Independent on Sunday, 12 August 2012
It was bliss: I spent a whole week of the Olympics in a mountain village in southern Spain, hardly aware that in London people were throwing things and jumping over things. One morning I got up at half past five and went up into an olive grove with a farmer and his grandson, watching as the sun rose over the valley and the trees began to cast faint shadows on the parched earth. I love this part of the world, but its beauty is tempered by a tragic history; two or three years ago, the skeletons of 19 Republican militiamen were discovered in a gorge where they were shot by Franco sympathisers as they retreated from Malaga.
Some things matter more than sport. But I’ve come back to my own country to discover Olympic fervour encouraging a species of emotional correctness, where anyone who doesn’t care for competitive games is regarded as a killjoy. It’s like being transported to a Victorian public school, where anything less than a passionate interest in muscular athleticism is regarded with peevish suspicion. You aren’t interested in hockey or diving? You don’t care about medal tables? Shame on you!
One night last week I went to see the New York drag artist Joey Arias perform on the South Bank, and it was a relief to find myself in an audience with something other than Britain’s medal tally on its mind. At a party the next evening I encountered the Argentinian volleyball team, who seemed very tall and very nice, but it didn’t turn me into a sports fan. I know plenty of people who’ve watched one or two Olympic events but could do without the wall-to-wall coverage, let alone shrill demands that successful athletes should be given knighthoods. Athletes are competitive people who care desperately about personal success, and I’m not convinced they deserve public honours as well as medals.
All sorts of things have got mixed up here. I don’t think I’d mind so much if the Olympics was a simple sports contest without the corporate sponsorship, the overblown opening
ceremony and the massive expense. Don’t even get me started on the dressage, which seems the most pointless activity ever imposed by humans on innocent animals. But I do feel sorry for competitors from poor countries, who must be conscious that success in the games reflects affluence as much as anything else. Two days ago, there wasn’t a single African nation in the top 20 places in the medals table.
Now we’re being told that schools need more competitive sport, even though being forced to play hockey on chilly playing fields almost put me off exercise for life. I’ve never wanted to beat anyone at games, and the only reason I run three times a week is that it makes me feel better. I certainly don’t want to see another generation of children put off exercise by lectures from David Cameron, who seems bent on reviving a public school notion of sportsmanship.
I’m passionate about lots of things, but sport doesn’t happen to be one of them. I shouldn’t need to say this, but not liking the Olympics doesn’t make you a bad person. Whatever happened to tolerance? I should have stayed another week in Andalucia.