The family and I have been following the 24/7 coverage of the Summer Games. I noticed Michael Mullins’ commentary at Eureka Street that the country-oriented aspect is a problem:
Nationalism is the scourge of the modern Olympics. We’ve become more interested in the performances of nations than those of great athletes. Our eyes are on the medal tally because it proves we are better than Great Britain or some other nation. We slide too easily from speaking of ‘how our athletes are doing’ to ‘how we are doing’.
The Australian Government is complicit. The feeling of national shame following our inability to win a single gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Games prompted the Government to establish the Australian Institute of Sport and put large amounts of public money into training athletes. It worked. We can once again count ourselves among the greatest sporting nations on earth, even if in truth we are one of the greatest per capita sports funding nations on earth.
I’m somewhat sympathetic to this, though I realize that nations are better able to fund athletes than anyone. Unfortunately, Mr Mullins’ solution might be worse than national competition. It would be more likely that only the wealthy would be able to compete internationally. Or those favored by wealthy corporations and patrons. Good for Australia and for other developed nations. Maybe not so good for Third World athletes.
When I was watching the synchronized diving last night, the commentators were discussing one Chinese woman who has been paired with a number of younger divers, all with success. Her partners, of course, were all Chinese. What if, I wondered, she paired up with a non-Chinese? What if two or more competitors from different nations decided to team up as a show of unity and friendship. If we have to have medal standings, why not permit all athletes like Guor Marial to compete, if they wish, under non-national auspices?
I’m not convinced that nationalism is good for sport. I found the American gymnastics commentators quite annoying last night. It’s impractical and imprudent to think the Olympic Games could be divested of nationalism. But for a start, there should be an easier way for athletes to compete for the Olympic ideal separate from nationalism. And let them keep their own medal tally, since those national standings aren’t likely to disappear. Or be motivation for patriotic support.