Australia’s medal haul at the 2016 Rio Olympics looks to be on the same trajectory since the 2000 Sydney games. Down. Since the 58 medal haul in 2000, subsequent games have netted 50, 46, 35 to the 22 so far. Gold went from 16 -> 17 -> 14 -> 8 to the current 6. Sure there were over 600 athletes in 2000 which has steadily declined to over 400 but it seems the growth in social media has been inversely correlated with medals.
It ain’t over til it’s over but what is it with so many athletes today? It seems less love of country and more love of self. Social media fuels it. How many hits can one get for saying or doing something “out there”. Social media fuels the thirst for the absurdly irrelevant. The whinging at the pool over drug cheats became a contest between one Aussie swimmer Mack Horton and 50 million angry Chinese. Had he focused solely on his 1500m final rather than muck around getting embroiled in media speculation over whether he’d apologize or not perhaps he might have done better. If I ran the Aussie Olympic team I’d shut them out of all social media. Check your phone in at the door til all your events are over before getting caught up in media irrelevance and Tinder searches. It’s an unnecessary distraction. Did the Campbell sisters really choke or were they merely beaten by better competition who put in more effort? It just seems a lack of discipline that the Aussies spent $40mn over 4 years for 10 medals in the pool.
The Olympics have always tried to appeal to the spirit of “good sportsmanship” and “putting differences aside” but now almost seem a platform for personal political or personal attention getting stunts. Whether it be as banal as refusing to ride on the same bus as Israelis, refusing to shake their hand or forfeiting 4 years of hard work because you draw a Jew in a bout the grandstanding shows how intolerant the world has become. I remember watching a movie “One day in September” which documented the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games. One of the Israeli fencing coaches Andre Spitzer told his new wife Anke that he was going to talk to a group of Lebanese athletes. She warned against it given the war going on with Lebanon. He returned after talking with them with a big smile on his face saying “this is what the Olympics is all about”
I was listening to a post dinner speech made by recently retired legendary cricket umpire Dicky Bird. His observation of the game was that professionalism has rid the sport of the true “characters” who played for the “love” of it. In the past the players used to play pranks on eachother and in one game the English team put Dicky Bird’s car on bricks and stole the wheels, after they’d wished him good night. Bird took the practical joke for what it was. No malice. Today the players would be slapped with politically correct fines, sponsors would cancel contracts and fake apologies would be made at the same time 5,000,000 people would put their outrage on social media over a trivial matter done in good spirit.
Even Olympics legends Phelps and Bolt are splashing social media commentary for little other reason than self promotion. I don’t doubt their dedication to their respective talents and I don’t begrudge any success they get but the only real winners are those who appear so happy to compete and show their pride and tears on the dais even at a bronze medal.
The most impressive athletes of the games have been the Fijian Rugby 7s gold medalists. First medal ever and these people paid respects to Princess Anne by kneeling to accept their prize. These are the highlights of the games to me not the 23rd gold for Phelps or the 3rd consecutive golds for Usain Bolt.
Maybe I’m showing my age but I miss the good old days. Give me more James Hunts in F1, Barry Sheene’s in MotoGP, Ray Price’s in Rugby League, Dennis Lillee’s in cricket, John McEnroe’s in tennis, George Best’s in soccer and Brian Clough’s in coaching. Bring back the fun. The larrikins. The ones who aren’t putting on fake smiles for corporate sponsors endorsing products they have no belief in. Sadly the last time I went to watch rugby at my old high school it seems the sponsors have already arrived.
Perhaps the Aussie government should look at the young guns from 2016 Rio games, grant citizenship and pay them millions of they win gold in 2020. Cut out the middle man. Buying glory seems acceptable in today’s world rather than earning it through toil. Most gold medals are won by those that have funding which allows 24-7 training capability. Wouldn’t it be great if the playing field was levelled such that Olympians were capped out on funding. Then we’d see whose heart was really in it.