Monday, 23 July 2012

A comment for the Olympic Games

I was told this story many years ago by a British national coach who had been at the Montreal Games in 1976. One of the Russian coaches had had a drop too much to drink and launched into a diatribe.
"Those East Germans!" he grumbled, "They're ruining the Olympics! They get these kids when they're six years old, and they stuff them full of drugs and train them eight hours a day, and then they come here and win medals! That's not sport!"
To which our guy, by his own account, retorted, "Steady on, man! You do exactly the same thing yourself!"
"Yes, I know", said the Russian, "But the East Germans do it much better than us!"

I once told this story to another sports coach, who put a sinister twist on the drugs issue. He said, "Let's assume those kids are on drugs. Now, the sports authorities in those countries aren't going to feed untested drugs into their young stars, are they? They'll try them out first to see if there are any nasty side-effects. So what are we looking at for that? Well, there's prisons, there's orphanages ...."
I must say this aspect hadn't occurred to me. What if he was right?

Some light may be cast on this issue by a remark from the late Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, who said, back in the late 1970s, that "sport was just one of the ways in which the socialist world showed its superiority to the capitalist world". This illustrates perfectly why governments are prepared to pump money into top-level sport, or, if really unscrupulous, tolerate or even encourage a program of drug-abuse. Sporting success makes the people feel proud and patriotic, and may even make governments more popular!

The final word must therefore go to the Roman satirist Juvenal (A.D. 60-130), who famously wrote that the Roman Emperors maintained their position by providing their people with "Panem et circenses" - "Bread and circuses".