Social Science blog

19 January 2012

True Believers

Simone Bacchini writes:

“Critics of the London Olympics were today urged to get behind the Games and ‘stop grumbling.’” Thus reported London’s Evening Standard, on 9 February 2012. 

The peremptory invitation was issued by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who—to quote him in full—said: “This is a year to celebrate and not for grumbling. We have got the chance to show the world everything that is best about London. We would be crazy [sic] not to make the most of it. Of course there is going to be disruption. But it’s going to be worth it.” 

Obliquely, my mind went to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitutions. This is the clause which protects important freedoms; freedom of religion, freedom of speech and, by implication, freedom from religion. Have the Olympics acquired religion-like status? Are we all being asked to believe? More importantly, are we being forbidden to disbelieve or to simply be agnostic? 

Perhaps, Secretary Hunt’s declarations needs a bit of deconstructing and a close reading. Let us begin with the first sentence: ‘This is a year to celebrate and not for grumbling.’ 

Two attitudes, one positive, one negative, are juxtaposed: ‘celebration’, which entails happiness and other positive feelings, and ‘grumbling’, which implies a bad temper on the grumbler’s part and—to an extent—lack of real justification. So on one side stand the ‘supporters’: rational in their belief; positive in their attitude. And on the other the ‘grumblers’: irrational, unwilling to play the game (the sport metaphor seems particularly apt), and—quite simply—party-poopers. 

But there is more: not standing firm behind the Games is “crazy”; ergo one must be insane not to see what great opportunity these Olympics are going to be for London and for Britain. But if you’re sane—the reasoning goes—you can’t fail to see that the minor disruptions that will inevitably be experienced are well worth putting up with. For the greater good, of course, and what will turn out to be a fantastic, unmissable, once-in-a-lifetime (you can add whatever other positive adjective springs to mind) event. No pain no gain, to use other phrase beloved of — among others — sport coaches. 

From the organisers’ point of view, it’s understandable that they should want the event to be a great success and for London and Britain to shine, not only in terms of medals gained. Like for other mega-events, we won’t really know how the system will cope until after the last athletes and visitors have left. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that—overall—things will turn out the way they’re meant to. And the closer we get to the opening ceremony, the more excitement we’ll see and most people will be caught up—at least temporarily—by the excitement. 

However, it is a fact of life that watching sport—of any kind, at any level—is not enjoyed by everyone. And this is for a variety of reasons, all of which legitimate. If sport is like a religion, and the Olympics one of its principal rites, then I would suggest leaving people the freedom to believe, disbelieve, or simply not care, or care just a little.


The comments to this entry are closed.