Tag: olympics

The Olympic Games are a wonder of the world

buffer rings

And we know how those tend to be built…

This post is an example of my newsletter of curiosities & curations,Waterman’s Fortnightly. You can can subscribe at tinyletter.com/stuartw.

  • “How did we traverse the nation with a railroad so quickly? We just threw Chinese people in caves and blew them up and didn’t give a shit what happened to them. There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a fuck about people. You can do anything! That’s where human greatness comes from — that we’re shitty people, we fuck others over.” Louis CK’s ‘Of course… but maybe’ bit came to mind as I was reading…
  • … Marina Hyde, anticipating the start of athletic competition at the Olympics, who wrote: “(The athletes’) feats and fables eradicate the months and years of government overspending, martial displays, human rights abuses, neighbourhood cleansing, and all the other adorable fascist quirks that are an essential part of the undercard to any modern sporting mega-event.”
  • From the forced eviction of an estimated 1.5m people prior to the Beijing Olympics, to the forced labour (and unspecified number of deaths) of passport-stripped migrant workers behind the construction of facilities for Qatar’s World Cup in 2022, to a combination of all of the above thatenabled Sochi 2014 to be staged, it could be said that ‘modern sporting mega-events’ are today’s versions of world wonders built on slavery.
  • Like the Colosseum, they take years to produce, rely on the toil of thousands of oft-exploited people, are a significant logistical & financial commitment, draw fascination from around the world… and look terrific. On the subject of which, consider the irony of the Rio opening ceremony acknowledging Brazil’s slavery record while people covering the event were housed in a media centre built on a mass grave which African slave descendants regard as sacred.
  • Meanwhile, on the official Olympics website: “The Olympic Movement unites all people and builds bridges between all cultures. In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or faith.” The paradox: you can’t help but suspect that if the Olympic vision of humanity were to become a reality, the Olympic Games wouldn’t exist at all.

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What sport taught me by the age of 12

Monchengladbach map

It’s difficult to justify eschewing social engagements just because 22 strangers are kicking a ball around on a field thousands of miles away, or because an array of non-British women are about to jump over a collection of hurdles (literal hurdles mind, not puny figurative ones).

It’s irrational, really. But if you’ve looked forward to the big sporting tournaments for your whole life, it’s a difficult thing to just turn off. That’s why I virtually disappeared during Euro 2012 and have gone to ground during the Olympics.

Sport was a huge part of my childhood. I played football, but my obsession was about more than the thrill of scoring the odd goal, and it was about more than just watching. To me, it presented an alternate universe as compelling as the likes of Star Wars.

I read and re-read books full of football statistics. I read and re-read and re-read an ITV Sport-produced tome about the history of the Olympics (football and athletics were – and remain – my favourites).

I drew pictures of goals being scored. You know those playbook-style diagrams you see in newspapers, where they illustrate the movement of the ball leading up to a goal? I was drawing those – loads of them, uselessly illustrated using colouring pencils and felt-tips – on a daily basis. I used Star Wars figures as footballers, kicking a Subbuteo ball around on the carpet and trying to score past my brother who would be holding Darth Vader as a goalkeeper (Subbuteo itself was always too frustrating for us, so we invented our own, more free-flowing variation).

I watched and re-watched videos of league goals and, in the absence of any other useful information filling up my brain, knew the home and away score for every match, for every team, throughout the season. You could have asked me what the score was for, say, Everton v. Derby 6 months ago, and I would know. I would also know who scored all the goals.

When I think about the time I now spend commuting, ironing, washing dishes, cooking, socialising… all of this time, when I was a kid, was spent obsessing over sport. There was nothing, nothing more exciting than the prospect of a new World Cup, European Championships, FA Cup or Olympic Games. So actually, I think I’ve done pretty well to emerge from such an all-consuming obsession a relatively well-rounded human being. Sure, I spent, cumulatively, a full 24 hours watching football during the opening week of Euro 2012 – but at least I still made it into work and somehow managed to feed myself (with awful, unnaturally-hued food – but no matter).

Of late I’ve been thinking about what sport taught me during my formative years. I’m not talking about ‘teamwork’ and ‘determination’, or any of that life-lesson pishposh. I’m talking about practical, tangible, how-do-you-spell-Mönchengladbach general knowledge. Because following football means more than just watching a ball being kicked around, and the Olympics is about more than chucking a stick into a field.

There’s always a context there, and it’s from these contexts that I think my childhood education was actually improved by sport. I’m not saying I learned more than I did in school, but my awareness and knowledge of the world was definitely enhanced. Not with semi-ironic stuff like the fact that, ha ha, the Germans never miss penalties – I mean actual, semi-useful facts and figures.

I’ve had a bit of a think about this, and here’s some of the stuff I learned as a result of being a sports-nerdlinger child.

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