1. All the athletes are meant to be amateurs, theoretically giving a level playing field to international competition. But consider that each much-vaunted British medal cost an average ‘investment’ of £4.5 million. There’s a table of investment in sport here, so you can see exactly how much each of our medals cost. Are British cyclists really the best in the world, or did we just spend more money than anyone else on cycling in the last four years? We spent £235 million on our team, and came third in the table. China’s spending is unknown, but is thought to be around half a billion. If you were to line up spending and medals, what would you find?
2. Along similar lines, China came top of the medals table. China also had the biggest squad, with 639 athletes. The US came second in the table. They had the second largest squad at 596. That doesn’t hold true all the way down the table, but the principle is the same – the more athletes you can afford to send, the more medals you’re likely to win.
3. The US has a population of just over 300 million people. India has over a billion people. Statistically, the chances of having amazing sportsmen in your country are overwhelmingly on India’s side. But while the US sent its 596 athletes, India sent 56. They came home with three medals to America’s 110. Are India bad at sport? Or did they have more important things to do with their national budget?
4. Finally, consider the fact that China came top of the medals table, unless you’re in the States, in which case, yes, fine, let’s just say you won too. That’s the New York Times, proudly announcing American victory.
In summary, the Olympic Games are rarely about sport. Occasionally you get a phenomenal athlete, a Usain Bolt. Some countries seem to be naturally gifted at certain things, as the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners regularly prove. But on the whole, the games are about money, national ambition, and ego. Every games has its moments, sure, but its not about sport or human progress. It’s a face-off between the world’s richest nations to see who can buy themselves the most prestige. As it comes to Britain next time around, and the talk has already started on how we can do it bigger and better than the Chinese, I find myself hugely ambivalent towards the whole project.
One World, One Dream? Wake me up when it’s a game again.