Thursday, 24 May 2012

Race to the line

With John Carlos, one of the Mexico ‘68 podium protesters, on a speaking tour of Britain, author of a forthcoming book on the Olympics MARK PERRYMAN describes the continuing clash of race and the Games

United on the Mexico podium by their fierce opposition to racism Tommie Smith, Peter Norman and John Carlos used the medal ceremony for what has become an iconic moment of public protest. Its durability as an image of anti-racism in sport and beyond is testament to the global platform the Olympics provided. Even before satellite TV and digital media, the dignified audacity of the three medal-winners became an overnight world-wide news story.

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 offered another iconic Olympic memory of sport and race. As the twenty-first century began Eric Hobsbawm’s description of the role of sport in providing a popular expression of national identity amongst the debris of globalisation became increasingly relevant: “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of named people.” As part of this process a sporting contest can sometimes crystallise social or political changes within a nation. When Cathy Freeman, the Australian Aboriginal sprinter, streaked around the track to win the 400 meters gold medal, kitted out in an all-in-one skin-tight green and gold Lycra suit complete with hood, she was chased every inch of the way by the light of thousands of camera flashes capturing her moment of glory. This was more than an instant of supreme sporting achievement. For Australia’s Aboriginal community it represented recognition and inclusion from the majority white population - however temporary it ultimately proved to be. Inequality, discrimination, racism, and disputes over land rights didn’t disappear just because Cathy was a national heroine. Her success was the exception, not the rule, but for a moment it pointed to a different version of Australia.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Games For All?

As the Olympic Torch relay starts its route around Britain author of a forthcoming book on the Olympics Mark Perryman questions the claim of a Games for all.

Beginning its long route around Britain the Torch Relay is one of the few examples of decentralisation and free-to-watch events that could have transformed the 2012 Olympics into a Games for all.

There is little doubt that the sight of the Olympic torch as it passes through a village, town or city up and down the byways, with photo-opps at famous landmarks will ignite popular interest and huge media coverage.

But the scale of that enthusiasm reveals the lack of ambition behind the 2012 model for the Olympics. In my new book Why the Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, I propose Five New Rings for the Olympic symbol. The first, and most important, of these is decentralisation. As a mega-event football’s World Cup has its problems too with new stadia sometimes built with no obvious future likelihood to be full again once the tournament is over. But the singular advantage for the hosts of a World Cup over the Olympics is it is spread all over the country, and sometimes more than one. In this way the global spectacular becomes not only a national event but a local event too. The Olympics is an entirely different model, apart from the yachting and the football tournament every single event is London-based, most of Britain will have no contact with the Games except a fleeting fglimpse of the Torch relay as it pases through.