Saturday, August 14, 2004

Where's my Olympic spirit? 

It's that time again when for a period of few weeks it will be almost impossible to avoid exposure to sport. But I'll try anyway, which in my case means no Channel 7 or SBS on Australian TV. Don't take me wrong; I think it's wonderful that once every four years hundreds of millions of people around the world can for a few days forget about their everyday lives and share instead in the sheer joy, excitement and exhilaration of the Olympic competition. I just can't ever really get into it myself.

Partly I blame the communists. My primary school in Krakow occupied a solid, four storey, nineteenth century building on the edge of the Old City and had no outdoors sport facilities whatsoever. When we wanted to kick around the ball we had to use the nearby park and risk the wrath of ferocious pensioners who didn't appreciate youngsters running around and scaring away the pigeons.

Then when I came over to Australia and landed in grade 10 of high school I was far too busy trying to nullify the language advantage of my peers. So again I missed out on participating in sports. OK, it's all just convenient excuses. I was never a sporty person anyway; I always preferred a good book or the blood sport of politics. And so now, while the rest of my country is going berserk with excitement, I'm restricted to three channels of free-to-air TV. Which hopefully will translate into more blogging.

I was having coffee with a friend of mine today and we couldn't quite avoid catching glimpses of the opening ceremony being replayed on the coffee shop's big screen TV. I have to say we were pretty confused by what we saw of the spectacle. Sydney 2000's inflatable kangaroos on bicycles might have been tacky but arguably had crossed the cultural barriers more successfully than some of the mythological symbolism that the Athens ceremony was so replete with.

The pageant of Greek history was a good idea in principle, and I liked the artistic execution, but - no offence to any Greek readers - it was always going to be impossible to convincingly carry it through while at the same time trying to avoid any mention of some 2,200 years of foreign domination. Hence, after the golden age of classical Greece, the historical flow of the spectacle seemed to stop somewhere in the mid fourth century BC and resume briefly some thousand years later during the Byzantine period, only to then skip another thousand years, thus avoiding any mention of Alexander the Great and the Macedonian hegemony, the few hundred years of the Roman Empire, the early medieval rule by Norman and Germanic princelings and another few centuries under the Turkish yoke. By the time the Greek history resumed with the Byronesque freedom fighters, before moving into the rather non-descript twentieth century, the friend and I have concluded that the Stalinist approach to history is alive and well under the shadow of the Parthenon. The thing about "the glory that was Greece" is that sure, there was plenty of glory, but it wasn't quite evenly spread over the three and a half thousands of years since the height of the Mycenaean and Minoan civilisations. But hey, that's just cranky old us; I'm sure everyone else had enjoyed the show.

As it's difficult to completely get away from politics, even while having a coffee, the friend of mine suggested that what he would really like to see is the Olympic games for countries that don't officially exist. I have to say that the Olympiad for breakaway regions, disputed territories and separatist enclaves quite appeals to me. Why bother with the predictable spectacle of the US, Australia and China yet again dividing most of the medals between themselves, when you can watch nail-biting competition between participants as diverse as South Ossetia, Western Sahara, Kashmir and Bouganville Island? In another plus, proliferation, arms smuggling and jihad relay might also be more entertaining competition sports then your average triathlon, high jump and gymnastics.

So in 2008, see you all at the Golan Heights games.


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