LE MONDE (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), THE GUARDIAN (UK)
PARIS - Do you find yourself cheering like mad for an athlete whose name you just heard for the first time? Are you passionately tuning into sports you never knew you cared about? And though the endless ads and omnipresent sponsors can be a drag, are you wise enough to understand it is necessary to put on such a spectacle where we can all learn the value of striving “to be the best we can be?”
Most would say you have been struck by the Olympic spirit. Others, it turns out, would just call you a sucker of Olympian proportions – and the Games themselves the purveyor of all the wrong values.
“The Olympics put competition at the heart of our values, where solidarity and cooperation would be welcome,” Pierre Guerlain, a professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre, wrote recently in Le Monde.
Billions that could be spent on the poor or the homeless go instead to sponsor-driven sporting competitions, with an extra shot of pure patriotism every four years, argues Guerlain, who specializes in the study of American society and foreign policy.
France seems to be quite well equipped at throwing water on the Olympic flame just in time for London 2012. French writer and intellectual Marc Perelman recently published a book called “Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague,” that has been touted as the manifesto of a simmering “anti-Olympiad” movement.
Meanwhile Alain Cohen-Dumouchel, a leftist French politician, writes that the principles that democratic leaders usually champion are quick to be forgotten come Olympic time. The rule of the strongest, especially in finance, is something politicians have been actively criticizing in recent months. But since it’s sports, all hail a “may the best man win” ethos, notes Cohen-Dumouchel in a piece for the news website Rue89.
The deeper risk is a slide toward elitism bordering on an ideology of superiority. “The athlete’s healthy body is a reflection of the health of the nation. Genetics and nationalism may have a disturbing ring, but the leaders don’t care. The athletic opiate thrills the masses, brings the nation together and makes you forget the economic crisis for a while.”
Olympic bashing of course is not only a French sport. Italian comedian-turned-political-activist Beppe Grillo was not impressed by Italy’s sharp performance in fencing. “I don’t know and have never known anyone in my life who practices foil or sabre, but at the Olympics I must be proud if my country finishes on the podium. Then for the next four years, I don’t give a damn,” Grillo wrote. "The athletes don’t win, the nations do. It is the triumph of nationalism.”
Not to be outdone, British singer Morrissey – who had already chafed about his group The Smiths not being included in the opening ceremony, came out for a second heat of Olympic sniping, writing to his fan club members about the “blustering jingoism” of the Games.