Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I notice 'Andy' Burnham, the sports minister, says we are 'about to enter a glorious new era for British sport.' This will, presumably, be like the glorious new era for British cinema that was promised after the success of Chariots of Fire. Or not - but, either way, politicians in a democracy should never use the word 'glorious'. It is, like the word 'people's', tainted by association with murderous tyrannies. But, with the Beijing running and jumping contest about to start, what about this sport thing? Hamish McRae mounts a stout defence of sport as a good which is, I suppose, fair enough. There is, however, a big difference between the sport McRae is defending and the grotesque, bloated, politically-compromised corruption-fest the Olympics has become. McRae also says people who cycle 'may not think of themselves as taking part in a sport, but in a way they are.' I can see what he means but, by the same logic, couldn't I argue that I am taking part in a sport - motor racing - when I drive? Exercise and sport are often confused and I suspect it is this confusion that has inflated the Olympics to its present absurd proportions. Exercise is good for you, no question. Sport is a specific sub-set of exercise involving competition. This does not mean sport is good for you except to the extent that it helps you exercise. In fact, some sports - notably marathon running and snooker - are very bad for you. Also, if you need sport to make you exercise, then it may discourage you because it is harder to organise than simply exercising on your own. It is the idea of exercise and therefore sport as an unconditional good that has made the Olympics into the sacred lunacy it has become. Preening themselves in the glory of their unchallengeable virtue, the Olympics boosters are the Pharisees of the cult of exercise. The fact that this cult has failed - people have got fatter and sicker faster than ever since the workout cult go going in the seventies - and the fact that the Olympics is just another excuse to flake out in front of the TV are beside the point. We must bow down before the keepers of the flame.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:56 am