'I don’t know one person looking forward to the Olympics'
An awful lot of people will spend an awful lot of the next fortnight pretending it isn’t bullshit
Olympic rings at the beach volleyball arena at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA
Even bashing this out right now the question makes me giggle. It came from a PR person so it was talk for the sake of talk but it had yours honking. “Looking forward to Rio?” he asked and something in the professional pleasantness made the idea just all the more ridiculous.
I haven’t ‘corpsed’ like it in ages in this job. Not since phoning a notable racing figure who at the time was the subject of baseless rumours about supposed fluctuations in his sexuality. He was driving – “Ring me back; there’s a cop up my arse.”
I don’t know one person looking forward to the Olympics. Maybe it says something about the company I keep. One or two might nurse odd metal fantasies about gunning motorbikes through graveyards but many pour their enthusiasm into sport and they just don’t care about Rio. Me neither, really.
That’s some statement for a supposed sports hack to make. It’s like proper journalists confessing to not giving a damn about Clinton V Trump. Nothing’s supposed to be bigger than the Olympics, the Greatest Show On Earth.
But too much of it is bullshit, and an awful lot of people are going to spend an awful lot of the next fortnight pretending it isn’t bullshit. So forgive me for not looking forward to that.
In fact the real question is who amongst that amorphous blob known as the general viewing public is looking forward to Rio.
As in really properly, the way so many couldn’t wait for the Euros, or the way All-Ireland finals are anticipated, the Six Nations, Cheltenham, the upcoming Premiership, all those events we want to watch rather than feel we should because they’re supposedly good for us.
I’m talking fans, not those with a stake like family and friends of those involved, or officials or volunteers wonderfully devoted to the grassroots; just actual fans that appreciate how sport is one of the few bits of life left where at least an aspiration towards a level playing field still exists.
Believing that about the Olympics requires parking every rational impulse and intuitive instinct to the side and gorging on spectacle for its own sake. That’s freak show stuff. And there’s always a freak show audience. But that doesn’t mean it gives enough of a damn to look forward to it.
We’ll tune in on Friday for an opening gorge-fest of interminable flag-waving nonsense, hoping it will be enlivened by a Brazilian instinct towards flamboyance, spectacle and skin, but really just waiting to see if the Russian team gets booed.
A lot of us will tune in too to see what avian impression Usain Bolt manages this time, and just how hysterically over-the-top some of the reaction from the more pom-pom shaking sections of the media will be.
And then...well, it depends what flag you’re waving, and how likely someone is to ‘medal’ in something which will then quickly return to obscurity for another four years except for an occasional messy debate about funding.
All of which says more about the general public’s tastes rather than the intrinsic merit of those sports but there’s no point in pretending it isn’t the reality. Just as there’s no point pretending that Olympic credibility isn’t a busted flush, impossible to take seriously anymore.
Pointing that out invites accusations of cynicism, usually accompanied by cant about how retrieval of public faith in the Olympics is a ‘challenge’ that has to be met head on, the usual middle-management nonsense that has turned ‘challenge’ into a synonym for ‘disaster.’
But for real cynicism all you have had to do is keep your ears and eyes open for the last number of months as political worthies of all shapes and sizes squirmed towards ass-covering exercises in expediency rather than own up to the obvious which is that no one believes a word of it.
No one without an agenda has taken seriously for decades that the Olympic movement might care about living up to what it says on the tin about fairness, equality and respect for fundamental ethical principles.
The idea is laughable. And the shambolic run-in to Rio has confirmed every prejudice about the cynicism behind pious political platitudes spouted by those worthies who will stand front and centre on Friday night basking in The Greatest Sham In Sport.
Pointing that out isn’t cynical, just an acknowledgement of the reality, an acknowledgement that has to occur if anything is to ever change. But that’s clearly a ‘challenge’ too far.
Instead we’re going to be swamped with rote narratives for the next month which will fill to bursting but only satisfy those prepared to swallow anything.
There will be fairytales and tragedies and results supposedly explained by that most meaningless of get outs - freakish talent. Loads of passion will be thrown in, and pride and redemption, and other stock PR ad agency claptrap, all of it generated for the sake of generating something.
The Olympics is such a vast beast that it can include truly admirable and indeed remarkable stories from athletes of real substance and merit. It doesn’t require green patriotic blinkers to persuade anyone that quite a few come from this country. But since no one knows what to believe, no one believes anything.
So the most important statement uttered about the upcoming Olympics came recently from Al Guy, a man who has spent much of his life working in athletics, fighting the good fight against doping.
He was asked if he will watch Rio. His answer was sad, dispiriting and honest enough to make it of no use at all to the official narrative – “I’m not going to be a fool, looking at stuff I don’t believe.”
That’s tough to laugh at. But it is the reality.