Clarifying Thoughts on the Olympic Ideal

I suppose I am in the Olympic mood, but a couple of further thoughts on sports and athletics, which are on most people’s minds, not least in Canada, which won a gold medal yesterday in high jump, when Derek Drouin leapt over 2.38 metres, or just a tad over 7.8 feet.  Impressive, if my anti-Olympic self might without hypocrisy say so.

Which leads me into a clarification:  Please do be aware, dear readers, that I do consider sports as good, even noble and holy, as the Church has declared on a number of occasions (not least, my own beloved John Paul II, who was himself a sportsman).  My argument was not anti-sport, but rather on our over-emphasis on sports, which has taken over our culture in a way I would argue is disordered and deleterious, morally and spiritually.

Some have claimed that my ‘animal’ comparison was irrelevant, but not so:  The point there was two-fold: To show that such physical feats of humans are not all that amazing in the broader, objective sense (even if it is a ‘human’ body doing it).  If you could put a dolphin in the lane next to Phelps, you would gain a vivid visual image of this difference.

Which leads to the second point, that running or swimming fast is not a specifically human perfection.  It does not belong to our nature (our ‘species’) to be very good at these things.  And I would still argue that to spend (nearly) one’s entire life perfecting such brute force sports, and our uber-fascination with them, is somewhat disordered.  (Many argue that the marquee event at the Olympics is the 100 yard sprint, the most physically limited of the sports).

If I had more time and space (e.g., writing a chapter or book on this), I would (and perhaps should) have made further distinctions, that some sports are more human, because they are more rational:  Tennis, soccer, even rugby and sailing.

Also, in the Olympics, there are a number of sports that athletes do ‘on the side’, as amateurs while pursuing a more human life, keeping things in perspective. Perhaps, I would conjecture, a la the Jamaican bobsled team and Eddie the Eagle or other more realistic examples, most of the competitors are like this, but they rarely win.  There may even be value in certain higher sports taking over a large part of one’s life, if they are more rational, ordered to a higher end and fit into the overall vocation of one’s life (see my previous posting).


But in the main, the highest-level competitors are not like this. For them, it is all or nothing, and their whole lives are on the line.  The fact that this makes for an ‘entertaining’ spectacle for our amusement is accidental, and is not a moral or philosophical argument.  Many things are entertaining, but not good for us, nor for the entertainers.  I was reading, for example, what world-level gymnastics does to the body of young girls (to add in also track and field events.. I wonder if such morphed female bodies can ever bounce back to normal).  When you also consider that we are competing against Communist regimes who care nothing for the human person, and are implicated in widespread doping and other coercion of the athletes, one need not imagine much what it takes to compete at this level.

I hope this helps.  I am with you all in my love of sports and athletics, which is why I want to defend their goodness and purity.