in reality, there was nothing noble about the ancient Greek games. There was cheating on all levels with nations wanting to gain an edge for national pride. We revived the games in 1896 but in an unequal world where most nations were colonised and sport was the preserve of a few. Rio is not the worst ever Olympics, in fact, it is one of the best in recent times. The worst was St. Louis in 1904, African athletes were displayed in cages, when the marathon was going to be won by a Black South African, they unleashed wild dogs on him and sent him the wrong way. Athletes were stopping for injections of steroids openly, the marathon was won by a man who hailed a taxi and it dropped him 1 km from the end. He arrived without barely sweating, he was hailed until he was exposed by the taxi driver for not paying his fare.
The Olympics really highlight the ineptitude of African sports federations, and how the corruption in our societies kills our talent and stops it from developing. There is a litany of funny but ultimately tragic stories, at first you laugh, and then you cry because you know this will carry on. A head of a national swimming federation, in this case Ethiopia, sends his fat overweight son to compete in the Olympics, embarrassing us all. The Kenyan athletes were locked out of the Olympic village because some government officials decided to take their girlfriends on holiday and took their accreditation. MP’s flew over to see that the athletes are preparing well and took over their budget, eating $500 a day each. Coaches could not get plane tickets because of hangers-on taking all the places. Most athletes have to self-sponsor to make sure they get what they need, the gold medal winners bought their own kit because the Nike supplied kit had been stolen. The team Doctor for Uganda is a Dentist, not a physiotherapist. Overall, we send over more officials than athletes, big-bellied ministers get to march and wave flags at the opening ceremony. The money the IOC gives to develop sport is just squandered. Same with football, the promise of the 90’s teams was killed by corrupt officials.
Evolution vs GDP
Looking at the table of medals, it corresponds with the global GDP table, the ones that are not there like Brazil have massive inequality. What does this tell us? Leisure and Sport is a luxury, in a world where half are starving and the other half is obese, it is hard to focus on sport when you are not getting enough calories. The poor have more talent but less opportunity, the rich have more opportunity but less talent. The equalizer for us poorer nations is genetics, in sports where the advantage is clearly seen like Athletics, we excel. We lag in gymnastics, swimming, team sports, but excel at producing individual brilliance. The long distance races will be won by people from a narrow strip of valley some 40km wide, the Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya, the real dominant nation. In Kenya, they will come from one tribe, the Kalenjin, long famed for their running skills. They have higher red blood cells than average people, therefore, they can absorb oxygen at higher rates and run longer. Sprinters will come from a narrow strip of West African coast from the Niger Delta to Ghana, their descendants traveled via the slave trade to represent Jamaica, USA, UK, and avoided the corrupt African officials who destroy talent. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t come from that area because you are just taking part, but one day the African might not have eaten because their official may have given their girlfriend the lunch pass, and the skinny boy from Slovakia wins.
When the show gets going, nothing beats the Olympics, not even the World Cup. They are great stories, of overcoming adversity, of defying prejudice, or defeating the odds. There is the total supremacy of Usain Bolt, reassured, jovial and untouchable. There is the Syrian girl on the Refugee team who rescued 20 people when the ship she was on capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. There have been countless delights, the dive of Shaunee Miller to win, the two who crashed into each other and decided to support one another to the finish line. These are the moments that make the Olympic games, that strive for a higher ideal. That is why we were disgraced when an Egyptian Judo Athlete refused to shake the hand of an Israeli opponent, he was sent home in dishonour. So let us enjoy our games, and lament why more Rwandans are not competing. We will one day.