Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Reality check

Not being ecstatic about the Olympics can get you arrested. (And I'm not entirely joking about that.) But I'll risk it and say thank God it's over.
Don't get me wrong: I like my sport, even if the football team to which I owe allegiance is in dire straits. Nevertheless, I avoided all Olympic coverage as best I could, but there was no hiding from it if I wanted any news of the outside world, not even if I switched off the TV and relied on the internet.

While you expect saturation coverage, there does come a point where you start to wonder if we've become a nation of ten-year-olds. The games coverage overwhelmed the real news, then it overwhelmed our politicians' sense of priority -- whatever was left of it, anyway.

But first let me explain why you could get arrested for not being visibly hysterical with joy at the sleazy corporate bollocksfest that is the modern Olympics. This man with Parkinson's Disease was nicked by police for not smiling at an event. And when I say nicked, I mean wrestled to the ground. True, our cops are frequently a disgrace, especially when they get all overexcited and confused about this terror threat thing, but this is a new record. Words failed me. Actually, one word didn't, but it's too strong even for me to use here.

Anyway, there are three particular things that hiked the ol' Traviss BP to four figures during this pointless period in our nation's history: the bizarre claim by David Cameron that the games had somehow saved Britain, the relegation of actual news to an afterthought both on TV and in papers, and the incessant abuse of the word "hero."

1. Did the Olympics put Britain back on top? Er, no. I checked this morning. Economy: yep, still buggered. Still involved in pointless wars? Yep, and trying to get into some more. Still way down the league table in terms of health, education, manufacturing, and all the other things a country needs to actually run. Having been involved in projects hosting big sports events and other costly extravaganzas, I can reveal that consultants will swear blind that the local economy will make three times what it costs you to stage it. It's always three times, although I admit I've seen some attempts to vary the pattern, possibly because it's starting to look a bit obvious . But even if that figure holds true, three times our expenditure on the Olympics wouldn't even touch the sides of the gargantuan bucket of cash we'd need to revive our economy.

2. Journalism 101. Wars, people dying, earthquakes -- that's news. People paid to play games -- that's sport. One goes on the main news, the other one goes in the sports bits. This is like Father Ted trying to explain perspective to Father Dougal. The BBC worked itself into an embarrassing frenzy at the top of (and throughout) every news bulletin, such was its frothing worship of everything Olympic, and the rest of the media weren't much better. The relegation and even outright ignoring of actual news ranged from weird to offensive. Look, dead people carry more news points than sport. Really. Even dead foreign people.

3. And heroes. I have a problem with the complete devaluation of this word anyway, but the Olympic coverage pretty well erased it from the dictionary. There was a strange irony in watching some pundit on the news yesterday saying that athletes would give kids better role models than Kim Kardashian (quote) although I don't know why the interviewee didn't patriotically use a British Z-lister as an example. True, a bit of healthy exercise, sensible eating, and self-discipline is a lot more worthy of emulation than behaving like the cast of TOWIE, but I'm not sure that millions of kids aspiring to being sports stars is actually what this country needs either, whether economically or morally. It's just another branch of the entertainment industry. (Like writing.)

Let's define a hero. A hero is someone who does something for others, something dangerous or unpleasant that requires the application of guts to help someone else. It's not just "working very hard." I'm sure these athletes train their arses to a standstill, and most of them are probably lovely, caring people, but pursuit of sporting records isn't a selfless act. Many of them are paid, supported, or sponsored in some way to basically do sport full-time anyway, so this isn't the old Olympian amateur ideal, and it's no coincidence that the ones who do it full-time win most of the medals. And their focus is -- inevitably and minutely -- on themselves. It's an act of selfishness and self-absorption by necessity. So let's not treat them like they've rescued orphans from a burning building or charged a machine-gun nest to save their mates. They haven't. In fact, blokes who do regularly risk all for others had to be drafted in to do the Olympic security work that G4S couldn't. And a few quid from the one of the biggest companies on the planet to say sorry after screwing up their leave and making them sleep in car parks isn't going to cut it.

Anyway, the Paralympics are next up, and there really are some heroes in there. Here's one guy I want to see get a gold. Here's the kind of guy that ought to make us proud: Derek Derenalagi. He didn't just overcome a few groin strains and a loss of form to compete. He was declared dead. His body was being prepared for repatriation from Afghanistan when someone noticed a pulse. And that, dear readers, is what I mean by a sporting hero.

Good on you, Derek, and all the disabled veterans who'll be competing. I hope the BBC's wrist strain from its Olympic enthusiasm recovers in time to give you some decent coverage.