“IT’S a lot about belief.” Last Sunday’s TV overflowed with this theme — but not faith in our eternal creator God; rather, athletes’ absolute necessity of believing in their ability to win, to create a performance outshining any previous best.
I had been increasingly disappointed by BBC1’s coverage of the Olympic Games: surely the Olympics 2020: Review (BBC1, Sunday), looking back — now that it was complete — over the whole competition, would restore my faith in our national broadcaster? The UK can be proud of its pre-eminent position as the inventor and codifier of most modern sports, and central to the entire concept of the Games are supposedly British virtues: absolute adherence to the rules, the creation of the most level playing field possible, generosity to opponents, support and encouragement for the underdog, delight in outstanding performance, whoever achieves it.
But this round-up was as bad as the previous fortnight: all it really cared about was TeamGB, and how many medals our gallant lasses and lads were bringing home. We have taken on the morals of the braggart — all the speculation a fortnight ago was whether our position in the medal table would continue its steady climb: 2012, third place; 2016, second place; 2021, would we be first?
As this quickly became exposed as the nonsense it always was, it was quietly dropped and never mentioned, replaced instead by adulation that our fourth place was a staggering achievement. I do not for one moment criticise GB athletes themselves: they all appear, individually or in groups, charming, modest, generous, eager that their success will inspire others to take up the discipline of sport, ambassadors particularly for the way in which sport can turn around social and personal disadvantage, and explode racial, sexual, and gender prejudice.
But, alongside my patriotism, I wanted to hear about all the successes, all the achievements — not just by populous wealthy nations well able to invest huge sums in training programmes (they jolly well ought to win), but from the small, impoverished countries whose success is against all the odds. And where was our delight in the host nation Japan’s astonishing leap from 12 gold medals in 2016 to 27 this time round?
Politically, we are experiencing a global rise in bullying populist nationalism, in which all that counts is winning at whatever cost to others: why can’t we remember where that leads? The BBC is stoking this fire, and should be ashamed of itself.
Perhaps the World Council of Churches could organise games based on truly Christian principles: not Paul’s striving to win the victor’s crown (1 Corinthians 9.24), but those of our Lord himself, where laurels are awarded not to the winner (Matthew 6.5: “I tell you, they already have their reward”), but the first last, and the last first? Then I would be in with a chance.