This post appeared on Mr Monkeysized on 28th July 2011
Over on the godforsaken eastern edge of London, £9 billion is being sunk into something like three weeks of sports. Yesterday was #1yeartogo, so presumably today’s hashtag will be #364daystogo, although this may not be trending just yet.
Beyond the Olympics, millions more are being sunk into gold taps, white Bentleys and the waxing of blonde ladies, as England gears up for the start of yet another football season (do these guys ever consider taking a year’s break?).
What is at the core of all of this? Well, sporting glory of course. This was pointed out in the Olympic interview that I listened to on the Today Programme (along with the observation that if we’d wanted to regenerate eastern London, spending £9 billion on a stadium that nobody wants was a funny way to go about it).
Glory is what sport is about.
No it’s not – we are, after all, magnificently malignant overdeveloped apes. We like glory for our own teams, and misery for others. I might put a Middlesbrough top on and stride down the High Street, but non-Boro supporters will either be utterly nonplussed or think that I am a twit. If Boro beat their team (unlikely) then they will actually resent me for it.
This is even worse for supporters of the big teams. Manchester United? Does anybody honestly think you’re anything other than a glory-hunting monkey? Chelsea? Unpleasant when unsuccessful; positively hated now. Arsenal? Arrogant bastard. Barcelona? And you come from where? Stop being a cock.
This is why a crack team of scientists and sociologists, put to work by Bismarck in the 1880s, came up with the concept of schadenfreude – to glory in the misfortune of others.
Without schadenfreude sport is almost meaningless. It’s like watching two company-sponsored teams from provincial Japan slug it out in the J-League. It simply doesn’t matter unless somebody can convince me to care about one team – and this means then wishing ill on the other. I need a narrative to get hold of; I need allegiances; I need the pleasure of one-upmanship.
Here in Britain the talk is not just of the venues (it’s amazing how you can come in under-budget if you keep raising that budget (apparently the bid submission did not include provision for VAT or inflation)) but of medal hauls.
This is plainly wrong.
The real aim for ‘Team GB’ should be to put on a show while hiding the financial pain, hope that nobody gets exploded by terrorists, and let others win. The Chinese for instance – they seem to care dearly about building a large stock of gold medals that merely make them as resented as the Americans. Let them. We ought to save our own efforts for a handful of plucky losers, preferably in big events (who honestly notices the small bore rifle event unless they win it?), with perhaps one or two deeply attractive and charismatic successes. We should vet the contestants until we get one of these freakish athletes that carries off the looks and personality bit with the aplomb of David Beckham, and cross our fingers.
This is the real essence of sporting soft power.