Jump to content

Soccer vs Olympics: Soccer's Hollow Heart


Recommended Posts

How the Olympics exposed football's hollow heart

Premiership is shallow by comparison, says Paul Wilson

Sunday August 29, 2004

The Observer

Wayne Rooney should find something more appetising to do on his days off, Michael Owen picked the wrong week to come clean over his England card-school losses, and Kieron Dyer chose the worst possible time to bite the hand that feeds him £60,000 per week.

In all probability, there would never have been a good time for the charmless Dyer to demonstrate that modern stereotypes of millionaire

footballers are uncomfortably close to the truth, but most weeks his crass insubordination in refusing to play where asked would merely have provided extra decoration to the Premiership's gaudy pageant. Most weeks football provides its own context, there being nothing bigger taking place anywhere else on planet sport, so that Dyer's unpopularity on Tyneside, say, would be judged according to footballing indices such as whether it would affect his England chances, his saleability or Sir Bobby Robson's future as manager.

Thank goodness then for the couple of weeks every four years when football is not the only show in town. Despite all the low expectations and gloomy predictions, the Athens Olympics have been looking suspiciously like the greatest show on earth this past fortnight and in the process football has seemed tawdry. Night after night there has been gripping drama, sporting excellence and spellbinding images to light up our television screens, providing a powerful contrast to the one-paced and one-dimensional Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal.

Few of the Olympic athletes, even the gold medal winners, will earn as much from their sport as averagely talented Premiership footballers can earn in a year, but Athens has been a timely and historically appropriate reminder that you can never put a price on glory.

It was not supposed to be like this. Only a few weeks ago football types welcoming the advent of a new season were shaking their heads and claiming no one would be interested in the Olympics. All the speed and strength events were drug-discredited, the team sports small time, and disciplines such as diving and fencing were just so last century.

Even the athletics world was depressed when the two errant Greek sprinters cast a shadow over the opening of the Games. Yet in the space of two sunny weeks all the misgivings have evaporated and the world has witnessed a truly uplifting global event. Water-cooler conversations all around the country have centred on sport, its highs and its lows, its rights and its wrongs, its triumphs and its tears, and for this country at least that makes a change. Yes, there are drugs at the Olympics, and no, an unequal and unfair world can never amount to a level playing field, but, however briefly or illusorily, Athens has managed to transcend that.

Coursing nightly into our living rooms, courtesy of some breathtaking camerawork and a BBC slightly surprised at the success it has on its hands, has been a huge dose of not just the Olympic spirit, but of the human spirit. Names and individual achievements are unnecessary. We all have our favourites, but these Games as a whole have been great.

By comparison, football's European Championship, ironically won by Greece, stand revealed as the damp squib of the summer. Tediously stretched over almost four weeks, with underperforming stars and underwhelming displays by most of the fancied teams, Euro 2004 did not come close to living up to its hype.

This is not an attack on football, which does a pretty good job of keeping us entertained and amused during the 206 weeks between Olympiads, but if the Greeks can fit 202 nations and 28 different sports into a fortnight, surely sorting out 16 football teams need not take the best part of a month? The European Championship would be much better slimming down to become a fortnight-long festival of football. That would not only ease the pressure on professional players and make hosting the event less of a burden, it would leave the World Cup unchallenged as the sport's premier showcase. Even

though people have been correctly pointing out for the last few years that you get a better standard of football in the Champions League.

That is the essence of football's problem and the reason comparisons with the Olympics are somewhat unfair. Football is over-exposed, over-rewarded and over-familiar. By contrast, Olympic athletes are unobserved, under-funded and downright obscure most of the time. That is not the way professional sports are organised and even though there is money to be made these days the Olympics are better understood as the elite pinnacle of a huge amateur pyramid. Perhaps it is the very invisibility outside the Games that makes the sudden intensity of Olympic rivalry so compelling, perhaps the public is simply fed up of sport as business and receptive to the weird

concept of sport as sport.

Either way, the Games delivered. Hype was justified and considerable setbacks overcome. This jaded palette cannot have been the only one unexpectedly refreshed. There is more to life than football - and that should be a relief for everyone.

You've read the piece, now have your say. Email your comments, be as frank as you like, we can take it, to sport.editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk, or mail the Observer direct at sport@observer.co.uk

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...