Saturday, April 12, 2008

Olympian Folly

In ancient Greece there wasn’t much in the way of popular entertainment. Most of the plays were on the gloomy side although Aristophanes was good for a laugh and still is.
It seems most of the intelligentsia sat around philosophising with an occasional chat on the state of the Hemlock crop that year.
So it was not surprising that the younger and more frivolous members of society looked for a way to blow off steam. Olympia seemed to be a likely place, quiet and out of the way, today’s modern rock concert venue, and so it was there that the boys set out to have fun.
The Olympic Games were born.
Wisely, they excluded WAGS (Women of Ancient Greece) from the festivities and the whole thing went with a swing for a few hundred years until the Romans(who had hastily found Christianity) twigged that it was all a benefit event for Zeus, who not being a Christian, was thereby excluded from sponsorship and the event fizzled out.
For a good many centuries the world was left in peace, until at the beginning of the 19th. Century, a Greek poet, tired of scratching out stanzas, took it into his head to revive the games.
Those of you who thought that Much Wenlock in Shropshire was a sleepy, behind the times sort of a place should think again. By 1850, they had their own Olympic Games.
Worse was to follow for a Frenchman, Baron de Coubertin, (and ardent Francophile though I am, I feel he has a lot to answer for) proposed making it an International event.
And the world has not been at peace since.
Why nations should vie with each other to build bigger, more expensive and ultimately useless stadiums for athletes when they could be putting the funds to some better use for their citizens, is a mystery.
The event causes turmoil, back biting and dissent every time and the British taxpayer will long rue the cost of yet another whitest of white elephants arising in the swampy paradise of Stratford, E15. They’ll be a long time paying – and for what?
Probably the happiest man concerned is the mayor of Paris, whose city was lucky enough to dodge the bullet.
Perhaps the best thing to emerge from the games in modern times was Leni Riefenstahl’s magnificent film of the Berlin Olympics.
Pity it was sponsored by a dictator.
But then Britain has an unelected Prime Minister which is, I suppose, the next best thing.
And if Beijing have a film made of their efforts, the sub-titles should be good for a laugh anyway.


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