Spending on an Olympic scale

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 4:54am

Even though China finished second overall in the medal table, it doesn't mean it is a big sporting nation. The ready availability of sports facilities in schools and the inclusion of all kinds of sports for the masses are far more significant.

Lijia Zhang

Insight page, August 14

Way back many centuries ago when I was a younger lad living in a Vancouver suburb, we had the luxury of what was called spare lots - undeveloped subdivision land here and there throughout the neighbourhood.

All that was then further required was four odd sticks of wood to mark the goalposts and someone with roughly the right kind of ball. Presto, a football field and evening football matches that lasted until sundown or until killjoy parents came round to make unwelcome noises about school homework still undone.

We also liked baseball, of course, this being North America. Someone would eventually prove a heavy slugger, however, and hit the ball through a window of a house. Then we would all flee to the sound of other adult noises - "You &%#@ kids! I've warned you a hundred times. Next time I call the cops."

Baseball was thus best reserved for larger neighbourhood parks but we had plenty of these too, plus school playing fields that stayed open for us at all times. We thus had that "inclusion of all kinds of sports for the masses" and it was indeed more significant to us than national standings in a medals table.

The gold mania to which Lijia Zhang refers is not a sad perversion of sport in her country alone. Some countries, most notably India, have managed to escape this affliction but elsewhere, billions of dollars are poured every year into elitist sport while ordinary children have nowhere to go any longer to kick a ball around.

Yes, there are facilities they can use at stated times if booked by adult supervisors well in advance for organised teams with uniforms and regulation equipment. They had best be on time and not stay longer than their allotted hour. Medal sports to the greater glory of national hubris have priority. And don't try to get in without permission. Just think of the insurance risk.

The public relations shills tell me that these last Olympic Games were a resounding success that unified all of Britain and re-established its greatness. Yes … until the next round of inner city riots.

Meanwhile, the training of the elite few to boost Britain's gold medal count was paid for by a national lottery, a tax on the poor, an excellent way to widen income disparity even further and bring about even more inner city riots.

Even this cost was only a small part of the full £9.3 billion (HK$113.18 billion) budget for the games, with the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee taking home an estimated £2.7 billion share for its … for its … well, yes, for its what?

The IOC picks the cities that will host the next Olympics, a very arduous task. It can pretty much dictate its terms. Don't agree to those terms and another city gets the Olympics. What a lovely way to make money.

I can't remember quite how much crowing there was in Greece in 2004 about the success of the Athens Games. I believe the shills on that occasion were not quite as accomplished in their self-congratulation efforts. Just as well. Greece's present dire financial difficulties are due in significant measure to its profligacy on that occasion. The Olympics are easily an economic bad luck omen.

It's an appropriate time to mention all this because with the hoopla surrounding the ersatz closing ceremonies of the London Games, there was once again talk of Hong Kong reviving its bid for the 2023 Asian Games.

Our legislators saw sense last year when they canned this proposal. The formal cost estimate had risen to HK$14 billion and there were already indications that related costs could be double that amount.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of spending that much money on sport. It's just that I think it better spent on getting a generation of ever pudgier and more listless children off their couches, away from their potato chips, and out of their absorption with Splatterguts 5.2 on the games console.

We shall never do that with velodromes or other elitist constructions that resound to great flag-waving cheers perhaps once or twice a year and are otherwise echo chambers where even echoes are not heard.