Philip Whiteley's Blog

August 6, 2012

Olympic Fever and the art of competition

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:40 pm

I am neglecting the garden. I am going for a run every day. I’m nearly getting knocked over running home to watch the next race. I’m making a start on my Bradley Wiggins sideburns. I have a moderate-to-severe case of Olympic Fever. Certainly, I’ve seen more of the events than any since Munich in 1972 or Montreal in 1976, in which cases I was on school holiday, waiting for the Test Match to begin.

What is remarkable is that for me, and for thousands of other Brits, this Fever has taken us by surprise. Before the events began, I was uneasy. Would there be logistical foul-ups? Have the Games gotten too big and too commercial? Is it a load of hype?

But somewhere between the opening ceremony and the first gold for Team GB, an electrical charge went through the country, a bolt as fast as Usain Bolt. People who wouldn’t normally follow sport were talking about ‘our’ chances in an event they were scarcely aware of a week earlier. I asked a friend who had previously declared a lack of interest in sport if she had managed to find a quiet corner to read a book and she replied: ‘Oh no, I’m really into it – watching every race and cheering on Team GB!’

I have never known such a positive spirit in the country – ever. It is new territory and I hope there is a lasting legacy. There also seems to be a great spirit among the athletes – I’ve never seen such smiles from the runners-up and hugs between participants.

For Britain, some of the most positive aspects have been to celebrate both diversity and achievement – concepts that, in our warped and sectarian political system, are often pitted against each other. On Saturday – the greatest night in British sporting history – the Gold winners were a mixed-race woman, a Muslim man born in Africa and a ginger-haired lad (bullying red-haired folk is a type of racist abuse still widely tolerated).

Many commentators have observed that Jessica, Mo and Greg are much finer role models than the reality-TV mini-celebrities that have had too much of the oxygen of publicity in recent years.

How inspirational is this, given that only one in a million of us is born with the talent necessary for the highest sporting achievement? I think the lessons we ought to learn concern the relationship between competition and fairness. In left-right politics, they are pitched as being each other’s opposites. The right has gone for an aggressive ‘win at all costs/greed is good’ ethos, which culminated in fraud and mismanagement in financial services where there were too few rules. Too often, the left has gone for an ‘everyone gets a prize’ mentality in school that undermines achievement.

Competition is inevitable, and perfectly healthy. The only Olympic contestants to be disqualified so far got the red card for trying not to win – and quite right, too. Competition is a part of life. It is, however, not the whole of it. It is an art form as well as a means to an end: trying to outwit an opponent; striving to write a better book; preparing for a competitive job interview.

It is no fun at all if your opponents aren’t trying. It is only destructive if you cheat. This is why the concept of ‘fair play’ comes in, and the importance of accepting defeat graciously. The inevitability of competition means that sometimes we lose – even Usain Bolt does not have a 100% record. For Oscar Pistorius, simply getting to the Games required a gold medal effort.

For the first time in my life, I totally ‘get’ the Olympic Spirit: Strive to be the best you can be. Competition and fairness are not opposites, they are two sides of the same coin.

It really is the taking part, not the winning or the petty rivalries that matter (though can I point out that Yorkshire is currently ahead of Australia in the medals table?)

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3 Comments »

  1. Nice post Philip. And I agree, the positive spirit of the Olympics that’s prevailing in the country right now is absolutely wonderful, and so inspiring. I wasn’t particularly ‘into’ the Games beforehand (though I had tickets for a couple of events) and in fact was out of the country when they kicked off. But now I can’t get enough of them and am so proud of Team GB and indeed, of all the athletes. Right, where’s the remote, must be an event on as I type …

    Comment by goosterontheloose — August 7, 2012 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  2. Great post! I don’t really ‘do’ sport, but I absolutely LOVE the Olympics. I’m about to take my 4th consecutive gold in armchair-spectating!

    Comment by Rachel J Lewis — August 7, 2012 @ 11:05 am | Reply

  3. Thanks so much for your comments! Let’s hope there is at least something of this spirit that lasts #legacy

    Comment by felipewh — August 9, 2012 @ 11:48 am | Reply


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