Ah, the summer holidays have arrived for millions of children. For their parents this means six weeks of keeping their children occupied, going on overpriced holidays and long stints out of the office. For me it means more available seats on the train, little kids on bikes doing wheelies down the wrong side of the road and a quieter period at work.
School children aren’t the only ones to enjoy an extended break, as Parliament has closed for the summer. It’s a curious notion, that all politics should cease from July and not recommence until September, with MP’s flying off in their droves to be photographed in their trunks by an unforgiving media.
Even the political commentators have quit for the summer and as their subject matter disappears from view so have they from our screens and newspapers. What is there to talk about?
The EU referendum? Old hat. David Cameron’s resignation honours list? The establishment rewarding itself isn’t anything new. Labour leadership election? A foregone conclusion.
It’s a desperate period for the press, who have to provide media regardless of the availability of sensational stories as this preserves their existing readership, attracts new readers and ultimately keeps their profit margin
Newspapers fill this time with stories about heatwaves, miracle drugs, NHS scandals and the always inevitable rehash of some older story like the London riots.
Doesn’t leave much for a political blogger like me, does it?
But then again there is the Olympics in Rio.
An epic contest between nations which is all about politics? Yes, that sounds good to me.
The modern Olympiad, which has its roots in the ancient world was envisioned as an environment where nations could compete against each other in a non-violent arena with medals being the prize for the victorious.
Nationalism was ingrained in the contest from day one, with each nation seeking to outdo each other, to prove that its citizens were stronger or better than the rest. In the 1930’s this became more pronounced in the Munich Olympics of Hitler’s Germany. But in the face of that profound evil, sport proved itself greater than nationalism in the victories of the American Jesse Owens.
World War two put paid to all thoughts of Olympic glory as national contest was replaced with national warfare, but the spectre of nationalism would not easily leave the Olympic experience.
Once the travails of the Second World War were over, a new contest began between the two superpowers: The USA and the Soviet Union for Olympic and World domination. The contest became a means by which nations would attempt to prove their greatness and by virtue the validity of their ideology. A communist athlete could not be seen to be outperformed by a capitalist athlete as this could undermine communist ideology and vice versa.
A profoundly nationalistic climate such as this produced truly great national athletes like Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. They reached the pinnacle of human excellence in sport winning numerous medals and adding substantive weight to their respective nations standing in the world.
However, with every great performance and athlete there were just as many accused cheats and supposed cheating governments, supplying their athletes with performance enhancing steroids. The only difference between this and todays controversy being the absence of sufficient technology and robust governance to prove the allegations.
For many other nations, the possibility of having an Olympic medallist coming from their country is a huge public relations boost enabling them to increase tourism and accrue revenue that the country would not otherwise receive. With the superpowers, there was always going to be more to it than that as past history has proven.
The Cold War rumbled on, manifesting itself in the US led boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and the reprisal boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by the Soviet Union and her Warsaw pact allies.
The fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s should have prompted the end of this version of statecraft, but it didn’t. It was merely suborned by a greater spirit of friendly completion and cooperation in the sporting arena.
Such a thing could not last and after a brief lull, nationalism in sport has begun to rear its ugly head again. The crucial difference between the nationalistic meddling that pervaded the cold war Olympiads and the nationalistic meddling that now exists is that it is easier to prove.
A prominent example of this is the recent Russian doping scandal which has overshadowed the build up to the Rio games. This wrongdoing at a national level is made all the more scandalous by the allegations that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was a willing participant in the very thing it was designed to prohibit.
Add to this a regulatory body riven with allegations of corruption in the IAAF and you have a recipe for a culture of doping and performance enhancement.
Infiltration of Russian officials into testing centres by covert means, widespread tampering with urine samples to induce false results and surveillance of International Anti-Doping agency officials. Preliminary findings indicate this goes back to the Winter Olympics in Sochi but the uses of these sort of tactics could go back even further.
It all sounds very subversive doesn’t it?
Not when you look at the prime motivator of this action, the Russian premier Vladimir Putin, himself a product of the Soviet Union and more specifically the Cold War KGB. Although the communism that he was raised in no longer exists, Mr Putin has applied his own brand of Russian ideology to his country.
It is an ideology that does not allow for failure and promotes Russia as the pinnacle of nations. As with the Soviets, political ideology has invaded sport, skewing it from being about competition between nations to Russian supremacy at any cost.
This new perspective is already creating tension with the old enemy of the United States in the political arena, but it now pushes the two old adversaries into conflict in the sporting arena.
We’ve seen evidence of it in the early days of this Olympics, with the Russians being branded cheats and ostracised by the other athletes. It has resulted in a lot of negative press for Russian sport and it will continue as long as these alleged incidents of doping go unchecked.
It is always remarkable how something created quite innocently can become a political animal and vehicle for countries to exert nationalistic and ideological sentiments, which in turn can create larger conflict between nations. A harder line needs to be taken to eliminate political interference in sport, but without a powerful motivating force this seems unlikely to occur in the near future.
With thanks to Russell McIver for the idea.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.