Sporting excellence: why bother?

Dot writes: the Olympics was fab, wasn’t it? I admit I was a bit doubtful, like many people, of the benefits of having it in London. It seemed like a chance to spend an enormous amount of money on something that might simply showcase the erratic British weather and the capacity of the British press for mean-spirited carping. These doubts must have entered many minds, from Seb Coe downwards, because a lot of effort was evidently put into, first, ensuring that the British did amazingly well in the games, and, second, thinking and (notably) talking about the ‘legacy’ of the games – all those children who are to be inspired to take up new sports, all those adults who are to cast off the mantle of the couch potato. (Or maybe that should be the skin of the couch potato. Potatoes have skins rather than mantles. Whatever.) And this is all excellent. You don’t have to be a nasty nationalist to enjoy seeing your countrymen win things; and the sofa is no place to grow root vegetables. The games made the grumpy British happy and excited for a couple of weeks, and not even Boris Johnson could spoil it. The Irish were pretty happy too.

But, you know, I think it would have been great even if it had been in Paris, and the closing ceremony had been full of Edith Piaf imitators instead of Suggs and Brian May. The simple thing is that it is wonderful to see people doing things so incredibly well. I don’t believe that the astonishing single-mindedness required to train for sport at the highest level is a healthy or necessary thing for most people, most of the time, but in those capable of such amazing things it is inspiring to see what extraordinary things they can achieve, and to see people pushing themselves to the limits of what they can do. It’s best of all when they seem to be enjoying themselves, which is why everyone likes Usain Bolt so much. If I may be permitted to draw a moral, I think we should take the Olympic games as a reminder of some of the values that we do, when we think about it, share, and which stand alone without having to be justified in economic and instrumental terms: celebrating and promoting excellence, and rejoicing in one’s talents and in the talents of others. It helps to have money to spend on it, of course, but this is the sort of thing it is worth spending money on. And if it applies to sport, it applies to art too, and to intellectual inquiry into any of the various fields that humans feel moved to investigate. (See, I managed to drag it round to the universities as usual.)

I also firmly believe that if a thing is worth doing it’s worth doing badly. I could possibly use the Olympics to illustrate that too, but that would be another post.

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2 thoughts on “Sporting excellence: why bother?

  1. Helen Conrad-O'Briain

    Poor Boris, he is actually Winnie ille Pooh; if people will just realize this he would be worth his weight in heather honey.

    1. Dot

      I disagree: I think he plays on a fluffy, bumbling, lovable image while actually being both very bright and not especially nice. But I did feel sorry for him for that episode in which he got stuck on the wire – it could have happened to anyone and people were gleefully unpleasant about it.

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