Once again the only country of any size that, as far as I can see, emerges from the Olympic Games with any credit is Indiaopines Theodore Dalrymple in Taki's Magazine (thanks to Bojidar Marinov and a tip o' the hat to Maggie's Farm's Bird Dog).
Accounting for something like a sixth of the world’s population, it had not—the last time I looked at the table—won a single medal in any event. This proves that, at least in this regard, it has its priorities right. It has steadfastly refused to measure itself by the number of medals it wins at the Olympics and does nothing whatever to encourage its citizens to devote their lives to trying to jump a quarter of a centimeter longer or higher than anyone else in human history.
This is the kind of goal that totalitarian regimes set for their citizens (or perhaps they should be called prisoners). The Marquis de Custine observed a long time ago, in his great book Russia in 1839, that tyrannies demand immense efforts of their populations to bring forth trifles, and there can be no trifle more trifling than an Olympic record, or even a victory without a record. To be the best in the world at something is no achievement unless what you are best at is in itself worthwhile. A man who throws the javelin farther than anyone else (I don’t even know whether the activity exists anymore) is not to be admired but pitied, at least if he has devoted many hours to it, which presumably he must have done to be the best at it in this world of fools.
A thing is not worth doing unless it is worth doing well, but a thing that is done well that is not worth doing is something very bad indeed—far worse, in fact, than a thing worth doing that is done badly. Among other things, it bespeaks a waste of ability, which would be an offense against God if abilities were God-given.
I first thought about the matter many years ago when my brother insisted on taking me to the cinema to see one of those technically sophisticated but in all other respects childish films that are often commercially very successful.
… the deliberate production of intellectual, moral, and artistic dross—what Orwell called prolefeed in Nineteen Eighty-Four—is a peculiarly malign form of cynicism.
… The games have long been a kind of window on political pathology, perhaps even before the Berlin Olympics of 1936. My mother saw Hitler at the Olympic Stadium, and I remember seeing the Olympic flame borne aloft past me in Amalfi on the way to Rome back in 1960, by which time the games had long been a deeply vicious spectacle.
Who now remembers the Press sisters, who both won gold medals for the Soviet Union at the Rome Olympics, and who precipitately retired as athletes when obligatory sex tests were introduced? I suppose these days such tests would not put them off or be regarded as relevant; after all, you are now the sex—or gender, to use the correct terminology—that you think you are.
But at any rate, the success of the Press sisters (or brothers, as they were disparagingly called) was promoted in some quarters as evidence of the superiority of the Soviet social and political system, as if putting the shot, or throwing the discus, or jumping the hurdles (all activities in which the two Presses excelled, at least against feminine competition) were what Alexander Pope called the “proper study of Mankind.”
… There was an article recently in The Guardian, the Izvestia of British liberals (liberals in the American sense, that is, not in the European economic sense), praising the glories of central planning, in witness whereof was the success—not to say, total world dominance—of the British cycling team. This was attributed to the government’s “investment,” in my view a criminal malversation of funds, in facilities for racing cyclists.
Let us admit for a moment what yet has to be proved, that the British success in this sphere was not the consequence of superior pharmacology: We may reasonably ask what kind of person would rejoice in such a victory for his country. Surely only a moron, though it must be admitted that such imbecility is pretty evenly spread around the globe, with the exception of India.
Truly, India is the last best hope of humanity. Long may it continue, to its eternal glory, to win no medals.