Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - taking pride in the Olympics

The Olympics really haven't grabbed me this year, primarily because I haven't watched it on TV and consequently haven't had that intense exposure.

It's been a messy Olympics, messy in the lead-up, messy in performance. 

There have been the usual positive stories that come from human endeavour. The story of Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino of the United States is one such. Real tear jerker stuff. Makes one realise that life is not just about winning.

I do wish the Australian Government had a similar attitude with its KPI (key performance indicator) approach to sport. To focus sports funding on the achievement of Olympic gold is, to my mind at least, not very sensible. There is a real old Soviet block flavour to it, sport as promotion of national prestige. When the approach fails, it detracts from the achievements of the athletes themselves. 

Of course I expect Australia to perform relatively well. Of course I get sucked in by the medal count, although I think the way that is done is distorted. Gold is not all. At the end, its all about participation of kids (and adults) in the whole variety of sports that most interest them.  When, as Australian Olympic chief John Coates has pointed out, sports funding becomes focused just on those things in which Australia might perform best, distortions result.

It seems to me that the target should be not to be the best in an absolute sense measured by medals, but the best we can be at the time. If someone else wins and we have done our best, then that should be enough. 

At the end measured by medals or premierships, competitive sport is a zero sum game. There can only be one winner.  

Around Australia there are millions of Australians who get up to take kids to sports. There are millions of Australian who follow a sporting team even if it is losing. The parents who watch their kids play, the fans who stay with the team even though it it coming last, the people who hope that next week will be better but we have had fun in the meantime, are not dumb. They are participating in a human endeavour where participation is, finally, the end in itself.

If you adopt the KPI approach, what's the point of those fund raising BBQs? What's the point of driving for hours so that you or your children or your friends can play? 

The KPI world gives us, reinforces the world of, those obnoxious parents who abuse a volunteer official because they may have made a mistake. It sucks the life out off the community element, the individual playing because it is a good thing, that is central to so much sport. And for what? Another time consuming official inquiry into why money was wasted, another official inquiry into why we did not perform in that targeted way?

As a nation, we fund sport because we perceive it to be a good thing, something that benefits the nation at multiple levels. Sport is good because it makes us healthier. Sport is good because it gives us an outlet for other aggression. Sport is good because it builds a community. Sport is good because we have fun.

KPIs suck the fun out of sport. KPIs degrade the pleasure we take from an individual doing well. KPIs make individuals feel failures because they have not delivered on a medal even though just getting there is an achievement in its own right. KPIs are a total distortion They really F the system up. 

So to all Olympians from all countries I say thanks. You have got up in the early morning. You have done the hard yards that most of us could never manage. Whether you have won or lost, you can take pride. I hope you enjoyed the experience despite the performance pressures. You can be proud.   


Anonymous said...

Hi all

This might be a bit of a waffle, please be patient.

I hope that I am not one of those obnoxious parents referred to. I certainly have negative thoughts about umpiring decisions at my daughters netball games and also about the conduct of teams and supporters (including ours). However I rarely allow these thoughts to access my mouth.

I have a bit of trouble with the current negative press surrounding the Olympics/medals etc. Obviously it isn't school or club sport, but we need to remember what these young people are doing.

I have been vocal in my disapproval of school sporting scholarships when the young person involved is not expected/encouraged to be the best, most well rounded person they can be. That is not doing favours to anyone.

However the competitors in this case are largely quality people, as far as I can tell. They are doing their best and the untold story is how much time, love and money their own families have put into their kids commitment.

To go away from Olympics and to the rugby game last night I was quite shocked at some of the negative comments. Yes the Wallabies did not play well, and yes they were totally outclassed on the night, but they do not deserve the vitriol.

I would like to share a story with you about one of those Wallabies - a newby - Alan Alaatoa. He was in year 11 or 12 when my son was in year 7 at their school. Another mum shared a story about the first time her son had to travel to school under his own steam. Alan was at the station and could see this young man was feeling very tense. He walked up and slapped a massive hand and arm around this quite small boy and said "Don't worry kid, you are with me today".

So I think that if there is criticism to be indulged in, it shouldn't be towards the athletes.

Anonymous said...

It's GL by the way, forgot to sign off. Oops.

Anonymous said...

Good post by Jim; great comment by GL. Agree with both! And it was nice to see NZ do so (relatively) well this time around.


2 tanners said...

Totally agree. The KPIs are already in the Olympic motto (Faster. Higher. Stronger) as well as the understood value of sportsmanship. KPIs like medal count are the direct path to drug cheating, and then everyone acts horrified when it happens. Lovely story about Alan Alaatoa, GL.

Jim Belshaw said...

It was a nice story, 2t. And NZ, kvd, often does!

Anonymous said...

Agree with you 2t, about the direct and logical path between a medal count as a KPI and underhanded tactics to get there. Not at all what sport is about.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article which is somewhat relevant to what we have been talking about:

Would be interested in your thoughts.