London 2012 has helped to show the true price of Gold
I am mindful that I am about to prick a bubble that has been so magnificently inflated by ‘team’ GB, a bubble which has made us all so proud over the last week, me included. Housebound with a broken leg I would venture that I have watched more Olympic coverage than any other Briton with the exception perhaps of Clare Balding, John Inverdale and Princes William and Harry.
I think it is the BBC gushing interviews that have crystallised my opinion that it isn’t sheer hard work and talent that determines the colour of the medal that is attained but as importantly, it is money also. As I write, I note that China heads up the medal table, followed by the US and ‘Team’ GB, so this is hardly an insightful observation or revelatory conclusion.
But Olympic sports can be crudely demarked along socio economic lines and there has been much made already of our privately educated medallists. There was no Angolan equestrian team for example or Eritrean rowers and perhaps ironically, no sailors from Somalia to worry Big Ben Ainslie. Other sports are more accessible and more meritocratic. There are plenty of African athletes in the sprints and the distance events. Similarly; boxing, judo and weight lifting but even within these events, the concept of professionalism and funding eases the path of the athlete from the wealthy economy towards the podium.
I screamed for Mo Farrah along with everyone else and in his post-race interview I was agog at his pronouncement of running 120 miles per week and being away from his family for six weeks in America, a sacrifice compounded by his heavily pregnant wife. The figure stuck in my mind and I could think of little else. One hundred and twenty miles a week! Twenty miles a day with Sunday off. Who can do such a thing but a professional athlete, someone who is paid to do so? And then I wondered if Mo could have won the same gold medal had he stayed in his native Somalia and I suspect not.
At these games, Somalia has only sent two athletes, neither of whom proceeded beyond the first round of their events. No disgrace in this, but they might be equally gifted as their fellow countryman but were just not afforded similar opportunities.
Similarly, Paula Radcliffe enjoys a great advantage over her more economically challenged competitors. Ahead of her sad announcement that she could not add to the London 2012 medal tally, speaking from her high altitude training camp, our most famous female athlete was at pains to denigrate the drugs cheats who blight her sport. And who could disagree? But her sport is hardly a level playing field.
When a GB athlete is interviewed trackside, with or without a medal, they invariably thank their team and often there are too many people to mention. Physiotherapists, nutritionists, psychologists, agents, administrators, mum and dad obviously, and finally the crowd of course. Not that these people shouldn’t be thanked, of course they should be. But as well as being thanked these people are also being paid. They are not like the Olympic volunteers clad in purple. These people are professionals committed to the cause of their athlete. Who pays them is largely irrelevant. Whether it is the athlete’s sponsors, a healthy breakfast cereal no doubt or the GB tax payer, the point is that the athlete from the Gabon or Sudan probably doesn’t have a team to thank even if the BBC chose to interview the poor chump who had finished flat last.
Taking drugs is cheating, pure and simple. Indisputably, it gives an athlete an unfair advantage over the runner who has relied more fairly on fresh fish and fruit.
But isn’t being able to fly off to a special high altitude training camp for six weeks bestowing an athlete with a considerable advantage? And if not, why do it? And if it equalizes the disadvantage of the rich European who happens to born at sea level against the mountain dwelling Kenyans, how does this sit with athletes from the equally low lying Sri Lankans?
Note that I am offering no solutions here to these supposed anomalies. I have heard it said before that the war on drugs has been lost and we should just accept that chemists are legitimate members of the athlete’s armoury as much as the coach et al. This is not something I agree with. There are many dead cyclists and a very famous US female sprinter who provide ample evidence against.
And nor am I imagining a games that can ever be entirely fair. Life is not fair and so why should anyone expect the Olympics to be. But whilst I have been caught up in the jingoist fervour that is sweeping our unusually united island, I do think it is worth keeping things in perspective when we fete our fellow citizens as being the best in the world.Tagged in: bbc, education, London 2012, money, olympics, team gb
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