Wednesday, November 22, 2006
A prison of measured time
The increasing financial scandal revolving around London’s Olympic bid should come as no surprise. Indeed opponents of the Olympics predicted exactly this before the deal was even signed. For example, Kevin Blowe wrote (PDF) " According to the Auditor-General of New South Wales, Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget. It is worth remembering that twelve months before the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the government needed to provide an emergency cash injection of £105m."
According to Kevin: "In Sydney, underused venues are costing taxpayers A$46m (£18m) a year to keep afloat and will lose money for at least another decade. The Super Dome, where the closing ceremony was held, recently went into receivership. After the Athens Games, the Greeks face a £6.25bn debt and £60m a year for the upkeep of its unused facilities."
It is a measure of the weakness of the left in England - both ideologically and organisationally - that there is no credible campaign against the 2012 Olympics.
Two yeas ago I wrote an article, pointing out the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that £340 million will be channelled from the existing sports lottery distributors. So the Olympics will actually take money away from participative sport provision for ordinary people, and channel it towards elite professional athletes.
Already for the Beijing Olympics planned for 2008 UK Sport, the body that distributes funding under the World Class performance Programme is spending £57.5 million supporting just 320 elite competitors, plus a further £16 million to their sporting bodies. This Includes £600000 to support one professional weightlifter; £5.3 million for the equestrian team, £2 million for high diving, and over £1 million for the archery team.
The sporting ideal represented by the Olympics was described the French Marxist, Jean-Marie Brohm, as "physical torture put on as entertainment … held up as politically neutral and culturally legitimate". This is absolutely correct, and there is far too little critical examination of the negative effect of competitive sport pushing the human body to the limits of its physical capacity. For example the British marathon runner Paula Radcliife has explained that her distinctive head rolling while running is a mechanism for dealing with the debilitating pain she experiences. A French army instructor recently expressed the philosophy brilliantly on TV, saying "pain is weakness leaving the body"
It is instructive that the sports which exemplify the Olympics are those based upon direct comparative measurement: for example, athletics, swimming, weightlifting, cycling, skiing and boxing. The competition is between those who can best sublimate their human individuality and transform their body into a machine for producing the most efficient performance: the transformation of human beings into abstract physical labour that can be measured and compared. It is no coincidence that the origin of these alienated sports where the element of play is entirely absent coincided with the emergence of wage labour as the dominant relationship of production; a process which removed play and enjoyment from the daily experience of productive labour.
Of course, the increased popularity of weightlifting and aerobic exercise in gyms and fitness clubs is due not only to an increasing cultural recognition of the benefits of exercise, but also because the endorphin rush experienced when the body is pushed to the limits of its physical strength or endurance is genuinely pleasurable. This is a legitimate and (in moderation) a healthy and beneficial leisure activity
However, to compete at an international level subverts the pleasure and benefit of moderate physical exercise and turns it into a masochistic regime where human beings are subordinated to maximising the outputs of their own bodies, even at the cost of their long term health or mental well being. The Olympics - and even more so the Tour de France – are dominated by performance enhancing drugs, and the effective collusion by the sports’ governing bodies.
What is more, the training infrastructure and the development of sports science is much more advanced in the developed economies of the imperialist powers. So every four years the Olympics gives an opportunity for the great powers to ideologically demonstrate that their world dominance is underpinned by an implicit biological and racial superiority. This is one of the impetuses behind the prestige of holding the games – an orgy of conspicuous consumption that validates the host nation as a major power.
I have written other articles on the Olympics that may be of interest:
And on sport in the DDR. (I didn’t know until recently that the Australian state explicitly copied the sport infrastructure of the DDR!)