« Gender & ethical compromises | Main | Why we disagree »

August 10, 2012


Pete Green

My first thought here is that the Olympics provide a narrative of ostensible meritocracy, which implies to us that capitalist society as a whole is meritocratic, when it's anything but. The gold medal-winning rower has been getting up at 5am for 20 years to work hard at it. But most people who've been getting up at 5am for 20 years to work hard are cleaners.


I once read a Conservative offer an argument regarding mixed martial arts that would apply to most Olympic sports. They claimed it was right wing because it was centred on individual excellence. My first thought was that I'd like to see how athletes would compete without trainers, managers, doctors, masseurs, nutritionists, training partners, the creators and manufacturers of equipment and kit, promoters, drivers and, well, you get the point...


Point 3, exactly. This is stuff you have to stick at for years and years before you're good. You can't 'just get another job' every couple of years.


1. It's not so much the system (capitalism) that is being contradicted, but the analysis of the system (mainstream economics). It is true that Olympics tell a different story of incentives (people seeking fame and prestige) than the one of micro-models (people seeking money).
Micro and macro-based-on-micro economists will be quick to say that athletes are exceptions, or that their motivations can be framed into the utility maximization paradigm, but that's a terrible mistake. People lose much rationality, efficiency and maximizing ability when they seek fame and prestige.


3. I agree about the outcome, but not about the process. There is no such person as the capitalist, and that person is not voluntarily excluding excellence from the workplace.
Peter's principle or principal-agent theories might deliver more insight to that phenomenon.

Account Deleted

Does Team GB's current 3rd position in the medal table (unquestionably "punching above our weight") indicate that British contestants are just better at achieving internal goods than those from other countries? Or does it perhaps reflect:

a) A larger capital investment in elite sport over recent years: facilities, coaching, income funding for sports people etc.

b) A structural bias in the Olympics that privileges (both in representation and number of medals) capital-intensive sports such as rowing, yachting, cycling, equestrianism etc.

c) A bias in the Olympics to "gentlemanly" sports (i.e. better suited to rentiers), such as shooting, tennis, archery and most of #b above.

I'm not convinced this is such an anti-capitalist jamboree, despite the presence of less traditionally capitalist sports such as running and boxing (included because of their ancient Greek pedigree). When rugby league and futsal make an appearance, I may reconsider.


Christopher Snowdon had an interesting post on home advantage at the Olympics...


gastro george

"They claimed it was right wing because it was centred on individual excellence."

It seems to vary wildly depending on the sport. The cycling squad are very much a team and know it. If you just listened to the track athletes, you don't get much further than their massively inflated egos.


I am not sure that the Olympics is that relevant to capitalism. All the internal or intrinsic goods you mention exist despite the economic system and always have. Humans are social animals and construct noble narratives about their activity. Capitalists and mainstream economists smother the Capitalist system with praise as some how intrinsically good any way all the time. I don't think most people really buy that just as scepticism about advertising is widespread.

Actual success at winning Gold is clearly linked to economic development of Nations. It magnifys the effect of inequality. The UK total probably is linked to what is really professionalism and specialisation made possible by regressive Lottery funding. And adding Rugby and Cricket would boost the UK total even more. Just add in all the games we are very good at! Cricket off course would also help India and Jamaica.

There is also an element of luck which will produce fluctuating results. Andy Murray beat the GOAT! How did he do that? Patriotic pride? Vengefulness? But Tennis is a professional sport where only Murray is good enough to win; so a bit of a fluke.


But what if they aren't producing excellence, only relative excellence. Perhaps those athletes are not producing work of their fullest capabilities, but rather the requisite amount that keeps the consumer happy and the sponsors funding them to have their names lit up and their products bought en masse.

The olympic games being anti-capitalist because unlike capitalism itself it promotes an excellent workfare, is pegged to an understanding of what excellence actually is. Whereas we only think Bolt is good because he has buckets of confidence and is faster than everyone else.

I'd suggest that even the olympians themselves are proof of an illusion of excellence accommodated by capital to further its reach.


It also strikes me that chasing Glory is a trait that you could argue is not a intrinsic good. To show off your athleticism and body ( they were nude in the original Games ) is not a entirely noble thing? But then the Ancient Greeks had a different concept of good.


"Olympic participants .. represent something that's being squeezed out of wider society - the pursuit of internal rather than external goods. In this sense, the games are anti-capitalist."

I'm sure you can provide many examples of recent non-capitalist societies that valued internal above external goods.

Um, er ...

Brian J Goggin

"In an important sense, then, Olympic participants (as distinct from their organizers!) represent something that's being squeezed out of wider society - the pursuit of internal rather than external goods. In this sense, the games are anti-capitalist."

I don't think that your final para is correct. Lots of people pursue internal goals. What makes the sportspeople different is that they've managed to get the state to subsidise them in doing so, and have the possibility of big payoffs in the future. Folk who want to grow the largest marrow in the village, or to restore an old steam-engine, or to keep their areas tidy, don't often get the same subsidies.



The Olympics are more Fascist than anything: lots of state sponsored athletes trying to whip the masses into a patriotic frenzy by demonstrating the athletic superiority of their nation.


Steve: by your definition, then, China, Russia/USSR, East Germany are/were Fascist states, no?


Stephen: China, Russia/USSR, East Germany may well meet the original definition of Fascism, states based on an extreme authoritarian ideology.Involving a political dictatorship and a cult of personality. With the tendency to swing back and forth between repressing or exploiting nationalism. The further the German armies got inside Russia the more patriotic and slavic the state presented itself as. Also central planning of the economy for war applied to Natzi Germany and the soviet sphere. The Natzi form of Fascism off course is much more explicitly based on racism then the Italian form; but Mussolini embraced anti-Semitic Laws on Hitlers encouragement. The soviet state discriminated against Jews and other minorities persecuted homosexuals etc as did the Natzi one. Off course we can debate what terminology to apply to various oppressive political systems but the use of the word is quite reasonable. We should not nit pick. Fascism may lurk in unexpected places. Who would have thought the DPP Mr Starmer would be prosecuting a Gay Barrister for "extreme pornography" only the other day in the English jurisdiction. When Stalin persecuted his former comrades by means of show trials the charge was counter revolution and sabotage. But "extreme pornography" will have to do for the time being. They used to just have a pretty boy plod lurk around public toilets to catch out the enemies of the state.

Sean Mulcahy

So, with this argument is it possible to show that the funding given to sport is a benefit to society?

I have a feeling that it is but when debating with people who are passionate about other areas that need funding (health, social services) how can you demonstrate that there is value in sport?

online todo list

Hi sweetheart Brian J Goggin!!!

Very happy to see your article, I very much to like and agree with your point of view. http://www.taskcanon.com


I could not agree more! Athletes work extremly hard, not for fame and fortune but for the love of the sport. This motivation and comitment is lacking from todays society.

kosmetyki profesjonalne

Hi., we are see your post about stumbling and mumbling,you people say very nice about this.Thanks for sharing this informations.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad