I KNOW what follows is unfair but I am glad the Olympic Games are over. May my two-week-long bad mood lift. I was cross mainly because every time I looked at a TV screen there were a whole lot of people competing to run, jump, shoot, swim or somehow scale impossible boundaries and 99.9% of the time none of them was a South African.
Why do we compete in so few events? Or, why are we competitive in so few events? Can we not sprint, shoot, arch, pole-vault, dive, play soccer (oh, we already know we can’t), box or lift weights along with the very best in the world? Why not?
I hated the games. I hated watching Oscar Pistorius finish last both times I watched him. My Twitter feed would erupt with congratulatory messages for him.
Could we be any more condescending? If Pistorius is going to run at this level, surely we’re entitled to expect better than last? I hated watching Caster Semenya blow a gold medal on the 800m final and then have to endure the avalanche of supercilious tweets about what a "legend" she is, her courage in overcoming adversity, blah blah.
The fact is she was the strongest runner in the final and she was outwitted by the Russian winner. Anyone who has ever regularly run 800m races must know how quickly they can get away from you.
I hated seeing Nigerian and Ivorian runners in sprint finals but so few of us. Or the 1,500m. In a country full of marathons, long and short, can we not match the Kenyans, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans in middle-distance running? It was wonderful to win in the pool, but do we not swim the crawl or backstroke in SA?
Most of all, I’ve hated the reappearance of the rugby and cricket mantra (thankfully dropped by the current national coaches in both sports) that we are "building" towards the World Cup, or, in this case, the 2016 Olympics. Caster will be back (we will have to wait and see), Oscar and his relay team-mates say they will be back (I’ll bet you they won’t). Four years is a long time in any discipline, athletic or otherwise.
And then there are the voices insisting that all of this (relative) sporting mediocrity has united us as a nation. Sigh. "What London 2012 has achieved is to unite a nation," quivered an editorial yesterday. Erm, I don’t think so. If anything it has highlighted the quality of coaching and facilities mainly white kids have had access to at school.
We seem addicted to this notion of being united. It started with 1994, when we were united in a Rainbow Nation; winning rugby World Cups "united" us as a nation. Hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup "united" us as a nation. It’s so easy to get us believing we’re in the process of being united as a nation that even radio stations and newspapers use it to market themselves. I dread listening to my favourite morning show today.
It isn’t that I don’t get excited when we win or even nearly win. The 2012 games have done my ulcer no good. But there’s something about patting someone on the back merely for doing their best, despite failing, that leaves me empty. It’s as if I’ve been lied to, but in the nicest possible way.
I always remember a game in which the Springboks came from behind to beat Australia and someone asked then captain John Smit what the coach had said at half time. His reply was classic: "Play better."
Yeah, well. The fact, the very boring, non-sporting, non-"Lead SA" fact, is that the only thing that will "unite" this country is the rapid, or at least tangible, eradication of poverty. Successful countries don’t need young swimmers or runners or cricketers to unite them and it is way too much to ask of them anyway.
Successful countries are automatically united when their youngsters play sport because there is a pre-existing satisfaction — a confidence if you like — that the country they live in, raise their families in and pay their taxes to is on the right track, is a good place run by reasonable people according to a reasonable set of rules. There is a social consensus about how people live.
We have a long way to go in SA to reach that point. Corruption, horrible life-sucking corruption, arrogance and ideology all get in the way of creating a national consensus. To survive, it’s almost as if the existing power structure requires the perpetuation of poverty.
I doubt that will change by 2016. In Brazil we will still be asking mere teenagers to unite us.
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