Fracturing of Global Sports
By Staff News & Analysis - September 23, 2010

Are the Delhi Commonwealth Games doomed? After creaky stadiums, leaky pools and allegations of dodgy deals come complaints from visiting teams that the athletes' village on the outskirts of the capital is filthy and "unfit for human habitation". Apparently more than half of the 34 residential towers at the village are still far from complete; and a quarter of the rooms for one of the visiting teams are flooded. This is the same village that Delhi organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi had praised recently as better than the one at the Beijing Olympics…. Except, critics say, the toilets in Delhi are dirty and the rooms waterlogged and stacked with debris, among other problems. Critics say the Delhi Games village – luxury apartment homes which are to be sold for upwards of 20 million rupees each – represents all that is wrong with India. Officials have ignored protests that the site is on a flood plain in a zone more prone to earthquakes than other parts of the capital, environmentalists say. To make matters worse the Yamuna river is clogged with monsoon rains and areas nearby are a breeding ground for mosquitoes. But the authorities don't appear to care. – BBC

Dominant Social Theme: Even wonderful international sporting events have glitches.

Free-Market Analysis: Just yesterday, we wrote about NFL quarterback Michael Vick who ran a violent dog-fighting ring and who, years after the offenses, remained something of a sports pariah from a reporting standpoint. We pointed out that the sports-writing community in particular constantly reaffirms dominant social themes of the power elite and thus Vick continued to be a convenient whipping boy.

Perhaps we should have made a bigger issue of animal rights. The pillorying of Michael Vick probably had more to do with establishing these rights than any violence that Vick visited on some poor canine. Here's a potential dominant social theme: "Animals have rights, too, and they are just as important as human ones. We need to reinforce both kinds as they ultimately stem from human actions and having nothing to do with a higher power."

When one grants "animal rights," the corollary is inevitably that human rights are necessarily diminished. This was probably the bottom line as regards the promotion that Vick found himself enmeshed in. It was perhaps a way of rhetorically reinforcing animal prerogatives at the expense of human ones. Every sports writer, large and small, seemed to agree that Vick had one a great wrong and thus the entire story emerged as a kind of morality play with the state and its authorities playing the role of Avenging Justice.

Our weariness with this sort of scenario is reinforced by an endless glut of global games. We are in fact, delighted that India (see above) is having trouble building yet another ornate sporting palace. Could this be a modest turning point for the global sporting brigade? Like so many other things, the great global games of the past five decades have been fueled by fiat money. It is perfectly possible that in this era of austerity, when central banks are having problems circulating the money they are capable of printing, that international sports celebrations may gradually subside.

Publicly funded global sports (as opposed to private competitions) have little to redeem itself from our point of view. Their vast facilities are always touted as necessary adornments to the body politic. But almost inevitably five or ten years later they lie abandoned, in ruins. The pomp and ceremony with which athletes win prizes for running fast or jumping high might be better reserved for those who have found a cure for cancer.

No, international sports in our view is merely one more opportunity for the State itself to shine. Anthems are played when athletes win. And the medal count is inexorably displayed, inviting viewers to bask in metaphorical glory. Individual competitors, young and emotional, inevitably choke up over the honor of "representing" the country in question.

Modern sports are an almost seamless metaphor for the way the power elite and its political enablers would like the current sociopolitical system to be presented. Referees are given Godlike powers and are seldom if ever seen as wrong. And then, as we have pointed out before, there is the increasingly elaborate struggle against performance enhancing drugs. Various officiating agencies are seen as dealing powerfully with this scourge, and athletes endorse various intrusions on their competitive lives with varying degrees of enthusiasm. This too is a seamless metaphor, reinforcing the concept of a morally-just police state.

After Thoughts

One cannot open the sports pages these days it seems, without running into some sort of ongoing police narrative. Sports can be a pure expression of the best human beings are capable of; but these days sport has been turned into a farrago of accusations, suspicions and envy. Powerful performances are immediately suspicious. International events, especially public ones, seem at times merely an excuse to haul various "authorities" on the set to update the audience on the latest grand jury, failed drug test or international allegation. India's failure may prove a blessing in disguise.

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