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Olympic Legacy

14/08/2012

The Olympics are sadly over. Now begins the questions; How well were the games hosted? How did they compare to previous games? Did your country win as many medals as it hoped, why/why not? How can they win more in the future?

Why do we ask these questions, surely they are redundant in sport. Sport is not about how many fireworks were used, how many people watched, or even the quality of the stadiums. Surely sport is simply about people competing against one another. A 100m race is equally sport regardless of whether it is run on a football pitch or a stadium with an audience of millions. Do we poor hundreds of millions into Olympic sports just to see the look of pride on our athletes’ faces? No, that would be stupid.

Humans are competitive, destructively so. You may have wondered why I wrote on war last week, well I wanted to draw a contrast between this article and that. In that one I question whether it was good to fight and die if it means your enemies fail at their genocidal aims. But there are other ways to win a fight, ones that can be good. America never fought the USSR during the Cold War, but they did compete and USA eventually won. They competed on the surface of the moon, on economies, and on the field’s of sporting prowess.

This concept that a nation that does well in the Olympics is in some way superior did not start in the cold war. Indeed, many know of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where the Nazi’s attempted to show pure Aryan dominance, only to be conclusively beaten by Jesse Owens, who remains a legend to this day. The reason we do this is simple, humanity loves to win, and whether it is in sport or war it is the same to people.

However why would anyone ever host the Olympics, costing billions and not making a large amount, even on the grand scale of the macro economy they are fiscally irresponsible. Unless, that is, you are basically running a long-term marketing campaign for your country. The Beijing Olympics displayed China as a modern superpower, a veneer it had lacked before. Suddenly everyone was talking about how China would usurp the US. London 2012 aimed to display the UK as a modern country that is secure and comfortable in its post-imperial present, something many doubted before the games.

So as we look onto Rio 2016 this is what we must remember, nearly a billion people watch the opening ceremony. A billion people will be watching Brazil as a developing country, can the Rio games change that? Can they show Brazil to be a country that deserves to become one of the elite that the West consider themselves? That is the importance of the Games, the proof that one country is great. It is very significant that in the clash between the strict and lifelong training of the Chinese and the more DIY sports that we believe in in the West, USA came out on top of the medal table, something that will leave the Chinese with many questions.

The Olympics can represent so many clashes, from those of war to those of ideology. And all of the events, all of the ceremonies, are watched by between 1 to 4 billion people, all watching to see exactly what the host country is like.

~Sean

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