Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thinking about things while watching the London Olympic Game

Like many other sport fans I've been spending a lot of time indoor glued to the tv set since the London Olympics started last week. Not that I have any Olympic aspiration, mind you, but it is fun and mostly inspiring watching all sorts of summer sports being played at such amazingly high level.

US Olympic Training Ctr in Chula Vista, CA.
I suppose what drives many athletes and many fans watching these games is the competition and the competitive spirit. But obviously, competitiveness means different things to different people. Is it a cultural differences thing? Some people are driven to beat everyone else, while others are driven to be the best that they can be (even if they don't beat anyone). The two surely aren't the same...

Take the recent badminton scandal where players from the Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian teams got disqualified for trying to throw their matches in order to avoid having to play a better team in their next round. I don't know if I would call that 'cheating', but it definitely is unsportsmanlike. They were trying to beat the other teams by gaining unearned advantage in the drawing rather than trying to play their best in every game. It is 'the ends justify the means' rather than 'it isn't about winning or losing but how you play the game', sort of thing.

No matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game that reflects who you really are.
I've read some rationalizations that blame this gaming of the system on the system itself, but this surely is problematic. Should we only do the right thing when it benefits us or when we know we can't get away with not doing so, rather than just because it is right? Gaming the system may win an athlete a coveted medal, but, aside from the financial and social advantages gained from 'winning', does it really feel right to win - knowing that the win was obtained in a questionable manner?

Having spent a bit of my developing years in different cultures, I'm afraid that question would produce different answers, too... Some cultures actually do think it a virtue to outfox others even if the outfoxing violates the spirit of fair play. 'The ends justifies the means (do whatever it takes to get the win, regardless of fairness)' or 'how you play the game matters more than what result you get'. For myself, I'd throw my lot in with the latter. Focusing on winning or losing makes one's happiness dependent on others' performance. Focusing on how one plays the game is a lot more self-contained. Natural ability is largely a matter of luck. Personal integrity, on the other hand, is an earned quality, and one that nobody else can ever take from you without your consent. Having both is ideal, but if I could only have one, I'd go for the latter every time.

PS: Since the Olympics vibes on the web seems dominated by the notion of Asian athletes' bending of the rule, I don't think those badminton players did any worse than what the Great Britain track cyclist did in intentionally crashing in order for his team to get to restart (and not have to suffer from being slow taking off the first time). Unethical is unethical regardless of nationality or skin color, and to have the temerity to go around talking about it as if he had done something clever... Ugh! Hindes and his likes could learn something about sportsmanship from Victoria Pendelton and Jess Varnish, GB's women's team sprinters who got relegated out of medal contention for a marginal and unintended rule violation. Everyone goofs every now and then, but it takes character to own up to it without excuses.


yvette said...

I did not know all these Olympic side stories. Reading you I found these ever so childish. Is that the Olympc sprit in 2012? We seriously have to worry about basic education!

Smorg said...

Bonjour Yvette!
It is disturbing indeed, and even more so when I read how so many of track cycling fans are actually defending Hindes' conduct. Some people will do just about anything to win, ethics be damned. More kudos to Pendleton and Varnish, the British team sprint ladies, for good sportsmanship, I say. Even though they'll leave the games without a medal, they can really hold their head high for how they conducted themselves. :)

Hope you are enjoying summer weather and the less controversial sides of the Olympics, too. Thanks a bunch for stopping by!

Georg said...

Hi Smorgy,

The problem with the present
olympics is that behind the performance lurks money and frequently government prestige. Fat old men gloating over other people's victory.

Gone are the days where it was mandatory to be an amateur.

I looked with fascination at those little girls making superhuman corkscrew jumps and crying when they did not fully succeed. Poor kids, they will most certainly be crippled by rheumatism at the ripe age of 35. It escapes me how parents could subject their kids to this kind of turture.

My favorite game is women playing handball. Have a look. It is stupendous.