Monday, 9 April 2012

One thing Trenton Oldfield did right

Trenton Oldfield attacks the elitists

Everyone thinks Trenton Oldfield is an idiot, it seems. Even amongst Guardian readers – those you might expect to be sympathetic – 77% thought “he spoilt a nice day out and alienated millions”. His main problem is that, in truth, he has no idea what he's talking about. “Elitism leads to tyranny,” he says. No, dear. The Neoliberal agenda leads to tyranny; elitism just leads to the “elite” and “non-elite” not liking each other very much.

But by far the worst thing about Trenton's adventure, the most remarkably revealing thing, was what one of the rowers said on Twitter afterwards. “My team went through seven months of hell,” wrote Oxford's Karl Hudspith, “this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us.” Seven months of hell. A little overstatement, perhaps?

Suppose Karl and his friends had spent the past 7 months living on the streets in Uganda, surviving on rats and algae and making mosquito nets out of grass to distribute to dying villagers. And suppose Trenton Oldfield ran up to them in the street and set fire to the mosquito nets just as they were about to be delivered. Then, then, that would be a terrible shame and Karl's opinion would be justified.

But the fact is that the rowers had spent seven months doing something they enjoyed in their spare time. And they were doing it so that they could have a rowing race on a river, and at the end of it they could be told “Well done!” by all their acquaintances, and they would have several drinks bought for them, and they and their friends could sit around for a few days feeling self-satisfied. How hellish for them.

But then along came Trenton Oldfield and, unintentionally, he made the world ask itself: why should we care about these University rowers? Why should we respect them? Why should we feel sorry for them when their race is briefly paused? These are some of the most selfish people on the planet, who spend months doing something they enjoy, something that benefits no one but themselves, and then expect to be congratulated at the end. Why should anyone care?

What Trenton ultimately achieved, by provoking Karl to speak his mind, was to expose the boat race for the ridiculous farce it really is, a self-congratulatory celebration of wealth and ostentation. Which makes the whole story an extremely apt metaphor for the London Olympics, whose cost is currently estimated at £24 billion. 

Simultaneously, a recent Government benefit cap will force all unemployed parents with more than 4 children into poverty, in order to save £275 million per year. In other words, 1 Olympics costs the same as 87 years of non-poverty for one of the poorest demographics. This government certainly has curious priorities.

A Conservative minister recently called the Olympics “an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain”. Maybe I'm being naïve, but if prioritising a sports festival over the welfare of citizens is the “best of Britain”, then I'd like to see much more of the worst of Britain. Perhaps another Trenton Oldfield will come along and, if she can get past the security, point out the farce in the Olympics too.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that "seven months of hell" thing was over-the-top to say the least, and that holding up sports people as "the best Britain has to offer" is somewhat disingenuous.

    Anecdote time! Part of my distaste for elevating sporting events comes from my experiences volunteering for the Big Bang Fair. I've heard stories of kids winning big at the fair and maybe getting a mention in the school paper, whereas those who achieve sporting success are celebrated as if kicking a ball around does anything for anyone except themselves. I also spoke to someone who had to fight for permission to attend the fair, whereas students taking part in sporting competitions were routinely allowed to take as much time as they liked. That's kind of irrelevant, but it annoys me no end. It seems tied up with the general back-to-frontness of our society - how you can coast to the top with the right connections and family and never have to express empathy or kindness. It's no wonder that guy thinks doing a sport voluntarily is "hell" when he's never experienced anything else. (Then again, I've never experienced extreme poverty, but I don't act like not being able to afford all the books I want is the worst fate imaginable.)

    Another thing: sporting scholarships. How does being able to row qualify you to study at a prestigious university and get assistance doing so? (As an Oxford reject it's especially galling...)

    I agree with you - bring on the worst of Britain! All that yucky compassion and fairness and meritocracy!

    (While we're at it, can we stop calling sportspeople "heroes"? It's ever so slightly nauseating.)