Sport, said George Orwell, is war minus the shooting. It brings out the worst in us: violence, jealousy and boastfulness. As I’ve watched bits of the coverage on the many screens around town (difficult to avoid no matter how hard one tries) it seems to me the only noun he missed was “irony”.
Here we are, tens upon thousands of us, queuing up to watch the athletes compete, hooting and hollering when “our” lot wins – in a manner so unseemly, if not outright rude, that it is difficult to recall what the spirit of the Olympics, and Olympians, was even supposed to be, no matter how many speeches IOC officials make.
Now to say that I’m no athlete is to understate understatement: I was one of those scrawny kids always picked last and under duress. And if the dodge or base or whatever ball ever did wend its way towards me, by that point I was usually off in my own world, “dans la lune” as my grandmother called it, and missed it (to the anguished shrieks of “Su-SAN!” from my exasperated teammates). So I am no expert on sport – well, not winning sport anyway.
Nevertheless, even I managed to find a sport (figure skating) that I could do alone, in my own time (which means slowly – I am nothing if not slow when it comes to sport). So, I figure that if I can manage to find something to enjoy, oughtn’t everyone? Particularly given that exercise and movement are two of the few things our bodies were designed to do that can actually (somewhat) help us keep healthy?
When it comes to the biggest sporting event in the world, however, I am having trouble deconstructing precisely how this incessant talk of gold and medals and winning somehow equals some kind of grand social uplift. Particularly – as a friend who is watching the coverage, points out – as any athlete beneath the top three gets zero coverage or mention. For heaven’s sake, these are athletes who made it all the way to the Olympics. Surely, even if they don’t win a medal they’re still pretty good, no?
I am nonplussed at how all this gloating too many Canadians seem to be engaged in (surely, Canada, we’re better than that?!) on how we won gold (and are so great we’ll win more, heck all the gold) constitutes “sports”manship. Or how this pageantry – for which we will end up paying, in actual money, for many years – is anything other than a very large party for a handful of people and largely meaningless, at least as it exists now, in the grand scheme of things.
Most of all, I wonder how we are glorifying sport and movement and the human body by sitting on our duffs in some stadium waving flags and hollering ourselves hoarse.
Exercise is no panacea, contrary to what the cheerleaders of the “wellness and prevention” model of health care seem to think (they always come out of the woodwork when there is any talk of altering the existing model of health care in any way); it is, nevertheless, one of the few things we can do to make a difference in our overall health. True, it won’t ward off most cancers or prevent the auto-immune disorders we tend to get as we get older – Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes – or matter as much as socio-economic status, but keeping fit, keeping oneself moving does bode well on many levels, both physiological and psychological.
Mastery over our own body, however miniscule (and believe me, I understand this) allows us to keep our bones strong and gives us a sense of strength and control which may well translate into feelings of autonomy in other areas of our lives, from work and career to friends and family. For women, it allows us the internal strength to open that jar or stuck window without needing to call for help and that is nothing to sneeze at. Knowing you can do things. It’s subtle and nuanced but it matters.
Even I, who always dropped the ball, know this. I am not sure these Olympics as they have been presented do.