As someone who has opted not to have a telly or internet at home it’s been quite tricky to keep abreast of the Olympics. From time to time while walking my dog I hear the occasional rousing group squeal coming from a nearby house – or that strange slow ascending “ooooaaarrrr” that humans do naturally in a moment of tension, which either ends in a victorious roar or a disappointed groan. I imagine a band of lithe athletes in white PE shorts running in slow-motion over a finishing line to the Chariots of Fire theme tune. I imagine stoic tears and fist-pumping galore on those wonky boxes that winners and runners get made to stand on. I imagine Michael Caine handing out a gold medal and saying “Nice one, me old mucker. Fancy a pint?” I imagine the Queen – streaking naked through a badminton hall with a string of bejewelled corgis waddling behind her. Bulldogs in Burberry. Wedgwood plates of cucumber sandwiches being passed round the crowds. Twiggy with red white and blue pom-poms. Freddie Mercury rising from a bunting-lined Branston Pickle-sponsored coffin to sing We Are The Champions.
I imagine a lot of what I imagine is not anything like the truth. Although from what I heard about the opening ceremony I wouldn’t be surprised at hearing any of this had taken place. Ok, maybe raising Freddy Mercury from the dead would raise an eyebrow of disbelief, but the budget was pretty huge so who knows – maybe the art of cryogenics got perfected for the occasion. Though they could’ve saved money by having a giant vodka luge in the shape of Princess Diana so people could actually drink her tears. An Olympic Lourdes, but instead of a peaceful French pastoral scene with Ave Maria, it would have been drunken Brits wailing in Stratford. Elton John could have worn novelty tennis ball glasses and changed the lyrics to Candle In The Wind again. To something about jock-straps. “And it seems to me you lived your life like a banana in my pants…” The world would’ve loved that.
When I’ve not been imagining all this nonsense I have been absorbing the actual Olympic news by osmosis – hearing of our many Great British glories via that rather old-fashioned medium – people’s mouths. Everywhere, people are talking about the events they’ve watched, the bits they’ve been able to watch when work hasn’t got in the way. (Bosses are probably legally obliged to provide Olympic Catch-Up breaks.) Friends who don’t ‘even like sport’ regale me for a good long while about some bird who won something that blokes are usually good at. Yes! WOMEN! WINNING AT SPORT! People talk about it constantly. The whole country has turned into one big over-the-washing-line gossip. People rejoice in the drama – the tension, the highs and lows of teams and individuals, the twists and turns of human stories unfolding live in front of the whole world – sport as a metaphor for life’s assorted battles being played out for everyone to identify with. Modern modest people imbued with classical god qualities – strength, agility, valour, honour, grace. We get to share it – the whole world, all at the same time. And what’s more, we get to join in more than ever before.
If you go onto Twitter the stream is clogged with staccato commentaries of live sporting events – people cheering on (or rather, typing about) brand new heroes who have been forged in history just a few seconds before. We’ve developed all these mediums to express ourselves, to share things through. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TV & web news; instantaneous stories. Perhaps it’s my step away from technology – my not having internet (other than on my phone) or a television, that has made me observe more acutely how much everyone has come to rely on it. And it will never go backwards, it will keep on developing, we’ll keep finding new ways to do the things we can’t naturally do. Perhaps it’s why we so love our heroes – our Dianas, our Olympiads, our ordinary gods – because they are the human embodiment of what is possible. The things we could in theory all do, but in likelihood will not. We like to see these people doing it for us – and what a fine array of ways we have invented to do it. We can watch them, we can almost touch the gods.
It’s like the world has lost its true dimensions. It’s bigger – more diverse – because we fill it with endlessly growing science, but it’s smaller because we can traverse it in no time at all, sometimes as quickly as pressing ‘send’. Is the world becoming manageable?Anything is possible. The Brits are proving that. By winning for once. So people tell me. Repeatedly.
It was in trying to join in with the whole thing from my Luddite haze that I stumbled on a link to an article in The New Statesman about sexism in sport. It quoted Lizzie Armitstead (silver medalist in the women’s road race) as saying “Sexism is a big issue in women’s sport – salary, media coverage, general things you have to cope with in your career. If you focus too much on that you get disheartened.”
The article went on to remind us that not one woman was nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011.
It informed us that the BBC gives more coverage to darts alone than all of the female sports events put together.
That between January 2010 and August 2011, men’s sport received 61.1 per cent of commercial sponsorship, and women got (wait for it) half a per cent. Half! I started to get a bit feisty & indignant.
Stella Creasey, MP for Walthamstow, thought that not only is the treatment of women in sport unfair, but that the coverage too is highly questionable. She questioned the beeb about it & had this to say: “The idea people don’t want to watch women’s sport has been blown apart by the audiences for our Olympians – whether on the football or hockey pitch, in the Velodrome, the swimming pool, indoors or on the track, Britain’s female sporting talent is big news. I just hope the Games will finally win the case many of us have been trying to highlight with broadcasters, to change their ways.”
Let’s hope that all this pomp & pride in our athletes pushes the hard work of women to the forefront. For even I realise that in all my imaginings of strength and glory I was picturing…men. Men racing, fighting, soaring. Men winning. Probably because I have been conditioned by years of seeing it on the telly. Surely the intelligent portion of the media has a responsibility to use its power to represent these women who also work hard all year round, slogging at their sport. They’re not just actresses who have been hired in to make the Olympics a bit prettier. Perhaps the budget should, instead of being pumped into a theatrical opening ceremony advertising our country as a holiday destination, have been pumped into promoting and supporting the future endeavours all the surprise heroines that might struggle to be remembered in a year’s time. The men, after all, will probably be in Nike ads. Smiling on billboards from behind a Gilette razor. Woodenly enjoying cameos in a Hollyoaks gym. And the women? Teaching PE? I hope I’m wrong.
Perhaps I’ll give in and get a telly. Perhaps in the next Olympics I’ll see our ordinary gods in action. Perhaps i’ll see that the brand giants Nike are staying true to the origins of their name by backing the goddesses of Victory. I hope I see that the victory smiles of the goddesses aren’t in defiance at a battle with a persistently unequal media, but in defiance at whatever personal battles drive them to win. Those are the stories which really inspire, not the wheezing dogged cling-ons to the barnacled bastions of sexism.