Swifter! Higher! Poorer!

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Late in the 19th Century, when that dear old envious Frenchman, Pierre de Fredi, Baron de Coubertin, looked across the channel to the then-predominant British Empire, he ascribed a great deal of Perfidious Albion’s achievements in subjugating uncounted heathens, to the cult of u2018Muscular Christianity’ prevalent in the English Public Schools.

Thinking all he had to do to restore a little Platonic vigour to the schoolboys of France (and perhaps un peu de la Gloire to the Third Republic) was to get them intoning the Gallic equivalent of u2018Play Up! Play Up! And play the game!’, he hit upon the idea of refounding the Olympic Games as the means to inspire Jacques, fils, to an ideal of heroic self-sacrifice.

From there on, it was downhill all the way, faster than an Alpine skier.

Always a spectacle of unabashed Collectivist chauvinism — whether filmed by a star-struck Leni Riefenstahl, hosted by a bureaucratic tyrant like Leonid Brezhnev, or surrounded by the nauseous hyper-patriotism of a Salt Lake City — there has been little to beat the modern games for a tax-payer funded celebration of the Hegelian religion of the State.

Mixed uneasily with such an excuse for unlovely nationalism is its antithesis in the insinuation of a great deal of UN-inspired, One-World, soft socialism — complete with all the political correctness and wannabe trendiness of having a handful of hapless Africans u2018compete’ (practically complete with water wings) in the swimming, solely so as to breach almost the last bastion of Caucasian athletic pre-eminence, or of introducing hip Generation-X activities such as beach volleyball or skateboarding, not to mention the promotion of the u2018Paralympics Movement’, which, whatever the admirable grit of its unfortunate participants, is a travesty of what is, after all, supposed to be a celebration of physical excellence, and one which, moreover, veers perilously close to being a freak show at times.

Then, there is the sheer hypocrisy involved in this multi-billion advertising hook for global businesses such as Coke, and Nike being sold as the reincarnation of some misty-eyed, Hellenic pseudo-religion.

The supposedly more u2018pure’ athletes involved in this were always prone to look down their noses at the plebeian mercenaries toiling in truly popular sports such as soccer or baseball — i.e., at those openly able to pay their participants, without recourse to the public purse, by dint of their mass appeal.

Overlooked in this tended to be the fact that those same lofty Corinthians, were, all the while, largely the beneficiaries of either lucrative trust funds or outright state favouritism, in the bad old u2018shamateur’ days.

Now, they are at least overt high-earners — though this new honesty about their status (and thus their less-than idealistic motives) does not preclude them from whining to government for ever more training grants and sporting facilities, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

If former UK sporting u2018greats’, such as Linford Christie and Steve Redgrave want to support young hopefuls, let them dig into their well-lined pockets, not yours and mine, and we might think the better of them for it!

Then, of course, there is the fact that these purists usually drift in other, more nefarious ways as has been shown by this week’s revelations about the US Olympic authorities’ role in suppressing news of former Mr. Clean, Carl Lewis’s, positive dope tests in the late 1980s, something the International Olympic Committee’s own Arne Ljungqvist told the papers u2018fitted a pattern of failure’ to make such reports.

(We won’t digress into the IOC’s own shocking record of graft, peculation and gluttony in taking backhanders and indulging their proclivities for vice, at the expense of the representatives of would-be Olympic host nations over the years — behaviour which would make a Latin Generalissimo or a Central African dictator look like the chairman of the parish council trustees!)

To borrow from the Marxist dictionary, the dialectical resolution of these seemingly contrary factors of the purity of aim and the advancement of international amity with crass commercialism, corruption and strident nationalism, can be found in one place — sadly, the usual one.

Thus, the national Fuehrer who announces the bid generates prodigious amounts of positive spin and he is soon surrounded by an adoring horde of high-profile sporting Luvvies to make him seem even more voter-friendly and visionary.

Then, there is the business of building all the facilities needed to sustain any hope of gaining the coveted Selection. Big, tax-payer funded, cost-plus construction projects with contracts awarded with even less scrutiny than an Iraqi rebuilding deal? Yes, please.

Think of the u2018job creation’ angle, too — all Keynesians adore such otiose expenditure as u2018counter-cyclical’ policy, despite a harsh historical record of its failure to generate lasting prosperity.

Next, demolish a swathe of private property in a relatively deprived area (well, they’re not going to run the velodrome along the Mall, or put the athletics track in the grounds of Chequers, now are they?) and we have a touchy-feely increase in the laughable concept of u2018social inclusion’ about which to boast (in truth, only an under-utilized, multi-million outlet for yet more urban graffiti).

Then, should the Dear Leader actually still be in office when the grand scheme comes to fruition, picture the press coverage as he takes the salute from the swooning proletariat and signals the start of some fatuous opening display of pyrotechnics over the photogenic backdrop of the conveniently nearby river or harbourside.

It’s enough to bring out the megalomaniac in anyone, so we should not be surprised that those two very different unshrinking violets, British PM RobespiBlaire and London Mayor u2018Red Ken’ Livingston, have each become enthusiastic advocates of a British bid for the 2012 u2018Games’.

Now lest you get too carried away by the coming storm of hype, remember that even the much-lauded u2018success’ of the late Sydney extravaganza blew its budget by a cool 100%, while the true cost of the looming Athenian shambles has yet to be reckoned.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the near disaster of the recent Manchester Commonwealth Games, or the fiasco of the Wembley football stadium redevelopment (already several years late and 60% over-budget at 750 million and counting) should inspire little faith in any home-grown competence to manage such schemes.

Besides, if the Government did actually manage to bring the Games home within its 2.6 billion target, can we really say this would be money well-spent, when this very same government can’t meet its own (admittedly impossible) goals of funding a decent health or education system and when the nation’s railways are perennially overstretched?

More to the point, if the Olympics promise such an unadulterated boon to the populace and if they are likely to be so remunerative to their organizers, why is the private sector not proposing, funding, and managing the whole shebang without clamouring first for access to the public fisc?

In a world eternally short of the capital means to deliver Paradise on Earth, there exists a whole array of ways for the People to spend themselves poor — conspicuous personal consumption, a credit-backed housing boom, a dishonestly financed private infrastructure mania like those seen over the years in canals, railways, airlines and the recent Telecom-Internet debacle.

But if our own capacity to alienate our birthright, aided by a little calculated monetary confusion, seems to know no bounds, there are even more profligate avenues along which unscrupulous governments can squander our resources for us — arms spending and the prosecution of foreign wars, pay-tomorrow welfare guarantees, u2018universal’ health care and compulsory state (mis)education, roads-to-nowhere concrete pouring and the green fascism embodied in the sprouting forests of mechanically inefficient wind farms.

But, of all these, the Olympic Games represent not only one of the more wasteful examples, but also one of those wreathed most thickly in the noxious vapour of cant.

To burn such enormous sums of hard-earned public money in the sacred Collectivist fire which flickers as the Olympic flame, largely to allow the already grandiose Blair, or his anointed successor, to parade before a world television audience, ostentatiously wrapped in the Union Jack, and clutching a stack of lobbyist and construction industry votes, is not something we should be proud to endorse.

UK sport at its finest is to be found in the genuinely amateur and wholly voluntary activities taking place on the junior club rugby pitch, or village cricket green. Sport as a real private business entertaining the masses can be seen all year round on any TV screen within view.

So who needs a four-year drive to confiscate our wealth in order to stage a ceremony worshipping the State and marketing its incumbent leaders?

Who indeed, Mr Blair?

Sean Corrigan [send him mail] writes from London on the financial markets, and edits the daily Capital Letter and the Website Capital Insight. He is co-manager of the Bermuda-based Edelweiss Fund.

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