And you thought golf was elitist…

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February 15, 2006 by AK

Paul Fahri writes in The WaPo:

But the Winter Games are about a few other things as well: elitism, exclusion and the triumph of the world’s sporting haves over its have nots.

What the Winter Games are not is a truly international sporting competition that brings the best of the world together to compete, as the promotional blather would have you believe. Unlike the widely attended Summer Olympics, the winter version is almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations. In fact, I’d suggest that the name of the Winter Games, which start Friday, be changed. They could be more accurately branded “The European and North American Expensive Sports Festival.”

Even if it were 100% true, I’d be quite happy with it. A sportsfest of the peoples of the North — or, as some Russian smartasses would put it, the Global North — what’s your problem with it? Long, cold winters, skiing and sleighing are in our blood and culture.

But the frost club is not all-white. How about Japan, China and Korea? (Kazakhstan has very cold winters but, unfortunately, little snow.) Nor is the club exclusive. Everybody is welcome, as the total count of 85 countries at this Olympics evidences. Sure thing, Ethiopians don’t dominate biathlon but Swedes don’t dominate long-distance running either.

Yes, winter sports cost more than soccer or basketball. But the barriers are more cultural and institutional than purely monetary. It’s more natural for a Russian to take up skiing than beach volleyball. But state funding for sports precipitated in post-Soviet Russia, so much that Albert Demchenko, who has just won a silver medal in the luge competition, had to sell meat at a farmer’s market in his home town. Yet he managed to win the 2004-5 World Cup on a toboggan he had made himself.

Lack of money is a huge disadvantage, of course, but it is not the ultimate barrier. Scandinavia was not that rich in 1924, when its athletes dominated the first Winter Olympics. Winter sports may be ultimately meaningless, but it has to do with tenacity, survival of the fittest and meritocracy.


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