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Forget all the hype about the Olympics, we should let sport make the running; CAROLYN HITT

WASN'T it nice when the Olympics was just about, well, sport. While Cold War-fuelled boycotts used to dominate the build-up somewhat - or deciding whether Zola Budd was British or not - the real coverage only began when the torch was lit and athletes started running and jumping.

Now it starts with them posing and plugging. We've had at least two years of "artistic" pictures of cyclist Victo S Sria Pendleton on her bike in the nude. Or Rebecca Adlington in sequined occasion-wear. The kind of PR Tom Daley attracts, meanwhile, suggests that he is the sixth member of One Direction rather than a prospective diving medallist.

The launch of the logo came in 2007. Given that it resembles a chopped-up swastika in the garish colours of a Rhubarb & Custard chewy it's probably just as well. It's taken five years to get used to it. They paid pounds 400,000 for some high-concept doodling and it looks as if a migraine sufferer has been asked to visualise her pain.

After the debate on the logo design - which prompted early day motions from MPs, a 49,000-signature online petition and the embarrassing withdrawal of a promotional video that caused seizures among epilepsy sufferers - came the debate on the mascot design (one-eyed Mr Blobby-esque thingies). Then came the debate on the torch design (giant cheese-graters). And this week the kit hit the fans.

Of course the London 2012 outfits had to be designed by ubiquitous hipster Stella McCartney. Very Britpop with suitable scope for no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity controversy. Because as everyone knows if you let a fashionista loose on clothing that should really be left to people with more practical considerations there will be couture carnage.

Remember what happened when Julien Macdonald got his mitts on British Airways uniforms in the early noughties and put the dolly back in trolley? "Heh! Come fly with me!" chirped the Merthyr knitwear maestro. "I want to bring glamour back to travel."

All very well for sashaying down the catwalk but not so sensible for squeezing down the aisle dispensing sick bags at 20,000ft. Women's groups accused him of turning the stewardesses into sex objects.

Since Flo Jo's hot-pants and Linford Christie's lunchbox, athletes have worn skimpy sausage-skin sportswear that leaves little to the imagination - all in the name of aerodynamics. But it would be nice to watch a women's race without worrying whether their wedgie is going to affect their personal best. Mary Peters had the right idea with her sensible singlet and shorts ensemble.

And when Lynn leapt, simple red and blue lines on a white vest denoted his team colours. But the minute Stella McCartney turned up in patterned onesie the writing was on the wall. Or indeed half a Union Jack was on the chest.

These are sensitive days for home nation representation in sartorial form. All those childhood summers on the Mull of Kintyre have obviously had an effect on McCartney junior as only Scotland seems to have had a look-in in this blue-dominated get up.

The Welsh are seeing red at the lack of it. Not that the scarlet on the Union Jack has any Cymric value anyway. Dai Greene will just have to sew a dragon in his pants.

But in the 21st century Olympiad, kit isn't just what athletes wear. It's yet another commercial opportunity. Just as Lord Coe maintains the "legacy" of the Games will be getting a nation of lardy couch potatoes off the settee so they'll want us to buy the replica gear.

No-one coveted Geoff Capes' tracky bottoms but we might just fancy that tie-at-the-waist jacket modelled so winsomely by Jessica Ennis. Just don't expect anyone to actually exert themselves in Olympic active wear. Observe the aisles of Asda - the people's running track - if there were gold medals for wearing sportswear with no intention of ever actually doing sport Britain would top the table.

But in a world where even an Osprey's bottom is a billboard, London 2012 will obviously exploit every consumer opportunity from replica kit to souvenir knick-knacks. Though why so many of the latter have to be made in the country of the previous Olympics is a bigger conundrum than Zola Budd's nationality ever was.

While we're on the subject of Olympic mysteries what is the Cultural Olympiad actually for? Without wanting to sound like a ranting Daily Mail harpy, why fund all this expensive arty stuff around sport's greatest festival? There's plenty of scope for making an artistic impression in the opening ceremony without pouring money into non-sporting events.

I love culture. I love sport.

But not necessarily at the same time. When sport gets its biggest global moment why does culture have to get in on the act? If I was watching La Traviata I wouldn't want George North tearing up the stage when Violetta's about to expire. So let us have sport pure and simple without the addition of a vast, multi-million arts festival.

Not that sport and culture can't enjoy a creative partnership. The WRU Writer in Residence collaboration with the Arts Council works well because rugby as a subject is still at the core of Owen Sheers' poetry and prose. The far more lavishly-funded Olympic cultural projects are rather more lateral. Artists representing the nations and regions have been given pounds 500,000 to mark the Olympics on their own patch.

Welsh winner Mark Rees has spent his half a million on the abandoned fuselage of a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 airliner which he will tour around the country on a trailer. He said: "The day that this kind of extraordinary wingless creature comes into town and is resting for a period will stick in people's memories so the Olympic Games will be the aeroplane."

Isn't that a tad optimistic? Will we really say: "Remember when that giant Olympic metaphor came to town?" Or: "What was that bloody great plane all about?" If the Arts Council wanted to spend pounds 500,000 creating a collective memory of the impact of the Olympics, tickets for Welsh schoolchildren to attend the actual event would have been a better investment.

For sport creates its own culture - drama to rival any three-act opera; spectacle as vivid as a painter's canvas and in the Olympics' case a shared, global experience unlike any other.

The Olympic memories that stick provide more metaphors for the human condition than any visual art installation. Nadia Comaneci proving perfection is attainable; the battling rivalry of Coe and Ovett; Kathy Freeman's relief rather than euphoria at the medal that brought her nation's two identities together; David Davies' delirium after pushing his body to the limits of human endurance; the furious determination of Nicole Cooke's golden odyssey in the Beijing rain. It's all there.

Faster, higher, stronger ... it's a simple formula. And after the branding, the marketing, the consumerism, the plugging, the posing, the PR, the hype, the arty aeroplane wrecks and the whole corporate kit and caboodle we'll just have to hang on another 123 days for the actual sport.


* Great Britain's Sir Chris Hoy modeling the new team Great Britain kits designed by Stella McCartney, the latest high-profile unveiling in a solid five years of promotional build-up for the London Games since the logo was first launched
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 26, 2012
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