On Watching the The Olympics (or Olympians and gender)

As with most other people, I think I am feeling a bit deflated following the close of the Olympic games. For me there were many things that I found exciting about it, the attention paid to a wide variety of sports, which included the ones many people generally are familiar with such as Football, Boxing and Tennis. There were, however, other activities which gained exposure such as Judo, Hockey Weightlifting and the various track events such as Modern Pentathlon, which despite the name is distinctly 19th Century.

I think that one positive that I found about the games is not so much the winners but the taking part. This apparently was the first Olympiad in which all countries had male and female entrants. I find that even though this event was supposedly apolitical, there is a small-p political in the participation of women. It was a real stand of defiance for a country like Saudi Arabia to put female competitors forward.

There are lots of things that can be said about the inequalities of Team GB and the lack of support of female olympians have had compared to their male counterparts. I would like to think that if there is such a thing as a legacy for the Olympic events in 2012, it would be to raise the profile of female sportspersons and atheletes both nationally and internationally and to raise awareness about the perception of physical fitness and sporting participation for women and young girls.

I kind of like how the cynics about the event had been less visible in the media. This may be a purposeful omission. The most critical and cynical thing I’ve mostly found on Twitter were comments about how the performers in the opening and closing ceremony were not their cup of tea as musical genres. It is yet to be seen what will come of ‘regeneration’ or legacy. But a little patriotism cannot be a bad thing. While it was pointed out that many of the olympians of Team GB had come from a largely private school stratification; there are instances of culturally and ethnically diverse olympians celebrated for their medal winning achievements. The face of Britain may well be a man or woman doing the ‘mobot’.

A couple of final remarks about the past couple of weeks. It has been noted that particularly with the track events (i.e. the ones with Usain Bolt), a great amount of showboating was involved when winning. There is no doubt that these are amazing athletes with entertaining personalities to match, but I suspect that male priviledge would not allow a similar kind of awe or aspect of showboating for female olympians, instead they were often described as ‘emotional’ or humbled by their achievements. There’s a real difference in gender when performing a victory that the accepted behaviour for a man is to work the applause of a crowd while for a woman, the humble and stoic smile is more apt for the presumed role.

In short, I saw a little bit of progress about the genders over the past couple of weeks, but until male athletes are better represented on search engines by objectifying search results, I don’t think there will be an equality of the sexes just yet. So for me, watching the olympics has given me a quite and humbling sense of awe about the progress of female olympians for the female sex. But not a showboating response


Individuals and Corporations: The Janus faced Olympics

I am a little bit reluctant to write about the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics, as a Londoner and as someone who blogs normally about philosophy and social thought. I feel that there is something distinctly good about the Olympics, and something distinctly bad, and bizarrely they are necessary cohabitants for this four week event to occur. I say Four Week Event as I include both Olympics and Paralympics. Maybe I’ll start with the good stuff:

Good things

It is my belief that generally any exposure about disability is better than no exposure, even if that includes a naff joke in the special episode of Absolutely Fabulous about how a blind man is not discriminating about women’s appearances. The Paralympic events will be something I am particularly interested in seeing. Partly because I have an interest in disability, but also as I personally saw some paralympians last year (that’s another story) and they were lovely people and very passionate about their respective sport. I’ve heard a lot of things especially about the Wheelchair Basketball and the affectionately named ‘Murderball’. The more exposure that these sports get the better. Personally, anything with some kind of brutality appeals to me, so I’m definately looking forward to seeing coverage of the Murderball!

There are lots of personalities attached to individual sports and these individuals can raise the profile of their nations and the sports that they represent. Sporting events can bring virtues out of people. The essence of the Hellenic concept of virtue is translatable to the english word ‘excellence’, and physical excellence is an ideal to be celebrated, as is say, mental excellence or temperance of character. Sporting competitions emphasise the best in human ability.

Raising awareness of sports can get ordinary people involved. I myself am particularly interested in following the Tennis, Michael is interested in following the Weightlifting and Badminton. We are hardly the sporting types, but seeing personalities like Oscar Pistorious or Usain Bolt. Inspiring future olympians is also something particularly special, to encourage young people to get engaged with a sport and be able to train competitively on a wider level, whether that’s county, national or international. There is not only the aspect of physical fitness but also a wider sense of wellbeing and cultural identity towards sports, and often cultural trends that may not be expected. Michael tells me that countries in Southeast Asia are quite good on the international scene of Badminton, while for decades there has been a great football following in Iraq.The things which are really great about the Olympics are particularly individualist, egoist and agent-focussed. There’s something Homeric about an event like this, seeing the heroes compete against each other and representing their nations.

Bad things

I suppose many people can think of bad things, but the things that I’d consider particularly bad are the organisation of the sponsorships and the influence they have on a taxpayer funded event as stakeholders. Corporations may legally be persons, but what of the British taxpayer and their interests? (gosh this sounds incredibly right wing) There seems to be a juxtaposition involved, in order for an event which involves the representation and participation of great athletes, corporations must support it. This may involve sponsor parties, but also the corporations such as the UK Government, contracted construction corporations and other such associated organisations which were required to facilitate these events being possible at all.

There seems to be an essential conflict: in order for great individuals to compete with their peers, their has to be he machinations of wider corporate interests. Delphi, Athens and Olympus had their games, and those citystates were a precondition for their local celebrations. Just like the Ancient games, the Olympics is dragged long by the underlying political and corporate interests.

N.B. the use of ‘corporate’ is a purposeful equivocation between ‘collection of persons’ and the putative use of the term.