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Friday, November 08, 2002

The Home of the Gods

Hawkgirl Emily Jones is ticked off at Matthew "Olive Garden" Engel's latest column in the Wanker, wherein he is cool to the idea of New York hosting the 2012 Olympics. Emily wants to take away his visa.

I think we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Engel. After all, many of us have heard, over and over again, of the arrogance of Americans in other countries. About how they complain of everything, will not try to see things from other points of view, and wish everything to be exactly like it was back home in Topeka. Many of us, when travelling abroad, have been at pains to avoid anything that would conform to this stereotype. Sometimes this is a great strain.

Mr. Engel's writings encourage us to cease giving a damn. Instead, next time I go abroad, I'll be sure to be as obnoxious, arrogant, dismissive, narrow-minded, whiny, and dull as Engel. Hurrah! I'm fairly sure this will be easy; the hard part will be finding a wretched newspaper to subsidize me.

However, in simple justice, I must point out that Engel is entirely correct in this assessment:

Atlanta excepted, the cities that run good games tend to be those with a point to prove; cities with a mild inferiority complex, perhaps; cities that have room to grow, are anxious to market themselves globally and establish their credentials on the world stage.

The Seoul and Tokyo Olympics were not just sporting events; they were major staging posts in the host countries' development. The Barcelona and Sydney Olympics were almost as important, for the metropolis if not so much for the country.

The local people have to want and need the games and to feel it is a major event in their lives; if Jesus chose New York to make his return, his PR people would have to do battle with the guys at CBS to get a slot on the David Letterman Show.

I disagree with the bit about the Sydney Olympics being not very important to the country, but then I was in Sydney at the time, so it's possible I did not have the proper perspective.

Everyone seemed very excited about the games. The Olympic Torch's journey across the country was followed closely. There was a great deal of feeling that this would show that Australia was a modern country, that it was not just kangaroos and Outback and Crocodile Dundee. After all, Australia hadn't hosted the Olympics for something like fifty years. There were signs encouraging clean-up in Sydney which said, "Everyone pick up, now! The neighbours are coming!" You could cut the earnestness in the air with a chain saw.

During the games bus and rail transportation were free to anyone displaying an event ticket. Where I worked people were encouraged to telecommute, if they could; and most could, so that was three weeks of deadly quiet around the old workplace. Thousands of people volunteered to work at various jobs during the games, including my boss, who was terribly excited about the whole thing.

Of course, there was some de rigeur kvetching on the part of the Usual Suspects about how many Poor Children could have been educated on the amount of money spent on the Olympics, etc, etc, but there was little heart in it.

Afterwards there was much analysis and discussion of Sydney's performance, concluding in a general feeling of satisfaction all around. There were some smug whispers that the 2004 games might be held in Sydney, too, if the Greeks didn't get their act together.

But the point is that the Olympics came off so well because it was important to Sydneysiders, and Australians in general, that they should. People sacrificed and arranged and volunteered and more-or-less cheerfully endured so that the games could be a success. They wanted their country and its largest city to look good internationally.

Americans have no such concerns. I can't imagine Atlantans cheerfully putting up with the kind of crap Sydneysiders did. They'd be much more likely to grumble and balk. And why not? They might've felt that the Olympics were just some boondoggle the city fathers dreamed up: good for bringing money into town, but it would be the ordinary folks who would have to put up with the hassle. So screw it.

And New Yorkers? Hah! No one needs to be told where New York is. New York, as Engel rightly points out, has nothing to prove. New York has everything, and in the minds of its citizens, it is already Olympus. It doesn't need any games.