Spiked, 3rd August 2012
Yesterday Rupert Murdoch provoked controversy by tweeting that the reason for the UK and USA’s poor performance vis-à-vis China is due to lack of emphasis on competition in schools. The Newscorp boss said: ‘No wonder China leading in medals while US and UK mainly teach competitive sport a bad thing.’
I’m no great fan of Murdoch, but on this he may have a point. There are have been many stories recently about sports days in schools being changed from events designed for students to exert themselves and win prizes, to ‘fun’ days for all to take part in – celebrating the slow and fast, the fit and fat, the athletic and and the non-athletic. The idea is often promoted that winning and losing does not matter; it is the taking part that counts. Now, I’m not saying that those who fail to do well in sporting and physical activities should be ridiculed. But I have serious issues with the idea that winning and physically excelling in a sport is somehow a bad thing. Especially when this creates a culture in which producing athletes of Olympics standards becomes a problem.
The vanguard of the all-must-have-prizes movement at the London 2012 Olympics is anti-Olympic protest group the Counter Olympics Network (CON). This ragbag of individuals takes anti-excellence and anti-winning sentiment to a new level. On its website, CON denounces the Olympics for promoting what it calls the ‘body fascism mentality of elite sports’.
By this bizarre logic, striving for sporting excellence in some way is equated with social Darwinism and the eugenics of the Nazis. Is that right? Are the extraordinary accomplishments of Olympians like Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen or Jamaican runner Usain Bolt really reminiscent of Nietzsche’s ubermenschen? It’s all pretty mad.
We should celebrate ‘body fascism’ at the Olympics – namely the physical and mental discipline that is necessary for sportspeople to hone their bodies into those of Olympians.