Olympics

The mesmerising Olympic posters designed by the likes of Warhol and Whiteread

You could be forgiven for assuming that the citizens of Paris weren’t exactly bursting with joy at the prospect of this summer’s Olympic Games. They’re annoyed at everything: road closures, public transport price hikes and – would you believe it? – the prospect of their country being taken over by extremist cranks before the month is out.  Bref, or indifference towards the Games is the prevailing attitude – and should you need (flimsy, anecdotal) evidence, I offer you the fact that when I visited an exhibition devoted to the Olympics the day before the first round of voting in the election last week, I had the space entirely to myself.

France has become Europe’s Wild West

New Caledonia must not become the ‘Wild West’ declared Emmanuel Macron last week during his flying visit to the Pacific Island. For two weeks the indigenous people, the Kanaks, have been in revolt against a voting reform they believe will marginalise them. The French President’s visit achieved little. Not long after Macron’s departure an insurgent was shot dead by police. Seven people have been killed in the unrest and the material damage is estimated at more than one billion euros. It is not only the Overseas French Territory that is in danger of resembling the Wild West. Mayhem has become a characteristic of Macron’s France, and rarely does a week

Wayne Rooney, the war buff

I blame Thierry Henry and I never blame Thierry for anything. He’s funny, charming and was a majestic footballer. But it was his outrageous handball assist for a France goal against the Republic of Ireland in 2009 that ushered in VAR – Video Assistant Referee – technology to rescue on-field refs from ‘clear and obvious’ errors. VAR was meant to end debates over refereeing decisions. Yet this form of VAR, usually a man in a ref’s outfit sitting behind a bank of screens in an industrial unit near Heathrow, has caused carnage in the Premier League. Some decisions take five minutes while fans chant obscenities. Football’s many Luddites blame the

Anne Hidalgo’s socialist reign of error in Paris

A photograph, taken in June 2014, has become emblematic of Anne Hidalgo’s Socialist rule of Paris. In the picture stands Queen Elizabeth II, then 88, in Paris to unveil a plaque at the Marché aux Fleurs, near Notre Dame. The Queen, in addition to her usual black handbag, carries her own plastic umbrella. Next to her, the newly-elected mayor, dressed in a cream outfit, has her hands free while a city official holds a large umbrella above her perfect blow-dry. The Spanish-born Hidalgo, 62, now about to announce her candidacy for the 2022 presidential election, is a woman untouched by self-doubt. Any criticism of her stewardship of the capital —

Was the Tokyo Olympics a success?

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Prime Minister, is a hard man to read. He has a sum total of one facial expression and lives up to the national stereotype of inscrutability. Still, I’m pretty sure I know what was going through his mind at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday night: ‘Thank God, that’s over.’ The games were not the disaster that many, including this writer, feared. Two weeks’ ago in Coffee House I wondered if Tokyo 2020/1 would be the worst ever Olympics – and for a brief panicky period, when an astonishing 11th hour cancellation was mooted, that actually looked optimistic. But in the end, the show

In defence of Olympic football

Spain takes on Brazil today in the final of the men’s Olympic football tournament. Not interested? Well, if so, you’re probably not alone — Olympic football has a popularity problem. For decades it has suffered from unfavourable comparisons with the big Fifa and Uefa behemoths to the extent that many see the whole thing as a bit of a waste of time. I disagree, and I will be tuning in. For one thing, to dismiss the tournament as an irrelevance is historically ignorant. Olympic football (and excuse my appalling sexism but I’m confining myself to the men’s game here) predates the World Cup by 30 years and for a couple

Guy Verhofstadt claims Olympic gold for the EU

Who is on top of the gold medal table at the Tokyo Olympics? China? The United States?  According to former European parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt, it is, in fact, the European Union that is triumphing at the games. While you have to go down to seventh place in the Olympics leader board to find an EU country (Germany), Verhofstadt appears to have his own scoreboard:  ‘Fun fact,’ he wrote on Twitter: ‘EU combined has more gold medals than US or China’. Verhofstadt went on to say that he would ‘love to see the EU flag next to the national on athletes’ clothes’.  Mr S wonders whether this is all just a ploy to ensure that Verhofstadt’s Belgium

James Delingpole

Switch over to Eurosport: BBC’s Olympic coverage reviewed

I’ve not been allowed anywhere near the TV remote control this week because of some kind of infernal sporting event taking place in Japan. You may gather that I have mixed feelings about the Olympics: on the one hand, I like most of the competitors, who are so much more affable and modest (those delightful Gadirova twins!) than the overpaid, overindulged prima donnas who recently took part in the Euros. Also, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the drama of individual stories such as that of Beth Schriever, the humble, underfunded former teaching assistant who took gold in the women’s BMX. But on the other, it’s bread and circuses

Simone Biles, Plutarch and an Olympic trial

The outstanding gymnast Simone Biles has pulled out of several Olympic events, saying: ‘I just don’t trust myself as much any more.’ Many took the view that this was a fashionable ‘mental health’ issue. Ancient Greeks might have come up with a rather different analysis. Plutarch (c. ad 100) is said to have been the author of a letter of condolence to one Apollonius whose son had just died. In it he considered how best one should react to loss in the context of the whole field of human suffering, which Greeks regarded as the common lot of all mankind. For example, Achilles in the Iliad claimed that Zeus possessed

Should Simone Biles listen to Novak Djokovic?

I’ve always been a Spectator reader, so I’m delighted to be writing a diary about the Olympics from Tokyo. My first experience of an Olympic Games was probably the most political of them all — Moscow 1980. I wasn’t sure that I would be competing until a few weeks before the opening ceremony. The build-up was fraught with geopolitical tensions — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US-led boycott of the Games. Thatcher’s government fell in line with Uncle Sam — a little too eagerly — only to then lose its fight with the British Olympic Association. So we ended up going. I lost the first of my finals

Is it fair for Laurel Hubbard to compete against women?

Today, the conversation about transgender rights and the interests of women turns to sport. At the Olympic Games, Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand, will compete in the +87kg women’s weightlifting. Hubbard, as you surely know, was born male and grew up to become a competitive weightlifter. At the age of 33, the athlete then transitioned and became a trans woman. And because the International Olympic Committee effectively signs up to the mantra of trans rights – ‘Trans women are women’ – Hubbard can duly compete in the women’s contest in Tokyo. To a lot of people, the prospect of a male-born weightlifter competing with biological women calls to mind a

In defence of Novak Djokovic

Why does no one like Novak Djokovic? If Roger Federer is the player that even non-tennis fans can’t help but fawn over, Djokovic has few admirers. The world number one smashed two racquets during his defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics yesterday. The game marked the end of Djokovic’s dream of achieving the Golden Slam by winning four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.  While Djokovic still had a phenomenal year, even champions have bad days. But despite his many achievements, there is a palpable sense that a lot of fans were happy to see him lose – both the game itself and his temper. It’s fair

Is rain getting heavier?

Reinventing the wheels Skateboarding made its debut at the Olympics. Who invented the skateboard? — There are many reports of homemade skateboards being created in the 1940s and 1950s by Californian surfers who wanted to continue a form of their sport out of season, but the first commercial skateboard was marketed by roller-skate company Roller Derby in 1959. The sport, however, failed to catch on until 1973, with the introduction of urethane wheels and a curve at the end of a board known as the ‘kick-tail’, which allowed acrobatics to be performed. Water logs There was more surface flooding in London. Is heavy rain becoming more common in London? The

Why do the Japanese still seem so ambivalent about Naomi Osaka?

It had all started so well for Naomi Osaka. Dressed in the colours of the Japanese flag, the tennis star was given the signal honour of lighting the cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics. She was presented as a symbol not only of Japan, but also of the Olympic movement’s self-proclaimed diverse and progressive philosophy. Yet her hopes of glory were extinguished just four days later after an error-strewn performance against world number 42 Markéta Vondroušová. Her underwhelming Olympic adventure prompted words of sympathy from many. US gymnast Simone Biles, who had her own disappointment to deal with, cited Osaka as an ‘inspiration’, and the novelist Yuji Taida

Bronze is the best medal

In the 50-kilometre walk at the 1948 Olympics, the gold and silver medallists were aged 28 and 33 respectively. The man who took bronze, Britain’s ‘Tebbs’ Lloyd-Johnson, was 48 years old. Still the oldest person ever to win an Olympic track and field medal, Tebbs is now more famous than the men who finished ahead of him. Another British bronze at those 1948 London Olympics was also worth more than most gold medals. Just three years previously when released from forced labour in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, weightlifter Jim Halliday had weighed a skeletal six stone (38 kg). Restoring his strength by eating eggs (including the shells which,

In defence of the BBC’s Olympic coverage

For viewers of the BBC Olympics coverage, it’s back to the old days. Not since Sydney in 2000 has all the Games content been squeezed into the main terrestrial channels, with the red button and its one extra stream making its debut in Athens 2004. ‘The Olympics are perfect for interactive television,’ said a BBC executive celebrating the innovation, ‘because there are so many events happening at the same time.’ In the run up to London 2012 we made the promise that UK viewers would be able to watch any event they chose, from beginning to end – and the corporation delivered 24 HD television channels and an equivalent number of

What’s changed since the last Tokyo Olympics?

Waiting Games What did Japan, and the world, look like the last time Tokyo held the Olympics in 1964? — As this year, Tokyo had to wait to hold the Games. It was awarded the 1940 Olympics, but the offer was withdrawn after the Japanese invasion of China (before the 1940 Games were abandoned altogether). — South Africa was banned for the first time for refusing to send a single, multiracial team to the Games. — In spite of it being three years since the building of the Berlin Wall, East and West Germany entered a single ‘united’ team. — They were the first Games broadcast around the world by

The ancient Greeks had no time for losers

Every red-blooded Englishman has believed that exercise in the open air is the finest prophylactic against popery, adultery and the fine arts. Baron de Coubertin, who dreamt up the modern Olympic Games, took a different view. He admired the spirit of games on the playing fields of Eton and thought that they might provide a model for games of the sort he imagined the ancient Greeks enjoyed at Olympia: competitive but amateur, fair, wholesome, played for the sake of it and also, he hoped, acting as a stimulus to world peace. Up to a point, Lord Copper. The Olympic Games, founded in 776 bc, celebrated Zeus, god of Mount Olympus,

How Leni Riefenstahl shaped the modern Olympics

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but the Olympic Games in their modern form were pretty much invented by the Nazis. They came up with the idea of the torch relay, for example, the one that begins in Olympia and ends with the lighting of the cauldron at the opening ceremony. But it wasn’t the events at the 1936 Olympics that were new, so much as the way they were presented and filmed. Even today, the style of coverage owes much to Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite filmmaker and arguably the most gifted and influential female director of the 20th century. Her ground-breaking techniques, as seen in her cinematic masterpiece Olympia, included low