Friday, 8 August 2008

The other horse race

Watching the Olympics opening ceremony, you expect to hear the dufus commentators mispronounce ‘Comoros’ and make tasteless jokes about people’s national costumes. But it was amazing how the NBC honchos have given carte blance to their chosen valedictorians of the commonplace to make political comments about country they can find on the map as the teams emerged from the stadium tunnel.

I’m old enough to remember the track stars who gave the black power salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City and how they were hounded for life by the sports world for the crime of ‘politicizing’ sport and in an allegedly unpatriotic way, no less. Nobody seemed to notice that the Mexican state ten days before had slaughtered hundreds of protesting students at Three Cultures Plaza in the same city—back then, injecting ‘politics’ into sport was simply NOT DONE.

Until it became convenient for the United States to do it, that is. Just a dozen years later Jimmy Carter turned the 1980 Moscow Olympics into a referendum on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and now it’s open season.

The Soviets returned the favor in 1984 by boycotting Los Angeles, and the U.S. went on to win every gold, silver, bronze, iridium, quartz and malachite medal to be had. The whole thing coincided with Saint Ronald’s ‘Morning in America’ and his crushing re-election and convinced our citizenry once again that the good old U.S.A. was the best damn place in the world.

So now the droning dullards aurally numbing us while the Olympic pictures flash by can poke a stick in the eye of the Burmese junta, Hugo Chavez, the Iranians and anyone else it’s P.C. to denounce from the cozy heights of network TV these days. The fact that they hardly know Bolivia from Bangladesh doesn’t matter as long as they get the party line straight and the ennemi du jour is properly twitted.

So the sporting competition is about to begin, and the stage is set for us to ovate and weep with abandon when American kids come in first, as God wishes. A few heroic underdogs from Lesotho or the Cook Islands can be cheered to remind ourselves that we’re ripping good sports, and the bad guys’ athletes jeered on cue. Virtue can pummel Ill and slam Nasty; Fair will triumph over Foul; the show is on.

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