Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jacques Rogge To Usain Bolt: "Stay Proper Old Chap"

Jacques Rogge, chairman of the International Olympic Committee, recently told reporters that he did not approve of Usain Bolt's behavior after winning the 100-meter sprint (1). Bolt thumped his chest and looked over at the camera and broke into a dance... then he crossed the finish line in world record time.

Rogge said of Bolt, "I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters."

I have argued before that Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympics) wanted to keep sports a domain for the elite and wanted the athletes to adopt the aristocratic values of "honor, chivalry, and detachment" (2). I have also suggested that the pressures of professionalization have turned sport more into a money making spectacle, creating an inherent tension between Old Regime and commercial values. Zidane, Abrahamian, and now Bolt, have, in a sense, stood up for (arguably brutish) professional spectacle and pushed back against the (arguably hypocritical) mores of coubertinian elitism.

Rogge's advice is straight out of the play book for aristocratic detachment. "Congratulate your opponents, shake their hands." He could have added, "Invite them for brandy and to visit your private art collection at your home in the Alps." It is easy to be detached if you come from wealth and if winning is about as important as getting into an exclusive country club. Detachment, however, is not a virtue if your future professional life and your ability to afford a house is on the line. When winning means going from rags to riches, a little chest pumping is justified.

(1) AP reported the story. ESPN picked it up here.
(2) From Coubertin's Mémoires olympiques. For more listen to the interview I gave on KBYU's "Thinking Aloud" or read the last chapter of Playing at Monarchy (forthcoming).

No comments: