It’s the taking part
IN 1896, John Pius Boland, a not overly energetic Irish law student, travelled to the revived Olympic Games in Athens, where he was inveigled into the tennis tournament because they were short of players (runners and weightlifters joined in, too) and ended up as a surprised gold medallist. Four years later, Margaret Ives Abbott, an American art student, entered a nine-hole game of golf in Paris and won; the event was so chaotic that she’s said to have died 55 years later without realising she was an Olympic gold medallist.
It’s hard to envisage such a casual attitude to Olympic participation now nor, sadly, is it easy to reconcile the appalling revelations about systematic Russian doping with the ideals of Pierre de Coubertin, the French educationalist who founded the modern Olympics, fired by a belief in the power of sport to restore national pride.
Sport does have the power to uplift— after a cynical preamble, the London Olympic Games of 2012 made everyone cheerful and proud—and an Olympics can do great things for a country and its host city, Barcelona being perhaps the most tangible evidence of subsequent regeneration ( Athena, page 34).
Rio, where the XXXL Olympiad opens on Friday, is not the happiest place. Many of its beleaguered people, not least the police, are deeply disillusioned by the ridiculous sums of money being spent on a two-week extravaganza, but we have to be confident that Brazil’s famous carnival spirit will prevail and that the local economy will benefit.
There are, still, a few athletes with ‘real jobs’ and some heroic participants— Great Britain’s showjumping team will have a combined age of 209, eventer William Fox-pitt overcame serious head injuries 11 months ago to compete and keirin rider Becky James has dealt with chronic knee and shoulder pain—but the question must be asked as to whether the Olympic movement has gone too far and if we ask too much of host cities.
One glaring conundrum is that the Olympics is far from the pinnacle of sports such as tennis, football and golf. Another is the International Olympic Committee’s credi- bility after passing the buck on Russian doping. Some friendly chaos is predicted in Rio, but perhaps that’s what is needed to bring the Olympic Games back to its original more homespun, sporting aims ( Bluffer’s guide, page 58).
Anyone for croquet?
Never mind the synchronised swimming and race-walking, back here, vitally British summer pastimes (we could call some sports) are dying out. In a survey by Pimm’s Cider Cup, 90% of respondents confessed to wearing any old colour on the tennis court, 88% have never inexpertly steered a punt and 75% couldn’t launch a ball across a bowling green. Worse still, 71% have never swung a croquet mallet.
To combat the decline, Pimm’s has launched the extreme Croquet Cup, with matches played on the White Cliffs of Dover, 800ft above ground at The view from The Shard in London and on a boat on the Thames.
Croquet hasn’t been part of the Olympic movement since 1900. Perhaps that’s where it’s all gone wrong?