Monthly Archives: September 2012

London 2012: great fun, but don’t forget…

Not the most timeous blog ever, but now that all the fun and Olympic games are over, I think some reflection on an important part of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics is in order.  Before I get started, let me just clear something up.  I hate televised sport.  In fact, I’m not even much of a fan of sport in general (to me it’s more of a necessary evil), but I’ve always found watching it on TV boring.

I was dreading the promised three weeks of the stuff forced upon us in the Olympic occupation of the BBC.  To me, this was televisual tyranny, deciding that we should all consume gluttonous quantities of sports coverage.  I was preparing myself for DVD box-set overload.   Then I watched the opening ceremony.  I switched it on with an air of scepticism. I think I might have even said something to the effect of, “Right, let’s see how crap this is.”

I’m not too proud to admit that Danny Boyle really showed me.  It actually made me, über-cynic, feel proud that it was my country that was responsible for this.  I’m normally one of those people who points out the irony of when Scottish athletes win- they’re British; if they lose- they’re Scottish.  I’m normally the one who avoids the bandwagon on principle.  But I was sucked right in.  The spectacle.  The humour.   Mr Bean tweeting!  I loved it, and what a welcome to the other competitors.  Not only was I thoroughly entertained, but my appetite was whet.  I was hungry for the games.

The games themselves didn’t disappoint.  I was screaming at the telly when Mo Farah casually overtook all of the other runners to win his second gold medal.  I was biting my nails to see if Tom Daley would win gold.  I was humbled by the sportsmanship, and baffled by some sports I had never heard of before.  The closing ceremony might not quite have matched up to the opening ceremony, but come on, who didn’t love the Spice Girls on top of taxis in heels?

Now that’s all very nice, but the statistics of the games speak for themselves.  This year’s games were all about the girls.  44% of team GB were female.  British female athletes won ten gold medals, more than the combined male and female gold medal haul for some much larger countries such as Japan.  This is the highest number of British female gold medal winners in history.  Quite rightly this is being celebrated.  To all of those people who reckon that winning an Olympic medal is no big deal I say: you try it!  These medal winners (male and female) are titans among us mere mortals, and we should celebrate their awe-inspiring achievements, as well as the immense dedication and significant sacrifices it took to make them.

However, achievement at London 2012 can’t merely be measured in precious metal.  For the first time ever, all competing nations were represented by male and female athletes.  This is a significant step for international women’s rights.  Even countries that repeatedly come under fire for their shocking abuse of women in the name of tradition made the momentous decision to sanction the contribution of sports women as well as men.  Brunai, Quatar and Saudi Arabia- who had previously refused to allow female competitors- were now represented by male and female athletes. [1]  Many people believe that this is a publicity exercise on the part of these countries.  Publicity exercise or not, the first steps have been taken.

Before we start cheering these steps on, we must be aware that they are baby steps.  Some women literally risked their lives in order to represent their country.  Tahmina Kohistani represented Afghanistan in the 100m sprint, despite having to endure almost daily abuse from groups of men during her training.  Training which, incidentally, took place in a stadium which had previously accommodated Taliban executions, a haunting reminder of the regime which has brutally oppressed women for aeons.  In Somalia, female runners had to hide their tracksuits under burkas until they were hidden from public view.  A very small number of Muslim female athletes had even reported receiving death threats in an attempt to dissuade them from competing, and, understandably,  for some, this was not a risk worth taking.  The Iraqi women’s wrestling team disbanded in 2009 as a result of death threats made against them.

Despite this, a number of brave women have opted to take the stand and risk their safety, and in some cases, their lives in order to compete.  To represent their country in a positive light: such as Tahmina Kohistani, who says of her home, Afghanistan:  “Right now in my country every day there are bomb blasts, there is killing- it is very important for me to represent a country that has lots of problems like this.”[2]  Some are outspoken about their dedication to promoting women’s rights such as Woroud Sawalha of Palestine who says: “I hope when I return to my country I will try to change society’s views on women playing sports.” [3]  If the team GB women’s efforts were those of Titans; the efforts of these women border on superhuman, in strength of will if nothing else.

So, in my view, the legacy of London 2012 is much greater than inspiring young people to participate in sport: it has brought the issue of female oppression to the fore and challenged those responsible for the oppressing.  Maybe the legacy of Rio 2016 could be that all of the competitors, regardless of gender, are free to train and compete without fear of persecution and violence.

 

*Dedicated to all of the female medalists who did team GB proud in the 2012 Olympics: Jade Jones, taekwondo, 57kg;  Nicola Adams, boxing, flyweight;  Charlotte Dujardin, equestrianism, individual dressage and equestrianism, team dressage;  Laura Trott, cycling, omnium; Laura Bechtolsheimer, equestrianism, team dressage and equestrianism, individual dressage; Jessica Ennis, athletics, heptathlon; Jo Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King, cycling, team pursuit; Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking, rowing, lightweight double sculls;   Victoria Pendleton, cycling, keirin and cycling, sprint final; Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins, rowing, double sculls; Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, rowing, pair;  Samantha Murray, modern pentathlon;  Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, sailing, 470 class;  Christine Ohuruogu, athletics, 400m; Laura Robson, tennis, mixed doubles; Gemma Gibbons, judo, 78kg; Tina Cook, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson, equestrianism, team eventing; Lizzie Armitstead, cycling, road race; Women’s hockey team; Beth Tweddle, gymnastics, uneven bars; Karina Bryant, judo, 78kg;  Rebecca Adlington, swimming, 800m freestyle and swimming, 400m freestyle.  Ladies, we salute you![4]

 

 


[1] BBC ‘BBC News at Six’ broadcast 10/08/12

[2] Kohistani, T. quoted in ‘The Olympic Suffragettes’ Grazia 13/08/12

[3] Sawalha, W. quoted in ‘The Olympic Suffragettes’ Grazia 13/08/12

[4] ‘Team GB: every Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallist’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/aug/05/team-gb-every-olympic-medallist 13/08/12