Friday, August 15, 2008

Monsieur Coubertin, Meet Ara Abrahamian

I wonder if Ara Abrahamian would agree to be the spokesman for this blog?

Abrahamian is the Swedish wrestler who, upset with officials who penalized him during his semi-final match, dropped his bronze medal on the mat before storming out of the venue in protest. It was all or nothing for Mr. Abrahamian, so when he ended up third he threw what the Telegraph called an "Olympic hissy fit." And on his way out of the building he "whacked an aluminum barricade with his fist." Nice.

Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, stressed three values he hoped would be transmitted via his international games: honor, chivalry, and detachment. Abrahamian pretty much rejected all three. But in Abrahamian's defense, the values Coubertin hoped to propagate were values of an aristocracy struggling to maintain relevance in the late nineteenth century, not values of working class professionalism.

Detachment, in particular, is a virtue only accessible to those whose livelihood does not depend on the outcome of a match. If I live off of money built up in my family over centuries or money produced via my vast land holdings, it is easy for me to say, "nice game old chap" to the person who just defeated me in the fencing finals. But if I work for years and need to win my next fight in order to pay rent, "winning-at-all-costs" is an attitude I am forced to adopt. And if I feel cheated out of an opportunity for success, I'm going to complain about it.

Since sports were once the exclusive domain of the nobility, it is not surprising that the ethos of detachment and chivalry live on in sports while they have died out (if they existed) elsewhere.

Imagine that a corporation loses out to a rival company on a huge contract. And imagine the losing corporation feels it has been wronged and that proper procedures were not followed. Would anyone (except the other company) accuse them of a lack of decorum for suing or filing a complaint with the S.E.C. or another regulatory agency? Probably not. Business is business and companies do everything they can to come out on top.

Consider Abrahamian a corporation and his actions become less reprehensible. They can even be seen as a clear rejection of Coubertinian ideals and as a defense of working class rights. Like Zidane's head butt, Abrahamian's "hissy fit" can be interpreted as the act of a behemoth juiced up on 'roids or it can be viewed as a symbol of defiance, a repudiation of Olympic elitism, and a validation of an individual athlete's independence.


SM Sprenger said...

So are you saying that we should derive our highest values from the marketplace? Don't the values Coubertin tried to promote transcend class interests or economic determinism? Why are detachment and honor only accessible to monied classes? I think it's a question of character, and has more to do with training and education. St. Theresa, after all, was not rich. Nor was Christ. And neither were many aristocrats. The wealthy, of the 19th century and today, often have had the crassest tastes and values--should we imitate their behavior because they are the so-called "winners".

Abrahamian didn't "complain", he acted like a hothead after he lost his appeal. A better analogy for his behavior is someone who loses a trial and goes back to shoot the judge or the jury. And how much money is a wrestler going to make anyway?

Corry Cropper said...

Wow, Christianity meets the Olympics...

Was Christ "detached"? He seemed pretty engaged, attacking hypocrites, clearing out the temple, flaunting traditions. I think detachment and honor are values rooted in medieval chivalrous culture.

Modern professional sport is not about cultivating values in the practitioner, but about producing spectacle. An occasional tantrum, like fighting in hockey, adds to the entertainment value.

SM Sprenger said...

The point is that his value weren't *determined* by economics. The Christian virtue of turning one's cheek when struck also seems to show a certain level of detachment. By detachment, I mean emotional self-control, transcendence of base impulses. Dropping the medal before the world appeals to the basest and most dangerous kind of mentality: impulsive revenge.

Talking about sports as pure spectacle seems to change the terms of the argument. In that case: sure, why not go slap the judges in the face? Or shoot them!! And you'd have a great argument FOR doping.