Reading about the Olympics…

You know the GP essay question about sport is never really about sport itself, but about the many issues surrounding it and its function or purpose for society. With the ongoing London Olympics, sport comes packaged as a global spectacle celebrating the epitome of human strength and spirit for all the world to see, to applaud, to criticize. Here are some articles I’ve read on the games so far that might be worth a look:

This interactive/video from the Guardian intimately gets us up close and personal with the thoughts and philosophies of Britain’s athletes as they contemplate their sporting journeys. Heart-warming videos from Proctor and Gamble that interview mums raising Olympians also lend some insight into the family environments that nurture up these young stars.

‘Team Spirit’ by Adam Gopnik discusses Olympics and its varying ability to inspire nationalism in both exclusive and inclusive purposes:

And, in a way, this exposes the tricky double legacy of nationalism that the Olympics really celebrate. Nationalism certainly affirmed the superiority of our cheering gang over here to your cheering gang over there—a truth we think demonstrable by what our gang can do to yours on any field of conflict you choose, as big as Northern France or as small as a tennis court. But it also gave birth to the liberal ideal that anyone could become part of a nation simply by showing up and joining the team, submerging individual racial or ethnic particularity into a greater national whole. When Jesse Owens outran the Nazis in Berlin, in 1936, he showed American racists that American blacks were just as American as anyone else. For that matter, the victory of the French national team in the World Cup, back in 1998, was a similar kind of inclusiveness: all those “un-French” names and colors pulling together for France expanded the meaning of Frenchness.

In this piece (from Mr. Marc Lim’s blog), Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei compares the opening ceremony of London with his motherland’s own grand showcase 4 years ago in Beijing:

Brilliant. It was very, very well done. This was about Great Britain; it didn’t pretend it was trying to have global appeal. Because Great Britain has self-confidence, it doesn’t need a monumental Olympics. But for China that was the only imaginable kind of international event. Beijing’s Olympics were very grand – they were trying to throw a party for the world, but the hosts didn’t enjoy it. The government didn’t care about people’s feelings because it was trying to create an image.

In the article ”Slave Genes’ Myth Must Die’ by Amy Bass, she discusses Michael Johnson’s comment that African-American sprinters owe their sporting superiority to their ancestry of slavery, arguing how such comments are pseudo-science and perpetuate dangerous racial stereotypes:

Michael Johnson’s remarks, then, fall well within the paradigm of scientific racism, as counterfeit connections between race and athletic ability live on, with pseudo-scientific explanations for black success supplementing long-held cultural convictions. The ebb and flow of these arguments has, without question, followed the success patterns of the athletes themselves. With the decline of black track-and-field success throughout the war years, interest in the subject faded, although the legacy of the racist suppositions of those early studies did not. With the rise of black power – both politically and athletically – in the 1960s, such arguments emerged once again. And as genetics has increasingly become part of the American vernacular, used as a commonplace exegesis for a range of human behaviors, world records and gold medals are now explained away by muscle twitch fibers. Indeed, Ball State University’s Human Performance Lab has even fielded calls from parents who wanted their children tested so they would know which sports to steer them toward.

Lastly, David Segal of the New York Times observes, in this report, how consumerism and sporting excellence may be walking a little closely together in Westfield Stratford City:

But the proximity of a mall to the Olympics, which once embodied the paradigm of sport unsullied by commercialism, is jarring to some. The worry: London is about to have a gross national production.

“There is growing cynicism over the routing,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor at the Coventry University Business School. “It clearly increases foot traffic in the mall, and it’s intended to entice spectators to engage in various forms of expenditure.”

That detracts from the spirit of the Olympics, he said. It also makes the mall part of the narrative of the games in a way that the I.O.C. cannot control and that is not always flattering.


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