And they call this sport
The establishment intends to use the legacy of the Olympics to consolidate British national chauvinist ideology and ruling class values, writes Peter Manson
At last the Olympic Games are over, but the British establishment is determined to reap long-term benefits by unifying the overwhelming majority of the population behind the UK constitutional monarchy state.
It goes without saying that the August 12 closing ceremony was every bit as nationalistic as the opening spectacular two weeks earlier - the stadium field had been divided into sections which formed a huge union flag, into which the national contingents of athletes were herded. It was rather incongruous, however, that among the collection of has-been pop stars celebrating the last 50 years of British popular music, the late John Lennon appeared on the giant screens overhead singing his famous communist anthem: “Imagine there’s no countries …”
While the finale was by no means as stunning or as politically coherent as the opening ceremony, it did the job the ruling class had been hoping for - setting the seal on a fortnight of organisational and sporting achievement intended to make every one of us proud to be British. In the words of Lord Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog): “When our time came, we did it right” - a sentiment echoed by the entire establishment.
Coe was followed onto the podium by International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge, who, according to The Daily Telegraph, “stopped short of describing London 2012 as the greatest Olympics”.1 Rogge actually remarked merely that London had “refreshed the games in many aspects”, but obviously he was just being “diplomatic” - everybody knows that this showcase for the British nation could not have been bettered. It certainly captured the attention of the overwhelming majority of the British people - the Olympics were the “most watched” TV sporting event on record, with 50.2 million, or 87% of the population, having followed at least one session.
Politicians of all the main parties attempted to outdo each other in their expressions of nationalistic pride. Prime minister David Cameron referred to the “golden summer of British sport, with Britain showing the world what we can deliver in all sorts of ways”. For his part, Labour leader Ed Miliband reminded us that “people from across Britain, people from every race, class and background”, had been “part of the national experience” - part of the “millions cheering our Team GB athletes, ranging from the granddaughter of the queen to a Somali refugee”.
Miliband gave his own Labourite interpretation of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony: it “made plain how the strength of our nation lies with our people - from the staff of the NHS and the suffragettes, to the inventors of punk and the internet.” Adding his own personal twist to the multiculturalist celebration, he said: “My mum and dad came here as Jewish refugees in the 1940s. My father loved this country, but was also an internationalist. After this past fortnight, I think he would have been a little more likely to call himself what he always was: a patriot.”2
What was that about Ralph Miliband “turning in his grave”?
The motto of London 2012 was “Inspire a generation”. Inspire them to do what? Well, yes, to take up sport - that is part of it. But mainly the idea is that the younger generation will be inspired to work for the ‘common good’ of Britain in every field, including sport. No-one, of course, needs persuading that such a ‘common good’ actually exists within the current order. Surely the last fortnight dispelled any doubts about that?
So, in order to build upon the British Olympics success, we need a special inspirational body, and who better than Coe himself - a one-time world record-holder, no less - to head it? The Locog chair and former Conservative MP has agreed to be the new Olympics “legacy ambassador” - whose role, you might not be surprised to learn, has not yet been clearly defined.
Rather similar in fact to the less than precise remit of that other magnificent post, the ‘Big Society tsar’. Readers may recall that Lord Nat Wei was appointed to that position by Cameron after the 2010 general election, but stepped down after less than a year. For some reason the Tories did not think it necessary to replace him.
The name ‘Big Society’ might be fading from memory, but Cameron has most definitely not lost sight of the thinking behind it. The official aim was to “create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will ‘take power away from politicians and give it to people’”.3 Behind the hogwash was the notion that state responsibilities should be ‘devolved’ to charities and local volunteers - who, after all, understand what is happening on the ground better than any Whitehall civil servant. At the time everyone from Ed Miliband to the Socialist Workers Party pointed out that the ‘Big Society’ nonsense was being used as a cover for cutbacks.
And now the Olympics have demonstrated how much better it is if thousands of volunteers can be mobilised to work ‘for Britain’. One of the biggest cheers at the closing ceremony came when Coe praised the thousands who had given so freely of their time. No wonder Cameron has given his backing to The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Keep the Flame Alive’ campaign, one of whose aims is to “increase volunteering”.
No doubt the intention is to build on the work already undertaken by Jubilee Hour, an establishment initiative set up to mark the queen’s jubilee. Jubilee Hour “aims to recognise Her Majesty the Queen’s 60 years of public service by encouraging people to undertake at least 60 minutes of volunteering, or an act of goodwill”.4 No fewer than 1.2 million people have signed up so far this year to do their stint of voluntary work for ‘good causes’. The numbers were given a boost during Olympic fortnight, when 100,000 were said to have been inspired to add their names.
In reality, of course, it was a huge mobilisation of the state that delivered the Olympic Games. Yes, thousands did indeed volunteer to help out, but those who were selected acted as unpaid labour, saving the state a fortune in wages.
The second aim of Keep the Flame Alive is to “return competitive sport to all schools”. Cameron has announced that every primary school child will be obliged to take part in such activity. According to the prime minister, the current school curriculum is “too prescriptive” (I think he means ‘not prescriptive enough’), as it refers only to the obligation to include vague “games activities”. Ministers are said to be keen on measures forcing teachers to run extra-curriculum sports activities. Apparently “rigid” contracts make it difficult to persuade them to do so at present, so, like those employed by ‘academies’ and ‘free schools’, teachers’ pay and conditions should be more “flexible”, according to education secretary Michael Gove’.
‘Only’ about four in 10 children regularly take part in competitive sport, complained Cameron, but you can see why he said that “simply spending more” is not the answer. He plans to launch yet another attack on workers’ conditions to oblige teachers to carry out extra duties. Of course, teachers have always willingly given their time to supervise extra-curricular activity, but in recent years the additional workload resulting from, for example, bureaucratic paperwork has imposed an extra burden on them and made many reluctant to give up their free time.
As for obliging school students to participate in “competitive sport”, that can be both oppressive and counterproductive. While it is right that sport, ‘physical education’ and, yes, “games activities” should be part of the curriculum, no-one should be made to compete in an activity to which they are not suited.
Demonstrating the insincerity of the Conservatives’ commitment, however, one only has to point out that on coming to office the coalition cut £162 million earmarked precisely for school sports and overturned Labour’s target of two hours school sports for all each week. But now, it seems, at least some of that funding is to be restored - together with the proportion of national lottery takings directed to sport - it is to be raised to 20% once again. In particular the £125 million funding for elite athletes is to be retained.
Perversion of sport
It goes without saying that the idea of all this is not to enhance the lives of millions of school students, or even those of the select few. The idea is to achieve ‘success for Britain’ in international sporting contests - at virtually any cost - and in so doing strengthen and consolidate the dominant ideology of British national chauvinism. Cash-strapped universities have been only too pleased to hire out their facilities for such purposes and state funding has also ensured that some of the world’s top coaches have been recruited to ‘Team GB’.
One sport for which the policy of subsidising elite athletes has paid off is cycling - Britain dominated events in the velodrome at London 2012. Members of the full-time British cycling squad made good use of the Mercedes-AMG-Petronas wind tunnel at the team’s base in Northamptonshire at a cost of £3,000 a day. Such facilities are essential in the design of sportswear and equipment in order to shave vital seconds off performances.
Not that they are restricted to Britain. For their part US sprinters wore the TurboSpeed suit designed by Nike, which claims to cut 0.23 seconds off their time in the 100 metres by reducing aerodynamic drag. The dimpled polyester suits were the result of 12 years of testing in a wind tunnel. Britain’s Olympic athletes also had their sportswear and equipment such as cycling helmets individually designed for them. They underwent a body scan to determine the most precise aerodynamic shape for each item. British cyclists took advantage of so-called ‘hot pants’ specially designed by Adidas, which warm up the thigh muscles.
According to the letter of the law, this may not be categorised as cheating (it was implied by rival squads that it was precisely that), but no-one can claim that there is a ‘level playing field’ any more. According to South African socialist Terry Bell, “South Africa’s total investment in all Olympic sports over the past four years is equal to what Britain put into the minority sport of badminton.”5
Athletes themselves are put through the mill as part of the process. Top British cyclist Chris Hoy described earlier in the year what his training sessions were like: “When the session is over, people have to unclip me from the bike, ease me out of the saddle and lay me down on a padded mat.” He went on: “You feel as if you are dying. You’re physically sick and you writhe around on a mat in a world of pain until you can form a foetal position, which you stay in for 15 minutes thinking you can’t go on.”6
You can call this sport if you like, but it sounds more like a form of torture to me.
1. The Daily Telegraph August 13.
2. The Sunday Telegraph August 12.
6. Daily Mail April 21.