The Guardian

The Guardian March 1, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Mind-numbing

On February 25, The Daily Telegraph's placard proclaimed "Matt 
Shirvington: My Drinking Days Are Over". Up to that moment I had 
successfully evaded the Murdoch press's efforts at whipping up "Olympic 
fever", so I idly wondered who this notorious alcoholic was whose 
reformation warranted a placard, no less.

That evening, I picked up an abandoned copy of Murdoch's leading tabloid 
rag on the train (one does not buy the Tele) to discover the 
stupifying news that runner Matt Shirvington does not include boozing in 
his Olympic preparation regimen. This is News?

The Telegraph thought so: they devoted half their front page and two 
whole pages of the sport section to the tedious trivia of Mr Shirvington's 
training, his attitude to his "fans" and to being a "celebrity" (an 
important question for the Tele) and how religion helps him in a 
vague sort of way.

The Olympics are still half a year away. How much mind-numbing nonsense are 
we going to be deluged with between then and now? The mind boggles.

The modern Olympic Games were created to bring the youth of the world 
together in a festival of peaceful competition for the glory of 
sport (which included the then high ideals of sportsmanship) and the honour 
of their countries. They exalted human achievement, courage and effort. 
Taking part and doing your best was the spirit that was desired.

The Games have been taken over by the capitalist quest for profit, in which 
even sport has become a marketable commodity. Now competing is next to 
nothing, winning is everything. Huge sums in sponsorships ride on the 
winning of events. No wonder artificial aids to performance are used. No 
wonder sportsmanship now stands out by its rarity.

And yet, for all the bullshit, the corporate tickets and the corporate 
logos, the intemperate displays of national chauvinism and the sublimation 
of the ideals of sport to the uncultured bathos of commercial television, 
the Olympic Games remain worthwhile  and worth saving.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin's dream of the modern Olympic games as an 
international sporting festival that would build world peace while 
celebrating humanity's achievements  all humanity, not just "our country" 
 remains valid, and achievable.

Capitalism and the marketeers and media moguls will not always control the 
Games, anymore than they will control the world or the world's people. Some 
people on the left are dismissing the Games as a capitalist money-spinning 
rort, not worthy of support by working class activists.

Not so. The Olympic Games belong to the people, not to the profit gougers. 
It is our job to remind people of this and never to lose sight of the 
objective of reclaiming the Games for humanity.

* * *
Bigger isn't better! The pay-TV companies are crowing that over the summer period the dismal "non-ratings" period for free-to-air TV more people in homes which had pay-TV watched pay-TV than watched free-to-air TV. We've had pay-TV for five years, but it is only this year that a majority (51.1 percent) of pay-TV customers who have paid a lot of money, don't forget, for the privilege of watching it have finally preferred it to the dreery summer line-up on the "free" channels. What does that say about the appeal of pay-TV? That it is as devoid of interest and stimulating programs as free TV? Too right. Better television does not mean more channels especially if all they do is show endless repeats of old TV shows. Better television requires more public channels, whether cable or free-to- air, backed by adequate government funding so that the skilled creative people we have in this country can make imaginative, innovative, thought- provoking and culturally enriching programs. Murdoch and Packer will never provide that.
* * *
One law for the rich... The same edition of The Daily Telegraph that featured Matt Shirvington on its front page, had an interesting editorial coupling on page 9. Some subversive sub had presumably been looking for a suitable place to put a three-paragraph story about a protest rally by 750 sacked bus builders from Austral Pacific who have been robbed of more than $12 million in entitlements by their devious employer. The sub found the perfect place: next to a six paragraph story about AMP defending its payout of $13.2 million to former CEO George Trumbull. Coincidence? Irony? Disgust? Who knows.
* * *
"I protest", says the rabbit! Alexander Downer, Australia's charismatic Foreign Minister, whose very name commands respect throughout the chancellories of Europe who writes this rubbish? We'll start again: Foreign Minister Downer, a man with the charisma of a wet rabbit, wants Australian journalists to be more like their Asian counterparts and report "positive" stories about their countries and not see such stories as "government propaganda". It is interesting to see that Downer apparently thinks the Federal Government currently gets a bad press in Australia. Poor baby! To cheer him up, here's a pledge from The Guardian: if and when the Howard Government ever does anything positive for the Australian people we will give them appropriate credit. Mind you, we won't hold our breath waiting for them to do it.

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