By Warwick Cairns
Did you get all your Olympic tickets, then?
No, me neither.
That Sebastian Coe, eh?
Mind you, I didn’t actually apply for any, and that may have had something to do with it.
For some reason, I have found it hard to work myself into a frenzy about entering into an internet lottery, sight unseen, for the possibility of a ticket that might, if I’m lucky, get me into the quarter-finals of the men’s shot-put. I’m having problems getting enthused about the chance of a ringside view of the ping-pong. Or the opening ceremony. Or the closing ceremony. Or pretty much anything they have on offer, really, up to and including the men’s hundred metres final which lasts, as I understand it, for around nine and a half seconds. Tickets for that will be going for up to £725, apparently. £76.32 a second, that works out at – plus you have to do all the travel and the parking, and the queueing and the waiting. And what if you sneeze, or what if you bend down to tie up your shoelace, and get up to discover you’ve missed the event? Is that value? Is that time well spent? At least with the mile or the marathon you’d get your money’s worth, if watching people running about is what you like. Me, I can take it or leave it. And mostly, given the choice, I’d rather leave it, I think.
There is a reason why you don’t get Premier League discus stars, and why international badminton players don’t tend to get mobbed in the street by children wanting their autographs. There is a reason why you don’t get canoeing hooligans, or weightlifting songs in the charts, or people with the faces of their favourite Modern Pentathlon stars tattooed across their backsides.
That reason is that most of the sports in the Olympics aren’t actually very interesting to most people, most of the time. People running in straight lines. People running in circles. People jumping over sticks. People throwing things. There’s the beach volleyball, I suppose; but then you may as well just have cheerleading in the Olympics, and have done with it. For its skill and athleticism.
You may as well have synchronised swimming.
You may as well have armies of self-important committee members in blazers living large on expenses, demanding to be put up in five-star hotels, for free, and demanding special private VIP lanes on the roads for their chauffeur-driven limousines, so they don’t have to sit in the traffic-jams like everyone else.
You may as well have this weird synchronised name-change thing where everyone suddenly and simultaneously starts referring to the British Olympic Team as ‘Team GB’ like that’s what they’ve always called it.
You may as well have an opening ceremony that becomes an event in its own right, so that instead of a quick blast from a brass band, and the Queen cutting a ribbon and saying that she declares these games open, and then everyone getting on with the running and the jumping – instead of that you have people going around on stilts, shooting fireworks out of their ears, in order to convey some trite message about the children of the world, or something.
2012 puzzles me – as did 2008, and 2004 and just about every Olympic year. Once every four years something seems to happen to all these minor sports, and all these boring sports, and all these sports that most normal human beings don’t normally give a damn about. It’s like they’re Clark Kent, and every few years they go into a phone-box marked ‘Olympics’, and when they come out – well, when they come out they haven’t actually changed into anything different at all. They go in as pole-vaulters and javelin-throwers and when they come out they’re still pole-vaulters and javelin-throwers. But people go mad over them, for some reason.
Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps at some point the Olympic Spirit will sweep me up and I’ll be whooping and hollering with the best of them, like Bulgaria’s performance in the Graeco-Roman wresting really matters to me. Who knows?
More about Warwick Cairns can be found here
Warwick Cairns’ latest book, In Praise of Savagery, is published 28th April 2011: the true story of a journey into uncharted land inhabited by murderous tribal warriors and ruled over by a bloodthirsty sultan – and the man, the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who lived to tell the tale.