Sport is merely a distraction at the Tokyo Olympics

10:03 am on 23 July 2021

Opinion - So which is it? Is the Olympic movement in disarray and the Tokyo games a disaster waiting to happen or is it business as usual?

The Olympic rings are lit up at Yokohama Harbour.

The Olympic rings are lit up at Yokohama Harbour. Photo: Photosport

Readers, listeners and viewers are entitled to feel confused, ahead of the start of the Tokyo Olympics? I say start, only some events are already underway, which simply adds to the confusion.

We're all being treated to competing narratives here, as media attempt to tell the Olympic story.

We've had our lists of best-ofs and great New Zealand Olympic moments, accompanied by human-interest angles about battlers from Temuka and Te Awamutu who are ready to take on the world.

Except, for every feelgood story, there's two or three about the dire Covid-19 situation in Japan and fears the event could yet be called off. Athletes have already failed drug tests - of both the performance-enhancing and recreational kind - and there's even said to be a stray bear marauding at one of the softball venues.

You've got Queenslanders trying to celebrate being awarded the 2032 Olympiad, while folk in Japan express utter dismay about having to stage this wretched edition.

When major local sponsors, such as Toyota, withdraw their Olympic advertising - for fear of having their brands tarnished by association - you know this is a pretty unpopular event.

There's only one story here and it's not New Zealand's flagbearers or the Football Ferns' 2-1 loss to Australia, it's the folly of holding an event in completely unsuitable circumstances.

I don't wish any New Zealand athlete or official harm. I hope they're glad to be in Japan and can stay safe and well and feel great pride at representing their country. Equally, their performances are of little interest to me.

What does interest me, though, is the reporting of these games.

I just don't understand how we can be treated to breathless previews about athletes to watch at a time when Tokyo is a city under Covid siege.

If I were to sum up these Olympics it would be the cardboard beds. Apparently, they're sturdy enough to support a sleeping athlete, but little else.

Only the arrival of teams into the athletes' village has been accompanied by videos of people happily jumping up and down on them.

Discouraging sexual activity in these Covid times was the expressed reason for the cardboard beds, but organisers can't even get that right. Good luck keeping the pandemic at bay, then.

The role of the media, in my humble view, is to report the news. It is to keep people up to date with the big story of these Olympics - which is a health and safety one - and then let Kiwis know about how our athletes have done.

It's not to lobby on the New Zealand Olympic Committee's behalf and produce propaganda about how wonderful everything is and how the event is sure to go swimmingly. Our media, where things such as the Olympics are concerned, retain a welcome independence and should use that platform to report things dispassionately.

We're not so lucky in rugby, for instance, where the presence of ex-All Blacks and the like in prominent broadcasting roles means a muddying of the waters.

We see similar competing narratives there, as rugby insiders implore us to get behind All Blacks head coach Ian Foster. 'Fozzie' needs our support, we're told, so let's just back him and the boys 100 percent.

The only support Foster actually needs is from New Zealand Rugby, whose major contract extension of note has been to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson. Rather than tell us to rally around 'Fozzie' these rugby experts should be directing those instructions to the governing body.

For every rugby fan who has reservations about how the All Blacks are going, there's a former player maintaining that things have never been better. Worse still are the journalists who declare the rest of us are too dim to recognise how well Foster's going.

As with the Olympics, there's only one story here: either Foster is going to get his contract extended shortly or he isn't.

It would be nice - if a little unjustified - to waffle on about the quality of the All Blacks' wins over Tonga and Fiji so far this season, but those games are not the story.

And nor, unfortunately, are countdowns of great Olympic moments or lists of athletes to marvel at when these games officially get underway.

The Covid circumstances have curtailed normal transmission and the media insult the public's intelligence by pretending otherwise.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.