The Cult Of The Olympic Underdog?

Remember Eddie the Eagle? Or to give him his full title……Eric the Eagle Edwards? The worst ever ski jumper competed  at the 1988 Winter Olympics. There is no doubting his courage but he was woefully bad at ski-jumping. But as much as he annoyed real Olympians, he won the hearts of the British nation. He became a media star, a guest on panel shows. I recall having a bout of flu several years ago and his home (rather shambolic home) was featured in “Thru The Keyhole”.

“Who would live in a house like this?……over to you David!” said Loyd Grossman and it was Eddie’s house. Since then there has been a search for the new Eddie. The British Olympic Association aspire to excellence and would really prefer not to be a laughing stock. Nor would the BOA like a completely useless athlete share the limelight with real athletes, who have trained for years to actually win something and make a few quid along the way.

So media attention has turned to foreigners. Because I suspect for the British media thinks foreigners have the potential to be ridiculed. Remember  Eric Malonga (sp) aka Eric the Eel……..from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney? He was the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who……….appeared that he might be drowning…….which is not a good sign for an Olympic swimmer.

He also enjoyed a brief time in the limelight but his fifteen minutes of fame was a shorter fifteen minutes (sic) than Eddie the Eagle……because he came from……..well Equatorial Guinea and his incompetence made the media just a little uncomfortable. After all Equatorial Guinea is one of the worlds most oppressed and (for most people) poorest nations.

It is therefore a sad reflection on the BBC that nightly they bring us an “Underdog of the Day”, a chance to laugh at the rower from Niger and the swimmer from Qatar.

As Hazel Irvine of the BBC said at the Opening Ceremony as a sub-Saharan African nation (possibly even Niger passed) the Olympic Games gives people from these countries “a chance to compete on a level playing field.” Well actually… it doesnt….not on a level playing field. Not on a level rowing course (sic) and not on a level swimming pool (sic).

The horrible truth is that there are 204 nations and territories in the “great Olympic family” and part of the publicity crap is that the youth of the world will gather in Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio (2016). In reality only about 150 nations actually really “qualify” athletes for the Games. It would be impossible for a nation like the worlds least populated country (Nauru less than 10,000) to get an athlete to the Games on “merit”. Likewise the sporting systems in (say) Equatorial Guinea, Niger and the Central African Republic are not developed enough to have Olympic-class athletes.

The International Olympic Committee “invite” competitors from around fifty nations to make up the numbers. It makes the Opening Ceremony longer and more colourful but doesnt really add anything to the quality of the Games. The IOC is one of the most aristocratic bodies in the world. It includes the Crown Prince of Denmark, Princess Nora of Liechtenstein, Princess Anne of Britain and a lot of dodgy “Arab Princes”. There are actually only 105 members (from 76 nations) of the IOC. Three are from Britain and two from Ireland (Pat Hickey and Pat McQuaid) . And dont be fooled by the “204 members of the great Olympic family” rhetoric…..the real power and influence lies with the 105 members at the Top Table.

Of course the economic and military power of nations changes. Britain, USA, France dominated the early Olympic years. Many of the nations in the 2012 Olympics did not even exist when the modern Olympics commenced……..Ireland (born 1922), Pakistan (1947), Jamaica (1962) and a host of British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Ottoman colonies and satellites for example.

But even then Olympic “power” is uneven.

Pakistan has a population of 175 million. And will have just 26 athletes in London, 21 of them in Hockey……Pakistan has won just ten medals (three gold)  in its Olympic history, nine in Hockey.

Ireland has a population of 6 million. And will have 66 athletes in London in fourteen different sports. It has won twenty-three medals (including eight gold) in four different sports.

Jamaica has a population of just 3 million but has won fifty five medals thirteen gold) in its history (shorter than Pakistan and Ireland). All but one of its medals has been in Athletics.

In comparative terms the nations of South America have never really punched their weight at Olympic level. Bolivia (population 11 million) has never won an Olympic medal of any kind. Nor has Bangladesh (150 million).

Never believe that the Olympic Games is a level playing field.

Simply put…..if the Olympic Games was dominated by the populations of China (and to some extent it is), India, Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brazil and Pakistan……then the corporate sponsors and TV companies who put billions into aristocratic IOC coffers would not be overly interested.

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