Ever thought about what the poor games look like?Sunday, February 16, 2014
Why I don’t watch the privileged Olympics
The Root (*)
The Winter Olympics aren’t a display of all nations. They’re a display of rich, cold nations that can afford ski jumps and luge practice centres.Oh, white people. I get it. The snow and the patriotism and the ice-skating lessons and freezing temperatures and the red cheeks of Winter Olympic-ness — I get it.
I just can’t get into it. Or watch it or root for it, because it feels like expendable cash, and skating coaches, the frilliness of extravagance and privilege and wealth.
It feels as if a secret committee got together in the middle of the night after watching the Summer Olympics and decided that vacation sports should be considered competition. Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s what the Winter Olympics feel like. They feel like old money and ski resorts and lodges and snowsuits and retirement funds.
They feel like everything my life hasn’t been.
I grew up playing basketball behind Doo-Little’s house on North Capitol Street in Washington, before rents pushed out people nicknamed Doo-Little. The hoop was a bent bicycle rim; the backboard was the pole it was nailed to. Often we didn’t have a ball, so we used a pair of rolled-up socks. We fake-dribbled and shot high arching shots that sailed higher than the life we were birthed in. We didn’t need lessons and couldn’t have afforded them if we did.
This is what the poor Olympics look like.
They look like tackle football with a plastic soda bottle, or dodgeball with a pinecone, or soccer with a crumpled brown beer bag. And while they can take on all forms of imaginariness, they never look like figure skating or skiing or snowboarding.
That’s because the Winter Olympics aren’t a display of all nations. They’re a display of rich, cold nations that can afford ski jumps and luge practice centres, which is why every year the Jamaican bobsled team makes the games, it’s both a punch line and a miracle.
At their core the Olympics are supposed to be a showcase of togetherness, which is what the opening-ceremony parade is supposed to represent, an opportunity for each nation to parade its flag on a world stage. The problem of privilege in the Winter Games is that this version of the games is exclusive rather than inclusive. It doesn’t feel like a world event; rather, it feels as if an elite country club got a television deal to be broadcast on a world stage.
Think about it this way: on average, to rent out a slab of ice at the local skating rink is about US$15. To hire the most bootleg coach to show one how to pull off a triple-cow-toe (or whatever it’s called) is about US$40 for an hour. Add skate rental or skate purchase, and a parent can be well into the US$100 range for the day.
In the PC world of “everyone gets an award,” the Winter Olympics feel like a nod to those who choose to compete in an extravagant display of leisure activities.
And don’t get me wrong. I see those few black faces sticking out of the avalanche of whiteness, but even that isn’t enough to hold me. Hell, even Bryant Gumbel considers the Winter Olympics too white for him! On his HBO Real Sports show back in 2006, Gumbel said of the games: “Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them. In fact, I figure when Thomas Paine said, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’ he must have been talking about the start of another Winter Olympics.” But brother Gumbel wasn’t done there: “Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention”
And it will continue to be this way unless one day it suddenly begins to snow in Ethiopia or the Winter Olympic committee decides to build a luge facility in the Dominican Republic. Until then, I will continue my protest against the “Fabulous Display of Worldy Whiteness.” I will also continue my reign as the rolled-up-sock basketball champ of North Capitol Street, since both games hold about as much weight, depending on where one falls on the socioeconomic spectrum.