In search of the true Olympics

25 07 2012

With only a matter of days to go, I’m still trying to get my head around what I feel about the Olympics. I’m a former sports reporter, the only sport I won’t watch is boxing and the thought of wall-to-wall coverage of a lot of my favourite sports sounds like heaven – yet, I declined to even try for Olympics tickets. And the more I see of all the corporate bullshitting (I don’t care for Pepsi, but I want one of their teeshirts now), the more I think I made the right decision.

So it was with impeccable timing that I started reading Matt Roebuck’s The Other Olympics. I’d met Matt at a conference last month and got talking to him about the book, which he’s recently published as an ebook (you’ll find it on Amazon).

Between May and December last year, Matt visited 13 international events, including the Small States of Europe Games, the World Transplant Games, the world Police and Fire Games, the Maccabiah Games, the Pan-Armenian Games, the International Children’s Games, the Inter-University Games, the Wheelchair and Amputee Games and the Arab Games

This wasn’t done as a press junket – this was blowing life savings in a search for the true spirit of the Olympics. And Matt has some vivid stories to tell about hauling down deserted European roads, standing around in obscure towns at all hours, sitting in grand isolation in a huge stadium in Qatar, or simply trying to explain to bemused athletes and administrators just why he’s there.

I rolled my eyes at the pompous gits on the Isle of Wight refusing him accreditation for the Island Games (if he’d been covering dog shit on pavements and street lighting, which is the usual standard of news on the island, he’d have been fine). This was eclipsed, though, by the most surreal exchanges with the organisers as he attempted to visit the Maccabiah Games in Vienna. But our man is nothing if not dogged, and his chatty style gets people talking to him …

His travels took him from Sharjah to Armenia to Qatar to the US. And on the way he met some intriguing people – a lot of women’s volleyball teams, a princess and one of my all-time heroes, the American athlete Tommie Smith (remember the iconic picture from the 1968 Olympics of Smith and John Carlos doing a Black Power salute on the medals podium).

At the end of the book Roebuck comments that he found the true spirit of the Olympics – but he also unearths the questions of amateurism, flags of convenience, commercial exploitation, transport and volunteers. And he says: “Olympism is not a brand to be controlled from the top down by its members and executives. Olymism grows from the grassroots, it grows from people. Sport is an expression of a society coming together for a purpose dictated by its surroundings.”

Doesn’t that sound just a tad familiar?

I give you fair warning that the book is self-published and would have benefited from an editor’s eye to tighten up the writing and to sort out some erratic formatting. But it’s depressing that a mainstream publisher didn’t snap The Other Olympics up, as it’s a very timely book with a lot to say.