Entry from August 25, 2008

Boy! Talk about stirring up a hornet’s nest. All the International Olympic Committee chairman, Jacques Rogge, had to do was suggest that the sportsmanship of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in winning the Olympic gold medal — and setting a new world’s record — in the hundred meter dash wasn’t all that it might have been and just look at how he is flamed in the media! “That’s not the way we perceive being a champion,” the chairman had said, referring to what he called Mr Bolt’s “catch me if you can” chest-pounding to his fellow competitors before crossing the finish line. “I have no problem with him doing a show but I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters. . .You don”t do that. But he”ll learn. He”s still a young man.”

Here’s how Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post, pretending to speak in Jacques Rogge’s own voice, characterized this remark:

It’s one thing for the Chinese government to jail dissidents, to forge the passports of underage gymnasts, and to set up official protest zones and then arrest anyone who applied to use them. These are matters that I met with disciplined silence, or as I so adroitly put it, with “quiet diplomacy.” But I cannot ignore Bolt’s disturbing spontaneity. Him, I feel compelled to rebuke. . . With my public stance against Bolt, my legacy, I feel, is complete. You might apply to me an observation once made by the American civil rights scholar W.E.B. DuBois: perhaps no one “ever took himself and his own perfectness with such disconcerting seriousness as the modern white man.”

Rick Broadbent, commenting for The Times of London was similarly outraged, calling Sir Jacques “out of touch” for making such a bone-headed comment:

Rogge is an old man but will never learn. People love a winner with character and Bolt has it. He danced, he made his signature lightning gesture and he waved his gold shoes around. These have been his Games. Rogge’s attitude sums up a myopic approach to sport. He wants it played by some draconian code of ethics instead of enjoying the beautiful drama and mind-boggling entertainment of the moment.

Draconian? For expression a wish for a little grace in victory as in defeat? Mr Broadbent seems to hold that, as Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

Sprinting, the boxing of track and field, has been dominated by a timeline of braggarts and egos. Even here one Briton, Tyrone Edgar, was introduced to the crowd before his race and nodded his head, indulging in the whole “I’m the man” tosh. He wasn’t. Bolt is.

A similar point was made by Peter Foster, blogging for the London Daily Telegraph in a piece called: “Who is Jacques Rogge to criticise Usain Bolt?” Like Mr Broadbent and Ms Jenkins, he also seems to see this as a case of pot and kettle or mote and beam: “Its [sic] hard to listen the chief of an organisation as ethically bankrupt as the International Olympic Committee, delivering lectures on good behaviour and Corinthian ideals,” he notes.

To be sure, there’s plenty to find fault with in the International Olympic Committee — though those in the media who have done so much to make the committee and what it finds it necessary to do in order to put on the show so wildly successful may not be the best people to be pointing it out to us — but what has either the committee’s or Jacques Rogge’s willingness to accommodate the Chinese got to do with Usain Bolt’s sportsmanship anyway? One hint comes from Mr Broadbent when he writes of Mr Bolt that “in many ways, he is the man who saved the Games, but Rogge is more concerned that he stops when crossing the line at breakneck speed and then waits for his rivals to finish before shaking hands and saying, “Well done, old chap.”

Ah, yes, there it is. British national self-hatred. The country that invented the idea of sportsmanship now sees this, along with the rest of its imperialist, racist, sexist, capitalist history as fit only for the dustbin of history. How dare Jacques Rogge suggest that a person of color from a former British colony should be expected to behave like a gentleman? That’s just how those wicked old planters and empire-builders used to justify their power over others of Mr Bolt’s race and heritage. Ms Jenkins, presumably indignant, as so many Americans are, on behalf of the former subject peoples, even manages to slip into her column an accusation of sexism against Sir Jacques — for not criticizing an unseemly victory celebration by the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team. She thinks it “obvious” that this must have been because “they are women in bikinis.”

The emotional nature of such vehement protests, highlighting the race, class and even sex of Mr Bolt’s gentlemanly critic makes me wonder if we shouldn’t see the media’s dismissiveness towards honorable standards of behavior, in sport as in other areas of life, not as the product of their political correctness, but rather their political correctness as the product of, as well as the excuse for, their hatred of honorable standards of behavior. Anyway, I’m afraid that this passion for spontaneity and high spirits of the post-honor culture doesn’t bode terribly well for the London Games of 2012, advertised at the closing ceremonies last night with an old-fashioned double-decker London bus and that other icon of Britishness, the umbrella. London’s tow-headed mayor, Boris Johnson, like all the rest of those rich white men who will now be expected to emulate the Chinese, may have already missed that bus.

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