Mark Perryman loves sports. As a child he awaited the Olympic Games with eager anticipation, urging his parents to purchase Esso petrol so he could more speedily collect the firm’s collectible Olympics stickers. Now he laces up his running shoes for a daily run in the South Downs of East Sussex, sometimes racking up a ten-miler (in 75 minutes, no less). Perryman is no crotchety intellectual railing on about sports as a waste of time and money. This is someone who believes in the power of sport, and wishes to democratise and decentralise it so more people can experience it in a meaningful way. With Why the Olympics Aren’t Good for Us, and How They Can Be, he has written an engaging, visionary book for fellow-traveller sports aficionados, and others open to criticism about the Olympics yet keen to figure out ways to improve the five-ring juggernaut.
In the first half of the book, Perryman lays out his “Why-the-Olympics-Aren’t-Good-for-Us” argument. In Chapter 1, he busily chisels his way through the façade that the Olympics are apolitical—a façade buffeted with dogged verve by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its allies. Along the way he points out that the Olympic torch relay was first invented by the Nazis to drum up support for the 1936 Berlin Olympics; that the Games were a handy proxy for Cold War realpolitik; and that the IOC has historically engaged in gender discrimination—for instance, women were boxed out of many events including the marathon, which the IOC finally allowed them to run in 1984. He writes convincingly that in the modern era, the Games have become a jamboree of gigantism riding on the rails of commercialism and professionalism.
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