By Dean Carroll
Concerns about the dismal human rights abuses in Russia aside, the Sochi Winter Olympics could still be an utter triumph on the sporting front. At the London 2012 summer games we witnessed almost superhuman feats in just about every event and a plethora of new world records, and personal bests. Television schedules were dominated by coverage of those sportsmen and sportswomen, who sacrificed so much to achieve one thing – to try and become Olympic champion.
What was refreshing – beyond primetime TV not being dominated by the usual poisonous reality/celebrity shows and footballers cheating, play-acting and preening – was the absence of monetary gain that normally drives our ‘sporting heroes’. Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis and a small minority aside, very few Olympians go on to become wealthy individuals. The majority go back to rather normal lives and, if they are fortunate, four more years of hard training and competitions before another shot at a medal.
What a contrast with some of the pampered Premiership footballers in the United Kingdom, who if they get lucky in a match or manage to deceive the referee during 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon feel they have justified their £200,000 pay that week. Even the most ardent football fans are growing tired of the petulance and prima donna behaviour.
Watching professional tennis too can be frustrating because of the ludicrous and unnecessary tics exhibited by the top players. Do they really need to bounce the ball 20 times before serving? Does the trainer really need to come on at even the slightest hint of injury? Are the high-decibel grunts and moans with every shot really acceptable in a sporting arena? Do they really need a towel to wipe their faces after every point? When did neurosis become part of the tennis player’s toolkit? Note to grand slam winners and aspiring players – you are competing in a sport; you will sweat so deal with it.
And the contagious effect on our children has been palpable. Fair play and hard-slog endeavour had become alien concepts in our celebrity-obsessed, get-rich-quick society – until London 2012 that is. The cult of celebrity is still present with the likes of Bolt and Ennis but they are true talents that have earned their celebrity. They did not go on a reality show, appear half naked in a trash magazine or tell-all in a tabloid newspaper ‘exclusive’ to win a place in the hearts of their nations.
With this in mind, we hope that all sporting bodies and the television schedulers – who decide which events should be primetime – will recalibrate their ethos to a more Olympian mindset. Why not put more of the big meets live on television in the evening, like in the glory years of the 1980s – to inspire our young people? It has to be a healthier diet for the youth than Big Brother, I’m a celebrity, get me out of here or X-factor. On certain shows, the prerequisites for success and obtaining material wealth are nothing more than a willingness to ridicule yourself before the nation or an acceptance that TV executives should be allowed to manipulate those taking part.
Our society can do better than that. The London Olympics proved it and Sochi might yet achieve a similar feat. The Olympian spirit results in nations coming together while young people see that the pursuit of excellence through hard work earns you real respect and plaudits. Most of all, we get to witness transcendental sporting moments driven not by money but by the pure will to be better. We must now hope that London 2012 and Sochi 2014 can be a springboard. We must hope that despite the bleak economic picture facing us all, Europe and the world can learn the lessons from the phenomenal triumph of spirits witnessed during each Olympics. The flame cannot be allowed to go out now.
Dean Carroll is editor of Policy Review. Follow him on Twitter @poljourno and follow Policy Review @Policyrev