Where will governments — and their people — go next?

An Olympic gold medal — the ultimate personal ornament — is not really made of gold — only gold-plated — and the Olympic Games is not really about sport — only commercial opportunism for some and sentimentalised nationalism for many. For governments that subsidise their athletes — and that’s pretty well all of them — the Olympic Games are proxy warfare.

However, shining through it all from many, if not most, young people are the good qualities which make them so attractive — enthusiasm, generosity and, usually, intensity of purpose which has enabled them to spend years in hard training to perfect their skills.

Young adults– as most of them are — also reflect a deep instinct of the human species — a great psychological need to meet and socialize in small groups. It is this instinctive quality that enables governments so easily to scale up the loyalty of small groups into full-blown nationalism.

Or at least young adults used to be manipulable — say at the time of the First World War in 1914 when millions of volunteers in several European countries went to war and died ‘for their country’. There were microscopically few volunteers when the Second World War came along in 1939.

Today, unless one’s country is actually being invaded, there are no volunteers and governments are even unable to recruit anywhere near enough full-time soldiers and sailors and pilots. The Sea Lords, for example, are dreadfully worried how they’re going to find the three thousand personnel required for the two colossal aircraft carriers.

Young people, as well as the Sea Lords, are fully aware that carriers are highly vulnerable to submarine attack no matter how well they try to protect the vessels electronically.

But returning to the Olympic Games, most young people today are nowhere as interested in active sport as they used to be. They’re not watching the Games on the television channels, but spend their time chatting with one another or playing video games on their smartphones.

The above applies to the young people in the approximate total population of 1 billion in the advanced countries. In the less advanced countries, smartphones are scarcer — at present! — but not scarce enough for them not to be aware of the huge gulf in the way of life of the advanced countries and their own.

They’re not watching the Olympic Games but wondering how to migrate to countries that have jobs or their families are saving up hard to pay traffickers. Just how the Games are going to change — or even die out — in future years is impossible to say.

The whole world situation is a problematique that’s far too complex for us to discern what may happen — still less for nation-state governments to imagine that the ‘certainties’ and institutions on which they presently rely can continue for much longer.

5 thoughts on “Where will governments — and their people — go next?

  1. HI, Keith:

    I don’t know how many countries subsidize their athletes. To my knowledge, we don’t subsidize them here in the U.S., which makes it really difficult for talented young people of limited means, as well as just ordinary people to look at training and competitions. Many families sacrifice a lot to get their talented children the training they need.

    I think there still is an interest in all kinds of sports these days, but young people have to get schooling, eat, and have jobs, so economic situations may overtake their desire to be active in sports. I am touched by the Refugee Athletes competing in the Olympics. They love their sports, and how wonderful it is that those few are able to come to the Olympics, especially because of the turmoil which they have endured. How sad that there are so many more talented athletes and artists suffering in countries in conflict.

    I don’t know what the television ratings are for the present Olympics, but I’ve certainly been enjoying watching them. Of course, I’m retired, so I have some time during the day, too. I’m amazed at the variety of sports featured and the talents of those competing. I couldn’t do any of the sports featured at this event. Walking may not be a sport, but at least it’s something that most people can do. It’s nice to see athletes from so many different countries competing together.


    1. NBC viewership is down 20% from London. I believe that NBC is averaging only 28 million per night. which is not bad but it is lower than London and lower than Beijing, especially among the young.

  2. It is obvious that Gold medals at Olympic games correlate very nicely with the wealth of the country of the recipient more than any other factor. This is a tragedy that calls for a serious attempt at levelling the playing field. I am not calling for governments to stop subsidizing either directly or indirectly their athletes but I think that it is time that the Olympic committee starts setting aside a portion of the revenue from these games to set up training facilities devoted to the athletes of developing countries.
    I believe that Michael Phelps has stated in one of his interviews that he has trained 35 hours a week. That is a full time job that no regular athlete in Malaysia , India, Zimbabwe or peru just to name a few countries, can hope to emulate. That is simply why it is rare indeed for a swimmer, gymnast, diver… to medal unless one is a resident of a developed country.

  3. These Olympics might be a watershed for corruption and stupidity. Despite the obvious threats the “games” will help spread the Zika virus and who knows whatever other viruses athletes contract from the polluted waters. Shame on the IOC and shame the WHO.

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