The Olympics:

Gari Sullivan writes: Re. “The Games people play: Olympic myths and distortions” (Wednesday, item 16). The article by David Salter about the changing motives of the Olympic Games holds a greater truth than we might first imagine. I read it in my home in the UK while listening to a radio discussion with Peter Keen, the UK sports professional adviser for performance — whatever that means! — who had the task of deciding the amounts of public funds allocated to each British Olympic sport. The radio discussion centred around the calculation of funds divided by the number of medals the British can expect to win: The more medals, the better value for money.

It was followed by a recording of a speech by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, at an international business conference, where he talked about using the Games as an opportunity to increase investment into the UK. Perhaps this is understandable, as the UK struggles through a recession more severe than any since the Second World War, and feels more like the worst since the Ice Age.

But if the Olympics have become a money-grabbing exercise in corporate gain and national divisions, let’s spare a thought for the one country that cannot be accused of jingoistic nationalism: Northern Ireland.

Recognised as a separate country within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain — which only consists of the mainland countries of England, Scotland and Wales — nor is it part of the Republic of Ireland — in the south.

The UK government regards the term “Team GB” (or “Great Britain”) as referring to the countries within the United Kingdom, so therefore including Northern Ireland. There have been calls for the name to be changed to “Team UK”, which the UK government and the British Olympic Committee have resisted. However, the Olympic committee of Ireland (OCI) maintain it represents the entire island of Ireland, including the separate state of Northern Ireland.

To resolve this diplomatic nightmare, that makes the North/South Korea incident look like an exercise in flag-waving, Olympic athletes born in Northern Ireland get to choose to represent either Great Britain or the Republic of  Ireland; neither being their own county.

So let’s all cheer Northern Ireland — the country that has captured the true Olympic spirit.

Daniel Keogh, cyclist and science enthusiast, writes: Re. “What price gold? Tallying up Olympic success” (yesterday, item 5). Something odd was happening with bicycle sales in Europe at the end of the millennium. The old pedal-powered mode of transport was in decline. Between 1997 and 1998 bicycle production and purchase continued its downward slide throughout the EU. The only nation to buck the trend was Germany where bikes were coming back. So what happened in Germany in 1997?

Jan Ullrich is what happened.

At age 23 he became the first German to win the Tour de France. And so the “trickle-down” flowed as Germans got their wheels again.

Then for years in America (Armstrong), last year in Australia (Evans), and this week in England (Wiggins). Dr Connor would have you believe it’s just an illusion of emulation.

Jan is why I ride and yet he wouldn’t live up to Dr James Connor’s bland benchmarks for role models. He took party drugs off-season, was constantly criticised for his weight, got arrested a few times and was eventually done for doping. He also happened to ride a bike like a damn beast and in the eyes of young enthusiasts that nullifies all else.

Connor seems to want good manners and family values from athletes. These people aren’t moral leaders, they’re the embodiment of a human desire for excellence. That their character fissures as they reach for extremes only proves they’re human.

I do agree with Connor on this though: sport should never be at the cost of the arts or sciences. But things get pretty ugly when we apply the same economic rationalism to these fields and dare ask “What price Nobel?”

COAG:

Melissa Madsen writes: Re. “Ineffectual COAG grinds to a full stop with partisanship” (yesterday, item 2). While the failure of COAG to produce substantial or meaningful outcomes for an NDIS trial is disappointing, it is doubly disappointing that Bernard Keane feels a need to invoke a 1970s-era Telethon-style portrayal of Australians with disabilities as “… those less fortunate that [sic] most of us”.

Disability service provision in Australia is a complete and abject policy failure, with real and devastating consequences for people with disabilities. But portraying us as somehow separate/different from the rest of the Australian (more fortunate) population doesn’t help. Some of us “less fortunate” ones even read Crikey!

Peter Fray

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