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July 28, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Oly-Whites in Olywood

I’m not ashamed to admit that despite knowing of the existence of the “Oly-Whites” for a number of months, I had only recently clicked that the name was an ingenious pun on the word “Olympics,” so named for a festival of sporting furore whereby the nations of the world gather together in the spirit of sport to seize – as The Simpsons put it – medals of “glorious gold, so-so silver and shameful bronze.” And in the great wash of sporting commodification where athletes are dollar signs chasing dollar signs in the hope of attracting even bigger dollar signs, the Olympics is the picture perfect place for Johnny-cum-Athlete to spit in his palms, run his fingers through his hair and Vogue-it along the catwalk of sporting infamy. Much like the sultry catwalks of Milan, or dare I even suggest it, The Plaza Palmerston North, only the very best are offered a chance to flaunt their wares on the Olympic stage and strike a pose like there’s nothing to it – and that is, as I understand it, the crux of Olympic participation: the best meeting the best in the name of history, glory and unparalleled sporting prestige to separate the alphas from the epsilons, right?

So it would seem to fly in the face of Olympic spirit that a sport the likes of football would be welcomed into the Olympic canon by offering up a second-rate competition. But it is is, after all, a sport so tremendously popular and powerful that even the Olympics itself would be honoured to have one of its secondrate competitions mix and mingle with other sports at this elitist sporting fiesta. If only it were that simple.

Football at the Olympics, while immensely popular with fans and television audiences, is something of an enigma: it’s not a classic “Olympics” sport in the “The Games of Ancient Greece” sense, despite having been a concrete fixture of Olympiads stretching back to the early 20th century, nor is it completely incompatible with today’s modern Olympic layout. The sports governing body FIFA, in a bid to protect its genuinely wonderful and brilliantly contested World Cup, cleverly constructed a way to minimalise the potential oversaturation of having nations drenched with elite players participating in the Olympics: they decided to let the kids have a shot. Instead of being a beacon of sporting prestige and elite achievement, Olympic football is essentially a glorified Under-23 world championship with a delightful twist that would make fans of Project Runway clasp their cheeks and squeal in silent, stunned horror.

The twist is that even though the tournament is essentially an Under-23 party – keggers, Oxycontin, Dave Mathews CDs and everything else that would entail – each nation competing is welcome to select up to three players who are outside that age bracket to kick out the jams with their younger contemporaries. New Zealand’s own Oly-Whites tried their hand at this, requesting the services of Wellington Phoenix duo Shane Smeltz and Tony Lochhead, both 26-years-old, but were unsuccessful. They were, however, offered some deadbeat English Premier League such-n-such called Ryan Nelsen – an All White, former national captain, Blackburn Rovers defender, and a sprightly 30-years-old – as reconciliation, which I can only assume they accepted with much reluctance.

Similar scenes are playing out in the selection quarters of other countries too, with Brazil taking a punt on two spry up-andcomers Ronaldinho and Robinho, both of whom were found mincing around the fields of Spain, carrying water and running errands for the big guns of La Liga before being offered a couple of music vouchers and a dual ticket to a blue light disco as an incentive to represent their homeland, while Argentina quite obviously bribed Liverpool midfielder Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano with promises of boiled sweeties and funny stories to come ply their trade in Beijing.

While a sport like rugby would call such a hog-posh assembly of players a “barbarians team,” football seems ambivalent to the screaming cries of mediocrity, deciding it’s perfectly permissible to award Olympic medals as instruments of encouragement: “Keep that gold medal-winnin’ spirit up, son, and one day YOU’LL be asked “WHO ARE YA?” by the folks at Stamford Bridge!” It’s a contrivance of the most audacious kind, and an awful indictment on the Olympics as a beacon of elite competition and an insult to the strongly-held belief that Olympic success is tantamount to world success, perhaps even more.

Like a Hollywood film set, you can gloss it to near-perfect picture quality and perhaps fool a few indifferent souls, but there’s still a hint of fakeness ebbing about that renders it little more than a pretenders’ club. The Olympics is many things, right or wrong, but one thing it should never be is a shining endorsement of near enough being good enough, despite how awesome that Under-23 party is.

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Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

Comments (6)

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  1. Felix says:

    Boy I hope you are going to get a lot of these-
    If you knew shit about football (at least you’ve stopped calling it soccer), you’d know that you fucked up with Messi and Mascherano, who play for Barca and the shite, respectively, NOT the other way around. Also Messi has not been cleared by Barca to go to Beijing.
    Besides those unforgivable errors, playing for their country is a huge incentive in itself for South American players, evidenced by Rafinha of Schalke and Diego of Werder Bremen, who have practically fled their respective clubs to be in Beijing.
    …keep up the good work..

  2. James Malthus says:

    He also didn’t do his research as to why the Olympic is U23. It’s not so much because they decided to give the kids a go, the competition was originally amateur but since all the decent players are pros these days they needed to find a way to keep the competition high profile. That may have been irrelevant though, its just a long-winded way of saying what Oliver did.

    He also, just like all the other media, didn’t mention (or know) that Smeltz and Lochhead were only going to go if one of Killen, Elliot or Nelsen couldn’t go.

    It is possible that he did mention these things but they got cut out for lack of space though.

    Anyway, at least we’re getting stuff about football, keep it up Oliver (but please do your research/fact checking).

  3. Michael Oliver says:

    Hey guys, thanks for the comments.

    Yep, acknowledge the stuff-up with Messi and Mascherano. The BBC Sports page from which I got that titbit of info from had itself made the same error and corrected itself a day later. I myself couldn’t fix the problem (or indeed update the other little errors) since I submitted this article two weeks ago intending it to be published last week, completely unaware that it was the Te Reo issue, so it got held over a week and consequentially feel hopelessly out of date in the process. Won’t happen again.

    I’m planning on writing a completely gushing article on the Phoenix and why the guys and girls of the Yellow Fever Zone are the best supporters of sport in the country — and I’m completely serious as well. The level of organisation, passion and loyalty is unlike anything else, and it’s because of them that I actually started watching football and developing a small – but ever growing – interest in the sport. Trying to extend my Salient repertoire before fucking off and never darkening student journalism with my bollocks again.

  4. Michael Oliver says:

    All that said, I still think football is a completely unnecessary addition to the Olympics stable – if the best in the world aren’t going to be on stage, then fuck it, who cares? Same with ballroom dancing and the often-mooted rugby sevens idea. Waste of time.

  5. Buzkashi and dwarf tossing would be more apt Olympic sports, since unlike footy they lack their own high-profile outlets. Imagine if the powers behind the Olympics took on the Amazon Books attitude and, realising others will promote the more high-profile sports individually, focus on providing a wide range of unique and otherwise hard to find events. Imagine the nations of the world chasing a goat’s carcass on horseback. What better way to accept Afghanistan into the international community?

  6. SAROJ says:

    how to set entry to olywood

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