The Commonwealth Games illustrates the potency and symbolic nature of sport

August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Games takes place in Glasgow as Scotland temporarily suspends campaigning for its referendum next month on independence from the United Kingdom

The Games reminded me of the Christmas Day truce in World War One. Not that I was there personally for Glasgow or WW1. According to the legend, on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops downed arms, left their trenches and played a football match before resuming battle.

Don’t mention the war

In Glasgow during the Games, it was very much ‘don’t mention the war for independence’. If so, the truce was successful. This was perhaps because it was not clear to either the Yes or the No campaign whether political posturing would lose much-needed votes.

Overall, the Games have proceeded in an atmosphere of scarcely- controlled hysteria. Hysteria among spectators; among adrenalized athletes gasping out their semi-coherent replies at interviews minutes after completing events (“tell us what you are feeling as poster-girl now you have failed to win a medal in your favorite event”); and above all, hysteria among the assembled ranks of the broadcast media.

Gilded and giddy commentators

The BBC had more than its fair share of gilded and giddy commentators interviewing athletes and proud parents. These were performances honed by BBC experience of numerous interviews with Andy Murray and celebrity mum Judy before, during and after Wimbledon fortnight over the last few years.

The Gold standard

Great efforts were made to preserve or even enhance the value of the gold standard. The actual events were represented as all equivalently-compelling and equivalently worth watching. After all, they all offered changes to win Gold. The prospect of winning ‘yet another gold’ was the dominant marketing offer from the start of the Games. Each session was going to be special as there were so many gold medals to be won. Somehow the discourse permitted at the same time acknowledgement of the equivalence and specialness of gold and of gold-medal winners, and the lower status silver and bronze medals . (Another image: the satirical sketch of the British class system beginning “I look up to him because he is upper class and I am middle class”).

All events are equal but some are more equal than others

I enjoyed most of the actual athletic events, particularly those that lasted fewer than several hours of running, cycling, or wheel-chairing around the track. You could keep your percentage time watching athletes up by ‘using the red button’. Otherwise you were faced with a choice of multi-tasking or taking full-on the high-intensity but very cozy chats between the assorted teams of BBC commentators and guests.

Soon our revels will be over

I multi-tasked, with mobile, tablet, and library book at the ready at all times. In a few days the Games truce will be over and the referendum campaigning will begin again.


Steve Ovett: Chariots of Ire

September 1, 2008

A blog post in 2008 noted that a film could be made of the Coe/Ovett story. This week there were press reports that the film was actually going to be made. According to the Guardian

The Perfect Distance, Pat Butcher’s 2005 book about the professional rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, is set to be turned into a movie for 2012.

Original post [Sept 1st, 2008]:

Steve Ovett thrilled a nation with his middle-distance track battles with Sebastian Coe. He has since relocated in Australia as a sports commentator with a pungent style of a Geoff Boycott

You can see on U-tube Ovett’s famous battle with Coe in 1983.

I’m not sure if this warrants a Leaders we deserve blog post. It may just suggest a ‘compare and contrast’ theme of two athletes one who became a sporting and political celebrity, and another who didn’t.

Over the last few weeks, British viewers had a rich diet of Olympic news and opinions from Beijing. From time to time the vaguely familiar gaunt features of Steve Ovett appeared. His role appeared to be to puncture the euphoric bubbles blown by the other British commentators.

He continued this role with some enthusiasm subsequently. In an interview (BBC Five Live, Sunday August 31st 2008] he repeated his view that the British Athletics performance at the Olympics had been dire. The interview was playing in the background, and I did not recognise Steve’s voice. The speaker semed to me to have an Australian accent. His argument was that the Brits had done worse than the Australians at the Olympics if you compare money invested, not to mention population.

It was quite a shock when the interviewer asked the interviewee whether he would like to take over the job of operations director for Sport GB (or UK). No, was the reply, they wouldn’t want me. (Not, what qualifications do I have for the job).

That was a bit of a puzzle, only resolved at the end of the interview. The pseudo-Oz was Steve Ovett, now gainfully employed in Australia as sports advisor and commentator.

The newly converted

Was this the behaviour of the newly converted? If so, what sense can be made of it?

Is it too simplistic to say that the fierce competitive drive during his career became a personal feud between the rough Ovett and the smooth Coe? That the subsequent rise and rise of Seb Coe and decline in Steve in the public gaze contributed to his views?

That there is a film in there, perhaps to be called Chariots of Ire?