Most of us will remember breaks at school where in the middle of a game of football, one of the boys would pick up the ball (shock horror!) and just start running. The game would turn into what people all over Scotland would refer to as ‘a rammy’, with everyone running after the ball. Teams drifted into obscurity, goals irrelevant, girls piling over to join in and everyone having a good laugh. The teacher would always find it harder to get us back indoors than usual.
It turns out that was what ‘sport’ was quite like before industrial capitalism took hold. According to the Socialist Review:
“The history of the development of modern sport is the history of the development of industrial capitalism. There is, of course, documented evidence of ball games, racket games and athletic games that date well before industrial capitalism. However they are unrecognisable from today’s sports….a game would continue for days, with no boundaries except the edge of the village, or the edge of the next village. People would throw or kick the ball, it was mixed, there was no offside rule, no 90 minutes, and really no discernible winners.”
Workers before capitalism worked in a different way, with labour linked to the seasons. With the new working class however, work was divided up into measurable units of time and sold as such. Working to the clock was relatively new. So sport became a way of normalising strict time keeping, rules and the division of recreation into measurable units just as work had been. For the ruling class and business owners it was also about teaching good behaviour and keeping the workers out of so-called ‘trouble’ so they would be available for exploitation. There would be less time for thinking and therefore less time for ‘radical’ thoughts. Workers would be more likely to be obedient, more likely to stay out of the pub and be fit for work.
The 1936 Olympics were held in Nazi Germany, a place where ‘following orders’ was not much of a choice. It didn’t stop the African American athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals. Sometimes, the rulers don’t get it their way. Sometimes, there’s a killjoy to ruin the party. On the other hand, the Olympic torch relay originates from Hitler’s olympics. It was Goebbels idea. Some you win, some you lose.
When John Carlos and Tommy Smith hung their heads and raised their fists in a black power salute on the winners podium in Mexico 68, there was consternation by the authorities. They never represented the USA again and recieved death threats. This was in the midst of the fight by black people in America for their rights and student massacres in Mexico shortly before the games. John Carlos said:
“People had seen me running all over Europe with USA written on my chest. They thought that meant that everything was OK for people of colour in the United States. So I talked about the social problems we need to deal with and all of a sudden I’m a bad guy.”http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=28554
We’re often told that sport has nothing to do with politics by those in power, but the Moscow Olympic Games were boycotted by the US and 64 other countries then four years later, the Los Angeles Games were in turn boycotted by the Soviet union and Soviet Bloc countries. It’s only political if it offends the ruling classes. It’s only political when Daly Thompson whistles ‘God Save The Queen’ on the podium instead of singing it chest out with his hand over his heart. It’s only political when Mohammed Ali refuses to serve in Vietnam. He didn’t serve. So he was stripped of his world heavyweight title.
The Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 were a huge commercial success, reflecting the new neo-liberal era and the mono-culture that comes with it. Coke and McDonalds and other global brands dominated space like at no other time. The kind of Olympic and football events we see today.
We see a celebration of capitalism in it’s current neo-liberal strain, of the competing band of global brothers and sisters. We see the crude nationalism, consumerism and profiteering of the ruling class that comes with it.
So just as neo-liberalism is socialism for the rich and ‘forget everyone else’, The Guardian writes that
“The National Audit Office noted that public-sector funding has almost tripled, while private-sector contributions dwindled to less than 2%. Recently, the House of Commons’ public accounts committee revealed costs were “heading for around £11bn”.”
£11bn is how much the Tories want to take off the welfare budget. For now.
But the Olympic Stadium in London won’t have advertisements or any sign of the private companies that will profit these games inside it’s hallowed centre. Don’t worry though. The stadium will be completely surrounded on the outside with an £7million advertising ‘wrap’ supplied by the corporation Dow Chemical, ‘who’s subsidiary Union Carbide will forever be associated with the world’s worst chemical disaster at Bhopal in 1984 which has claimed an estimated 25,000 lives.’ (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11993).
So these Olympics will go on inside a sort of ‘murder bubble’ where those 25000 people never died. And Colombian trade unionists were not murdered by Coca Cola. And people weren’t cleared from slums in previous sporting events. Residents in London have not been evicted by landlords who want to rent their properties out over the games at a far higher price to tourists who can afford the hike. And forget the inevitable forced unpaid labour. And it’s got nothing to do with poverty, tyrants or war Just forget about everything except the flag and consumer goods and when it’s over go back to work with a smile on your face.
Or make a hefty profit if you’re ATOS (interogators of disabled people to see if they ‘deserve’ benefits) who are doing the IT. Make a ton of cash if you’re G4S Security, who are “set to get £130 million for providing security at the games. They manage deportations from Britain and immigration detention centres for the government. In 2010, Jimmy Mubenga died as three G4S private security guards were forcibly deporting him to Angola at Heathrow airport.” (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=27819)
It’s not a new idea of seeing sport as a new opium of the masses or the soul of a souless world. When I first sat down and though about attempts by the ruling class to disconnect sport from politics I didn’t realise quite how much of an attempt it was to get people to accept their ideology. While the media tends to spreads fear and hatred of minority groups to cement the ideas of the ruling class into society, sport infuses feelings of positivity into nationalism, jingoism and consumerism. It turns these things into a fantasy to hold on to and if you don’t join in, you’re a killjoy.
This can be every bit as useful as the negative entities of racism, xenophobia, sexism and hatred of unemployed people because it’s easier sometimes to dismiss someone as a killjoy than constantly having to tread carefully with bigotry (for the so inclined). You must join in or you’re not playing the game. In other words, you’re a spoilsport (forgive the pun)unless you shut up about the capitalism sport is wrapped up in. If you’re an athlete taking part and you raise a fist, like John Carlos and Tommy Smith, you’re banned forever. No one will talk to you ever again! Better to stick to the plan then eh?