Olympic Evils

Today’s was a ride route largely determined by the Olympics – I wanted to avoid the inevitable traffic hassles that came with the torch being paraded around in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. That I ended up riding under a decent tree canopy for nearly all the time it was raining while I was out was purely happy chance.

With that as the backdrop for my route choice it was natural to find myself thinking about the Olympics.

Thousands of people are making an effort and going out to see the torch being paraded. I could moan about that being a dubious tradition that started with Hitler but I’m not sure that’s going to be that sound an argument; after all, Hitler’s Germany gave the world Autobahns and hence motorways and no-one’s calling for them to be ripped up. Besides, I don’t mind having to pick where I go carefully to accommodate a parade for a day or two.

That all said though, I can’t muster any enthusiasm for the ‘London 2012’.

There are plenty of things to dislike about it, but I think my real sticking point is the nature of some of the big name sponsors: cheap alcohol, junk food, fast food and fizzy drinks. It’s not a secret that these aren’t four essential ingredients in a healthy life. The contradictions between having companies working in these sectors as backers and any notions of promoting sport and thus health are blatant, stark. That you can have such a brazen trampling of any coherent ‘sport is good’ message undermines the whole enterprise (and part of the justification for the massive public expenditure) and to my mind calls in to question the morality of the entire Olympic organisation – national and international.

Photo: a field of red poppies in the distance in South Oxfordshire

Colour in the countryside! Red poppies in the distance.

The defence that people can opt to ignore the sponsors doesn’t wash. If their advertising through the Olympics wasn’t powerful and persuasive, you can be sure they wouldn’t be stumping up the millions in sponsorship that they are.

The reality of obesity in the West is grimly unavoidable. It is ruining lives and killing people prematurely. It will get worse. Even if you’re willing to be extraordinarily callous and say that’s the choice of the people eating the bad diet and thus nothing to get worked-up about, the ensuing health problems are a hugely expensive drain on economies and on health care provision. The consequences are not purely personal.

In short, private companies are making sizeable profits (enough to throw millions at the Olympics) but it’s the public that’s paying to deal with the damage making those profits is causing, directly through their taxes and indirectly through what else the state can’t afford because it’s having to spend so much dealing with the chronically overweight and unfit.

I hate the thought that I’m just being churlish. I’m very, very aware that there are a lot of people joining in and having a good time as the Olympic Torch goes by, with good intentions and yes, maybe even newly-sparked laudable aspirations. However, in doing so, they’re effectively endorsing cheap booze, fast food, junk food and fizzy drink; going along with the London Olympics means – at best – turning a blind eye to the consequences of these modern day evils. At worst it means being sucked in by them.

It is that simple. On the whole, as with so many arguments, those who’ll say things are never black and white are just looking for excuses for double standards. Perhaps it’s time we all, as individuals, started to take a stand. After all, change happens through the actions of individuals, acting alone or in groups.

Yes, maybe the Olympic torch passing by is a once-in-a-lifetime event. So’s the diet-induced heart attack that kills you.