Once again the only country of any size that, as far as I can see, emerges from the Olympic Games with any credit is India
opines 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
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
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.