• Sun
  • Nov 23, 2014
  • Updated: 12:51am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 8:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 8:19pm

Right Field: Bolt out of the blue a non-event

Controversy over champion sprinter's reported put-down of no longer relevant Commonwealth Games was just ludicrous

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

Of course, he is bored, why wouldn't he be? He's Usain Bolt, the fastest recorded human in the history of mankind. He has smashed world records on the biggest global stage in ways no one has ever come close to. In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics he set world records in the 100 and 200 metre races as well as the 4x100 relay. He then followed it up four years later in London by winning golds in those same three races to become indisputably the greatest sprinter ever, as well as arguably the greatest athlete in the history of athletics and the greatest Olympian yet.

Combine those exploits with his flair and charisma and the 27-year-old Jamaican has become one of the most visible people in the world, never mind athletes. So on a rainy day in Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games while waiting for a ride at another public event he was attending, this time meeting British Princes William and Harry, he was asked by a writer from The Times if these Games were like the Olympics. Reportedly he replied, "Nah, the Olympics are better." He also added that he wasn't really having fun in Glasgow and the Games were "a bit s***."

And, of course, it became an international incident with Bolt and his agent vehemently denying he said it and The Times producing the transcript to prove the authenticity of his remarks. Personally, I believe he did say it if for no other reason than the fact he was right. The Commonwealth Games are in no way close to the Olympics. Perhaps he was being insensitive in saying it was a "bit s***", but he could have been referring to the weather as easily as the event.

To turn this into an international controversy is beyond ludicrous. So many athletes speak in clipped and measure sound bites that interviewing them is a colossal waste of time. This was a 20-second interchange in the street, not a press event. It's not like Bolt sought out the media, he answered the questions asked of him. It was basically a non-event during an event that is largely becoming a non-event.

To turn this into an international controversy is beyond ludicrous. So many athletes speak in clipped and measure sound bites that interviewing them is a colossal waste of time

The problem is not with Bolt, it's with the Commonwealth Games and its growing insecurity. There was a time, not so long ago, when the Games were relevant in places like Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand because it was an opportunity for them to get their fill of gold. Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s the mighty Americans and the robotic Eastern bloc countries were dominating Olympic gatherings. But in 2012, Team GB was third in the medal tables in London and Australia has been a sporting force on the global scene for a good 15 years, while even Canada and New Zealand are now winning more than token medals.

The last vestige of the British empire ended on July 1, 1997, when the land beneath your feet was given back to the Chinese after 150 years of British sovereignty. However the areas formerly under British rule have been gathering every four years since 1930 for a sporting festival with three notable exceptions: Afghanistan, the Thirteen Colonies, which have been competing for the US since roughly 1776, and Hong Kong which last participated in 1994.

Other than that, upwards of 50 teams have routinely competed in a gathering designed to promote friendship first and foremost. And while the good people of Glasgow are rightly proud of the job they have done, particularly in light of the organisational disaster at the 2010 Games in Delhi, much like the empire itself the Games are a somewhat dated and antiquated gathering.

Only one of the top nine countries from the 2012 Olympic medal tables is there and even at that, Britain is fractured into home countries. So when Bolt announces he will compete in only the relays and not the 100 or 200, what he is basically saying is, I don't need to beat runners from Kiribati, Nauru, Montserrat and Anguilla to validate my greatness. England's Mo Farah, who captured the hearts of Britons in 2012 by winning gold in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, skipped the event, although in his case he failed in a race against time to be fit for the Games.

So many inbred sceptics in the UK were expecting London 2012 to be something of a disaster that when it turned into an astounding success on all levels, it inspired the first genuine wave of patriotism in years. That was only two years ago and even the most staunch members of the Royal Commonwealth Society will freely admit that Glasgow is not London. Perhaps it's unfair to vilify Bolt for allegedly acknowledging that same thing in passing.

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