Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Tedium

What has happened to the Olympics? There was a time when I would be glued to the television screen for two weeks, hanging onto the words of the commentators as I watched New Zealand olympians in what seemed like titanic struggles for medal glory. But this time the Olympics are just tedious to me, and going by the number of similar comments I have had from others both in New Zealand and internationally, it seems that the ennui isn't confined to me. I think the culprits are the Olympics themselves and the mainstream media that covers them.

It all started with the opening ceremony. Almost as soon as I had turned on the television, I realised it was a mistake. The opening ceremonies have always been a little kitsch but they seem to be getting whackier and tackier with each successive olympiad. Worst of all, they are becoming a platform for political propaganda. The London Olympics were the nadir for this with their awful celebration of the appalling National Health Service (which produces far worse survival rates of all common forms of cancer compared with the US or Europe) and Rio followed suit by heavily laying on an environmental propaganda theme. I thought it was more than a little hypocritical for a country that is known as the biggest destroyer of rain forest on Earth, and a city that is so polluted that many athletes are worried for their health, to be lecturing us about protecting the environment.

The events themselves are part of the problem. The Olympic organisers, not happy with hosting the world's biggest sporting event, seem intent on becoming the pinnacle event of all sports. Thus we see sports that have their own major international championship events, such as tennis, golf and soccer, being incorporated into an already crowded programme. The number of withdrawals of prominent players prior to the Olympics, and the lacklustre performance of some of the leading names in these sports, indicates that the players themselves do not regard the Olympics as the premier competition in their sport. If an Olympic gold medal doesn't mean as much as winning a grand slam, major championship or World Cup, why would you have those sports in the Olympics?

Finally, there was the media coverage. Here in New Zealand, pay TV operator Sky Television has the exclusive rights to screen the Rio Olympics. Sky has provided a minimal amount of coverage on its free-to-air channel, Prime, but that coverage is so appalling I have given up trying to watch it. A typical segment of the Olympics on Prime is 30 seconds of the sporting event followed by five minutes of interviews with the athletes, followed by four minutes of advertisements. Athletes are not the most interesting people when interviewed (they are clearly not selected for their eloquence) and subjecting us to much more of them yabbering to the camera than doing their running or swimming or riding is, for a sports lover, a mild form of torture. I can only imagine that it is a cunning strategy by Sky to get more subscribers for their subscription-based coverage.

I have paid so little attention to these Olympics as a result of all of the above that I couldn't tell you how many gold medals New Zealand has at this time, or who won them. And sadly, I don't care. Roll on the US Open Tennis Championship, a sporting event I can get excited about.

1 comment:

paul scott said...

I am in Bangkok for a while, I saw ten minutes of Olympic Golf. Lydia Ko. That was it. She was playing well. The course was mean.