A Chinese weightlifter, at the end of his turn, burst into tears and apologized to his nation. He had merely won a silver medal. The radio commentator who told the story used it to illustrate the single-minded focus of Chinese media on winning gold medals. Nothing less is acceptable. But clearly the Chinese are not alone in that. In the age of nation states and jingoism, all nations are counting their gold and other medals, certainly the US.
But I find the entire spectacle strange. Think of the enormous sums of money invested not only in the Olympic Stadium and other facilities, but think all of the hundreds and thousands of athletes who have prepared for years for this event. You don't become an Olympic class athlete by going to your job 40 hours a week and spending the weekend taking care of your yard and your house, and playing with your kids. You have to be fully concentrated on this Olympic ambition and on your training. Someone has to pay your bills and has to pay for making gymnasiums, or whatever other places are needed, available for constant training.
So an enormous mass of resources is being spent on getting these very few people to be spectacular athletes. I wonder whether that is the best way of using those resources. One Chinese observer was quoted as saying that some of these resources should be made available to allow him and people like him to do sports and to allow them to improve their athletic skills and powers.
But the people who are in charge of Olympic events, the world Olympic committee, the Mitt Romney's of this world, businesses that hope to attract trade to themselves through their sponsorship of aspects of the Olympics, and other interested parties have decided that producing a few top athletes is more important than allowing large numbers of citizens to work out, to train, and generally improve their athletic skills. The peak performances of a few selected athletes have been chosen over improving the physical health of millions of people so that they feel better in their bodies and therefore may enjoy their life more.
By this decision the large number of people who are passionate about sports are condemned for the most part, to passivity. It is difficult for them to find the time and spaces in which to work out themselves. Instead, all they can do to follow their interest in sports is to turn on their television set and watch the broadcasts (and of course the commercials.). All they can do is sit and be Monday morning quarterbacks.
It is striking that in a democracy decisions of this sort are not submitted to the people. The explanation for that is obvious: the Olympics are entirely run and financed by private business. That is the domain of private ownership and democracy has no place there because in our world private property rights are more powerful than every persons democratic rights to determine the chief features of their life.
But maybe democratic rights should take precedence over the rights of private property.