Time for a true cultural olympiad

I suppose the ironic thing about the fact that I’ve been rabbeting on about the Olympics so often for the last few months is that I don’t give a fuck about the sport. Apart from Cricket and occasionally football, to be honest I don’t give a damn about who beat who in whatever event. What interests me is the social aspects which come with sport: the cultural and artistic side-effects, as it were. That, to me, is the true value of events such as the olympics: as stated here, in quite an interesting piece about the potential effects of Mumbai hosting the games, being awarded the olympics can have profound and positive consequences for a city.

Yet, at the same time, that’s all bull. In the long term what good would having a few hyper-fit people running around a track for a couple of weeks do for one of the poorest cities on earth? Indeed, what good did it do London? Glorious though it was, it’s central focus is still about sport, about winning and loosing, about very lucky, privileged people competing. At the end of the day, the only bits that interested me were the ceremonies, and they were just book-ends to the main event – an event in which competition, not articulation, was the focus. While works of art have meanings which last forever, sporting events produce results lists which loose value the next time the event is played. Thus, although it was fun while it lasted, now the olympics is over, it is over, and all that matters is the next event. All we have left is the bill. The only thing left to debate, as I so often do, is the content of the ceremonies.

What I’m beginning to ponder, then, is how we can remove sport from the equation yet retain the cultural aspects of the olympics. What I want, I suppose, is a festival on an olympic scale; an event in which art replaces sport, but in which the city is still emphasised. All the nations of the world would come together, but instead of competing in sport, they would show off works of art. There could still be opening and closing ceremonies, of course, which would produce the same spectaculars I’ve been writing about, but elite athletics would be replaced with painting, music, film and any other artistic genre you can think of. Expression would replace competition; creativity would replace the fetishisation of physical ‘superiority’.

I’m not necessarily calling for the replacement of the olympics, but for a properly instituted cultural Olympiad to sit alongside it. After all, all humans are creative, on some level, but not all humans do sport. Therefore it seems to me that such an event would appeal to far more people, and have far more meaning. It would allow people to express themselves, both in terms of world culture and that of the host city. Moreover, such an event would probably be far cheaper to host than the olympics, as fewer venues would need to be built. It would allow people to sample cultures from all over the world, just as the olympics does now but with much more emphasis on those cultures. Why does the only major event which truly unites the world have to be one devoted to competition and the pursuit of physical ‘perfection’? Why not also have one devoted to human creativity? Frankly, I’d far rathe see a city like Mumbai spend it’s money on an event like this in which everyone can participate, than two weeks in which a few lucky people with ultra-fit bodies compete in competitions whose results have no possible bearing on anything else.

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