I've been trying to work out why I have been so ambivalent, at times antagonistic, towards the Olympic Games. Last night I realised that it was down to a mixture of envy and an overwhelming feeling of exclusion.

There were many agendas behind the staging of the Olympic Games in the UK, many of them noble but some of them merely opportunistic. I am certain that the British Government saw it as a way to reenact the Festival of Britain, to make the Brits feel good about themselves in a time of recession, unemployment and hardship. For millions of people this obviously worked. They were able to own the success of the British medal winners for themselves. I have been unable to do that. As far as I'm concerned it was the individual winners who won, not me, and this is where the envy kicks in. The winning line in my life was to become a parish priest. I trained hard for it and gave up the enjoyment of a "normal" life putting in the hours that becoming a good priest requires. But as I was running along the home stretch towards the finish I was tripped up by other "competitors" and fell flat on my face. Nobody would stop to pick me up, they were too worried that in doing so they would end up being disqualified by the "judges" themselves.

So now, when I see somebody winning I am unable to celebrate their achievement as I am just reminded of my own failure. This is probably the reason why I spent the last sixteen days feeling sorry for the losers. Last night, at the closing ceremony, I was disgusted that the medal winning athletes came into the stadium wearing their medals. I can't imagine what is needed to pick yourself up from failure, as I have been singularly unsuccessful in coping with my own failure, but I guess that it took a lot of guts for many of those competitors to go back into the stadium and party. They certainly must have had mixed emotions about it. To be constantly reminded of their failure by the winners showing off their medals so enthusiastically, must have hurt.

And it's the same for me with the meta-narrative of the Games. The message was "Britain is great." But it's not so great. I've experienced the nastiness and pettiness of its institutions, its old school tie networks, its class system and its cruel indifference to the failures in its midst. We have become a nation that is all about the success of the individual. The community spirit of the idealised Olympics is false. It exists no longer in  my country. We have to be told by self-interested politicians when to behave like a community and, even then, they control how and where we are to do so. If we try to do it for ourselves they prosecute us, as the Law has taken away all our rights to spontaneous celebration. The London Olympics 2012 was not the Festival of Britain redux. Back in the early fifties there was hope. There is no hope today. We know that it will only be the rich who benefit from these Games and that all our Governments, no matter what their political claims, are now only interested in protecting bankers and their like at our expense. We know that they are prepared let ordinary working people suffer in their pursuit of big business happiness. Their promises mean nothing and even the easily fooled will soon forget their sporting achievements by proxy during the last two weeks.



  1. I share your feeling that the winners’ successes are theirs, not mine and not the country’s. But I wonder to what extent the non-medal-winning athletes see it as failure? They go into their events knowing that only one of them can win, and I suspect the majority don’t feel they were cheated out of winning, which is rather different from your situation. In a case like this, I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate the winners’ achievements along with all the competitors’ efforts.

    Which is not to say, of course, that anyone should have to celebrate any aspect of the Olympics unless they wish to!

  2. I find no difficulty in celebrating someone’s achievements greater than my own – after all that’s what I and every Christian does every time we worship, employed or not.

    As a nation we have some superb athletes, and if they want to celebrate their superb fitness and ability then the fact that I can’t run 10 metres let alone 100, or dive off the side of a pool with any dexterity let alone from a dizzying height, twisting and tumbling as I go, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying their skills, and surely no one has any grounds upon which to bemoan the fact that they want to proclaim their (God-given) peak of performance.

  3. I found it very distressing to watch British competitors, in tears, apologising for coming second or third. It used to be that we celebrated if a British competitor got into a final and went crazy if they actually got a bronze medal. Now our competitors believe that only gold counts. This is not helped by the way we calculate the medal table, which is based on gold medals. I understand that in the USA their table is based on all medals. As for the attitude of runners up from other countries, I have no idea. We were only shown interviews with British losers on the BBC.

  4. Celebrating the achievements of others is not what I am on about. My moment of greatest celebration was when David Rudisha won the 800m final. I hardly identify with a Maasai warrior running for Kenya. I’m talking about owning the victories of others as your own.

    I’m not comfortable with your acceptance of the proclamation of victory in such an “in yer face” manner as being a good thing.

  5. I did not identify with any of the athletes–why would I? But I enjoyed watching the games (except for beach volley ball, just eye candy for guys), not to celebrate anyone’s achievement, which is for parents and coaches to do, but because of the beauty of their performance and their physique. A Maasai running for Kenya is a beautiful thing.
    “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    Marvelous are Your works,
    And that my soul knows very well.”

    As for the atheletes glorying in their achievements, well it’s not a pony show where every child gets a prize. They have been competing since they were tiny and have plenty of losses behind them. Interestingly it’s silver medalists who feel disappointment most, according to a Cornell Univ. study that was reported on last week.

  6. Let me introduce ‘Wizard of Oz Theology’ You don’t need a medal to prove either winning or bravery. You don’t need a certificate to show that you have a brain. You are what God made you and you are fit for his purpose. You are a brilliant priest, you have a congregation larger than many a priest struggling with four churches in a benefice. The whole world is God’s temple created as a sacred place for his worship don’t long for a more constricted place to serve; you have been given a more challenging role but that is because you are capable of filling it.

    • No. I don’t even think I have seen the film 🙂

      Bear in mind, I judge myself as my wife sees me. At the moment she regards me as a failure because I am not bringing in anywhere near a living wage. But, as you now, she woud have me play the game. I am not prepared to do that. So we have a situation in our household where I constantly feel like a failure. It’s probably a male thing.

    • Well, it’s depressing as hell.

      I mention it because your post above really triggered my memory of it. Hardy is similarly critical of “the old school tie” and the nastiness & pettiness of society’s institutions. Jude tries to “make it” and runs into obstacles and the judgement of people with power over him at every turn. (Hardy is scathing about the Church, by the way.)

  7. Maybe you need to know this, and I’ll use myself as an example because I really can only speak for myself, not other people – you should know that you, and anyone else who has finished college and has a degree, remind me of my own failure to make anything of my own life. I’m just a high school graduate, with next to no job skills at all. Compared to pretty much everyone else on this blog, I really AM a failure. I’m so low class it’s not even funny.

    And even I have gone further than Joe, who dropped out of high school when he was 16 years old. But he feels no sense of inferiority to those who did complete high school, because he did something many of them have not done – survived US Army basic training.

    So maybe it’s a case of, it depends upon where one’s focus is.

  8. I used to (and sometimes still do when I go to the U.S. or search online) read the Fashion Industry Trade papers and magazines after leaving (I was exhausted) that profession over 20 years ago. Some of the ¨big names¨ I read about I knew personally after a career in the ¨biz¨ (fashion not show) and I would/do have a sense of longing, a feeling of numbing loss that I don´t ever have in other areas of my life. I´d sometimes want to cry because I felt I was being left behind…even after surviving the loss of loved ones and a very active business life.

    I actually would feel a little ¨ill¨ that I had fallen through the cracks (in my own cracked, sometimes unthankful head, that always calls for ¨more¨, I want ¨more¨ and I want it now!) of my own life.

    Truthfully, I haven´t, even in retirement, been a ¨loser¨ as my life is rich and full in millions of everyday living ways but I sometimes must accept ¨things¨ as they are and not as insist/demand they ought be. Acceptance is the key for me…acceptance gives me relief (it´s not to be confused with being slothful or defeated).

    I was once a small big fish in the bigger fashion business pond and because of my own actions, sometimes unwise (even while enjoying success…go figure) I had removed myself from the passion of working in fashion (retail and wholesale and marketing/product development)world that I loved and was good at!

    I still am good at it, but like you I seem to be experiencing drydock. Unlike you, I´ll be 69 years old next week and any wish for a ¨fresh start¨ may be pure insanity (although I do some consulting work)…yet, one never knows…how fun it would be to be back in the ¨swim¨ at least temporarily and do what I do best…you, dear Jonathan, do some very good things right here and no doubt the best is yet to come for you both here and beyond here. That is my hope for you.

  9. I’m not interested in the Olympics, so I didn’t watch – well, watching isn’t an option for us as our TV isn’t connected to any network – we only use it for DVDs! But if something bothered me as much as the Olympics bothers you, I definitely wouldn’t watch it.

    Personally I find the whole professional/spectator mentality in our modern society rather odd. Until comparatively recently, people played games together rather than watching them while sitting on their couches, and live music meant the person in the family who could play bringing out their fiddle and playing in the kitchen while the rest of the family sang along or clapped their hands in time. But nowadays the media have brainwashed us into thinking that we’re not true athletes or musicians unless we get paid to do it in front of crowds. Weird, I say.

    • You’re not married to the daughter of a footballer, Tim. Mrs MP was insistent that we watched it and I’m not allowed to be on the computer all day.

      I like your point about sport and music. One of the big ideas of the Olympics over here was to get youngsters interested in taking up sport. It might work. Or alternatively, they may just give up because of the “must win gold” culture.

  10. Your thoughtful examination of the Olympics was honest and so well thought out. I’m sure that you were speaking for many people who experienced conflicting feelings about the games. Your honest thoughtfulness has drawn the beautiful answers above. I read one after another of these responses and they were insightful and rich in personal ideas, hopes and dreams. What a gift you are, Jonathan!

  11. Your thoughtful examination of the Olympics was honest and so well thought out. I’m sure that you were speaking for many people who experienced conflicting feelings about the games. Your honest thoughtfulness has drawn the beautiful answers above. I read one after another of these responses and they were insightful and rich in personal ideas, hopes and dreams. What a gift you are, Jonathan!