An end to competition

Image of Tyler Brûlé

Depending on who you listen to, the London Olympics are either going to mark the end of a certain era for all singing/dancing/tumbling/pyrotechnic events or the start of a new golden age for all singing/dancing/tumbling/ pyrotechnic events. Just as many media formats have lost momentum in this age of exhibitionism and editorial incontinence, some are predicting that the International Olympic Committee is in danger of losing its media stranglehold on sponsorship and broadcasting rights when there are so many available outlets for skirting the system. Others reckon new media channels will create additional revenue streams, and various social media channels will have to pay if they want to transmit footage, messages and images from events.

By the time things start to warm up in Rio for the Olympics in 2016, it’s likely there will be a slightly different rulebook for sponsorship and broadcasting rights. A few big brands might lose out and, perhaps, some broadcasters might find they’ve overpaid for their exclusive rights. But this isn’t the biggest challenge facing the IOC and all those hard-bodied athletes: the main issue is that some time early next year all forms of sporting competition will be banned for reasons of political correctness and for health and safety reasons.

If you think this sounds absurd, we might want to visit some playgrounds and sporting arenas around the world to see what children are being taught about fair play and crossing the finishing line.

A friend in Tokyo recently told me how the curriculum had changed for exercise hour and that games that involved having to go faster and higher, and that pitted toddler against toddler, had now been struck off the list. No sack races, no 100m dashes, no swimming competitions and no high jumping. While I stood there slack-jawed listening to this nonsense, my friend went on to explain that it was now “all about being the best you can be and not worrying about competing with those around you. It was about crossing the finish line as a team and not as an individual.”

Where does one start with information such as this? First, if any country should be teaching its youngsters to be more competitive, it’s Japan. If ever a country needed to light a rocket under its next generation, it’s the one that’s been stagnating for about two decades and has seen itself slip to bronze in the world economy rankings.

Second, removing competition takes all the fun out of childhood and is simply wrong. If youngsters are only taught to better themselves and not to worry about those around them, then they’re going to be woefully disappointed when they find out that there are other people in the world who haven’t been schooled quite the same way and have been training for decades to go out and kick ass. Third, everyone likes a winner. It’s that simple. Most cultures are built on some type of idol worship and, rightly or wrongly, we’re conditioned to gravitate towards winners. Life’s tough.

Japan is far from alone in teaching this type of guff: classrooms and playgrounds are full of touchy-feely concepts of collectivism gone wrong and it’s easy to see how competition can become the next evil. Surely there’s a case to be made that it’s unfair for the world’s biggest economies to compete against lesser nations because developing economies have poorer diets, shoddier footwear and bad facilities. No doubt there are others who feel it’s inappropriate for nations to do battle with one another when we should all be striving towards equality and group hugs.

There’s no question in my mind that the Olympics are on the cusp of being governed out of existence by the same forces that want us all to work less, never have any God-given advantages over others and to collaborate and seek consensus rather than try to get across the finish first. Of course, if the games do manage to reinvent themselves in some other format of co-operation and zero competition, they’ll most certainly be killed off by the sinister forces of health and safety boards (I refer you to my April 28 column on these menacing forces with headquarters in Canberra and London respectively) which see only evil in high-diving competitions (not to mention extreme profanity in tight-fitting Speedos), judo competitions and marathons.

At some point Olympic divers will have to be tethered to a harness; judo competitors will have to take to the mats in full body armour, faceguards and proper helmets; and the marathon will be banned because it’s simply too gruelling.

As the games get underway in London, I have high hopes Brazil will be able to turn the tide and demonstrate it’s OK to throw caution to the wind and be competitive, not an annoying nanny. After all, you have to love a country that welcomes the world to its foreign ministry at Itamaraty Palace in Brasília and asks heads of state to climb an Oscar Niemeyer staircase – without any banisters.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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