Thursday, August 21, 2008

Citius, Fortius, Altius

Over the past several days I, along with about 2 billion or so others, have been watching the Olympics. It is truly remarkable to view the endeavour, the sheer guts, the joy and despair of athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to this pursuit.

I have been enthralled by gravity defying gymnastics, seen the joy on the face of the man who won by 1/100th of a second, and witnessed the despair of the athlete who lost by the same margin. I ask myself if he/she actually did lose .....

Citius, Altius, Fortius.

Adopted as the Olympic motto in 1894, and literally meaning Faster, Higher, Stronger. This motto, however, was never meant to mean that only the fastest, highest and strongest achieved the Olympic ideal. No, it was an exhortation to excel. A clarion call that encourages athletes to strive for the best they can muster, and in doing so give life to the idea that taking part is more than winning. Winning is a goal, it is not an ideal. Were it to be so then all the medals below Gold become the badge of failure, rather than the badge of honour that they truly represent. More, medal or no medal, you took part. Those who take part, who fight, dig in, give of their best represent all that is best, and all win the respect and adulation they deserve.

So I want to say a few words about Medal Tables.

There is only one Medal Table. It is right there on the Olympic website. It is on the BBC Homepage and in probably a million other places too. It is the same medal table everywhere except, apparently, on NBC (and lately CBS too). I haven’t checked the other US news outlets, but wouldn’t be surprised to find many have caught the same disease.

Somehow, here in the US, and only here, the United States of America tops the Medal Table. Everywhere else on the planet has the US second. Does it matter? (rhetorical). Well only in as much as it makes a few suggestions about how at least the US Media regards the US place in the world, or what the Media feels needs presenting to the US public.

NBC has been showing a Table based on total number of medals awarded. No one else does this. Medal Tables are ranked according to Gold Medals awarded, then tie-breaked by number of Silver, then Bronze. On this basis, America is a distant second behind China. This may indeed change, but for now ....

So what is going on? There is a perception abroad that the US is belligerent and arrogant when it comes to foreign policy matters. Indeed, John McCain has perfectly illustrated this in his recent comment regarding the situation in Georgia. For my own part I think it’s both a shame and not that simple. I have been, and continue to be, made very welcome in this country, my new home. People I meet are invariably and genuinely open, honest and kind. My English family wonder how I can live here, what with the US being despised and feared in many parts of the world. They don’t know the folk I know, and that’s a shame.

So do NBC feel that they should find any metric that will allow them to display the US as number one? Or do they feel that the US psyche is too fragile to take coming second (esp. to China). Is it the case that NBC takes the view that the US deserves to be number one in all things, which would indeed be breathtaking arrogance, or do they just want to display the US that way?

I found myself thinking through a few scenarios. Suppose that the US had won 30 Gold Medals, and no others, and that China had won 31 Bronze Medals only. Given the NBC metric, China would now be heading the Medal Table. Is this the table NBC would show us many times a day, or would they suddenly be struck by "Gold Fever"? Yeah, that’s what I thought too 

NBC, CBS et al.are changing the rules to suit their view of the world and America’s place in it, and in doing so are, I contend, dishonouring the US athletes who are, in fact, bringing great honour to themselves, their sports and their country. The news media arrogantly denying the athletes the true spirit of the Olympics, the idea personified by the Olympic Motto, that taking part is it’s own reward.

NBC should never again be allowed to host the Olympics on it’s shabby network, not until they grow up and get over themselves. The US has a great deal of work to do in repairing the damage caused in the last 7 years. I know in my bones that this great nation is more than capable of restoring it’s reputation, but really does not need NBC perpetuating the lies.

When the final race is won, the US may indeed top the Medal Table. It is of no great consequence whether they do or not. US, China, UK, Russia, Germany, France ..... they are no more important to the ideal of the Olympics than Trinidad and Tobago, Iceland or Iraq. If the US heads the list, good for them, it is a mark of excellence, but it is not the point. NBC has declared it’s position. Only winning matters! And only the USA winning really matters, and win or not we will show the American people how we won. This attitude runs very deep in US society. From Hollywood showing the World how America won the war, to the present day. It is a presentation nightmare and is so unnecessary. The exploits of the US Military are perfectly laudable on their merits, as are the achievements of the athletes. The would be enhanced by the Nation’s willingness to embrace and applaud the efforts of other; ya know ... I did my best but the other guy was just quicker ...

NBC hasn’t got that message.

When we consider a "Change Election", the changes need to run very deep. It’s not enough to implement Universal Healthcare, decent employment protections and excellence in Schools, although those things matter a great deal. The type of Change that is needed is a sea-change in attitudes. We need our representatives to have a vision not just of America’s place on the World Stage, but a vision of the vital place of others too. This starts at home with the US reaching out, rather than digging in. The current Administration has spent seven years in Bunker USA. We are still taking off our shoes at airports while cargo goes un-inspected. The change we need is to get out of the damned strom shelter, go meet people and ask them what they think, then show some signs of er ... listening. No one expects nations to agree on all things, but neither has any nation the Right to be supreme, and the people of that nation are smart enough to know that second in a Medal Table is a sign of where we need to go, not a National Slur.

Crossposted with discussion