Nationalism, Ethnicity and Gender in the Olympics

Nadzeya OstapchukBen Ritchie

The London Olympics have now been and gone, and by most accounts it was a pretty successful one for the New Zealand team, winning six gold medals. It was a successful one for casual sports observers such as myself, too – the competition itself was fascinating – a truly amazing range of physiques and athletic ability were on display. The story behind the last of New Zealand’s medals to be awarded – Valerie Adams’ shot put gold was belatedly presented in an Auckland ceremony on the 19th of September – is a fascinating microcosm of the role of elite athletes in modern capitalist society, and the many-faceted exploitation that is critical for the functioning of the current incarnation of the Olympic Games and modern elite sports in general.

Adams finished the competition in second place, behind her Belarusian rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk, only for Ostapchuk to be disqualified days later for returning two positive tests for the banned steroid metenolone. But Adams involvement in the Olympics was already subject to a degree of media sensationalism before she even made her first throw – an administrative mishap by the New Zealand Olympic Committee lead to some doubt as to whether Adams, the defending Olympic champion would even be able to participate. This was gold for the New Zealand media. Very few of their market know the first thing about shot put, so to have so much material to draw on enabled outlets like Fairfax to generate revenue with headlines such as ‘Adams entry blunder needs full NZOC inquiry’ and an out of context photo of a frustrated Adams in support. How often would you normally read an article about the correct forms being filled out for a shot put event? But, by exploiting the general enthusiasm for sports generated by the Olympics hype, this was front page news in New Zealand. [Read more…]

Drugs in Organised Sport

 “Blood doping is a logical outcome of a sport where people push themselves to death for the enjoyment of fans and benefit of sponsors. Of the seventy top ten finishers in Armstrong’s seven Tour De France victories, forty-one have tested positive for PEDS. [Preformance Enhancing Drugs]”[1]

Joel Cosgrove

David Boon was reputed to have drunk 52 beers on the flight from Sydney to London in 1989

Within any discussion of modern day sport, the question of drugs comes up repeatedly. It is difficult to really get beyond the initial discussion: for, against, or on-the-fence, in regards to either the problem or the solution.

The reality is that since ancient times, strategies and theories have been developed in order to get an edge. While using magic mushrooms or whisky as performance enhancing aids might seem comical to the modern reader, they form part of a process that has led to academic Tony Schirato to describe as “…replacing this [pre-modern sport with] a level of professionalism, specialization, bureaucratization, and secularism never before seen in sport”.[2]Like every other part of human existence, capitalism has fundamentally changed the way we see organised sport.

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The Meaning of Sonny Bill Williams

The first international Rugby superstar with a wider appeal and awareness than rugby fans was Jonah Lomu. While terms such as ‘greatest player ever’ ‘living legend’ etc. can be bandied about easily enough, it is generally agreed that the power and influence of Lomu on the international rugby arena was immense. His sheer power, pace and image shocked and awed the international sporting world. Like with many sportspeople defined as ‘The Greatest’ it is not just the records that carry weight, it is the extraordinary effect of ‘the idea’ of the player on the wider viewing public that lifts someone above the shoulders of their fellow competitors.

Sonny Bill Williams (or SBW for the many readers, who I’m sure pay little or no attention to organised sport) is the second player following Lomu who most clearly fits the bill of ‘Superstar’. Yet this is a player who has played for the All Blacks rugby team for only two years, failing in his attempt to attain a starting spot in the team to Ma’a Nonu. Boxing aficionado and parasite capitalist Bob Jones has described SBW’s capabilities in his boxing side project as being “He can’t box. …but that’s hardly surprising given his novice status.”[1]. In his most recent fight against 43-year-old gospel singing, sickness beneficiary, Alipate Liava’a, he couldn’t even score a knockout, cue Jones’ negative reaction. However as spectacle SBW is a Superstar. With his boxing match raising over $350,000 for the Christchurch earthquake.[2] Alongside his boxing efforts, his every move is debated and discussed, in a manner far greater and wider than that of either Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, two All Blacks players, generally acknowledged as two of the greatest players to have played Rugby Union in any country in any time.[3][4]

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Melbourne Storm salary cap breach

Joel Cosgrove, June 2010

Much has been written about the Melbourne Storm and their repeated breaching of the salary cap. Although there has been much comment on the issue, the vast majority has been shallow and generally misses some pretty obvious points.

To recap. The Australian National Rugby League (NRL) has a salary cap, the cap for 2010 is AU$4.69 million for the 25 highest paid players at each club. The Storm from 2006-10 breached the cap by at least AU$1.85 million in a process that involved two sets of financial accounts, a calculated fraud. The scandal came out when an insider at the club notified the NRL who then acted on the systemic breach.

Newstalk ZB talkback host Murray Deaker, talking on his show, made the point that the Storm breaching the salary cap was not an oddity; it is a process at the centre of things. Since 1991 there have been at least 50 instances of clubs being fined for serious or minor breaches of the cap. Deaker raised the point further by saying that the salary cap scandal was comparable to the recent financial crisis, in that greed is at the centre of things and that when you commercialise something greed becomes a part of it.

[Read more…]