Olympic Nationalism

olympic-medal-countBerkeley arts and culture prof Michael O’Hare has had an epiphany:

I don’t understand the endless obsession of Olympic commentators and event organizers with the countries competitors come from: parading in national costumes at the opening, keeping score by country on the front web page of the NY Times, Canadian whining about not winning enough medals, event winners swanning around waving their flags.  It’s pointlessly nationalistic, but it’s also stupid: counting, much less comparing or “scoring” Olympic medal numbers per country, is like obsessing over a one-heat race among cheetahs, walruses, hares, tortoises, and trees.

Given that Canada has a little more than a tenth the population of the US, they’re “beating” us three to one by any reasonable measure; given that Americans mostly live where it’s much less wintry than any of Canada, so what? Given that Austria and Norway are rich, mountainous, and cold, why wouldn’t they rack up lots of wins at a winter sports party?  Enough already; lets let the kids compete and have fun, and not coopt them as cannon fodder in a silly and jingoistic PR battle.

I would submit that “pointless nationalism” is the raison d’être of the Olympics. Otherwise, it’s just ballet dancers dressed in silly costumes prancing about on the ice.

He does, of course, have a point in asserting that all countries aren’t equal and it’s silly to pretend they are.  Indeed, that’s why the Olympics became much less relevant for many of us after the demise of the Soviet Union.   Not only were they the “bad guys” but they were a peer competitor.  Now, we’re left only with China and mostly in the Summer Games.  Indeed, the Winter Games are actually rather embarrassing most years, with Team USA finishing behind countries smaller than some of Ted Turner’s ranches.

And, indeed, after Team USA got off to a rousing start, the Germans has now caught us in the gold count and are within a whisker of us for the total.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Otherwise, it’s just ballet dancers dressed in silly costumes prancing about on the ice.

    You’re saying that as though it were a bad thing. 😉

  2. Wayne says:

    Besides what many liberals may think, there is nothing wrong with having national pride even for the good old U.S. of A. Expressing it can be overdone but for anyone not to have it for their country is a shame.

    True not all countries are equal but that is true for teams, athletes, schools or any organization. That is the nature of competition. Competition makes us better. Take away competition and making everyone equal only lower standards and quality not raise them.

  3. William d'Inger says:

    I would submit that “pointless nationalism” is the raison d’être of the Olympics

    Well, duh, anybody can see that. What I don’t understand is why the political correctness police continue to pretend that the Olympics are about sports.

  4. Wayne says:

    Re“What I don’t understand is why the political correctness police continue to pretend that the Olympics are about sports.”

    The Olympics are about sports but that doesn’t mean that is all they are about. Nothing wrong with having your favorites and\or backing your teams. That is a nature of sports. I admire feats and accomplishment of other countries or teams athletes. I hate the Lakers but when Kobe makes a great move\shot, I go ooh awe. When a Russian Hockey player(forgot his name) plays amazingly, I appreciate it. That doesn’t mean I am not cheering for the U.S.A. but when and if we get beat then hats off to the them.

  5. floyd says:

    Like many pseudo-intellectual PC freaks this guy has trouble with differentiating between Nationalism and Jingoism.
    This is not much different from being a Chicago Cubs fan, knowing that it is not likely that Chicago actually produced even one of the players.
    Pointless?… maybe… but it sells beer!
    Besides, It’s bread and circuses for the Hoi-Polloi.[lol]