While I have not actually been glued to the television, I have been watching some of the Olympics during the last few days. I have, somewhat to my surprise, found the cycling diverting, but the swimming just doesn't cut the mustard for me. What does astound me is the dexterity, skill and sheer brute strength of the gymnasts. And I must confess to a certain pride when I see the Union Jack hoisted to the gold medal position. But what a shame that the recording of our national anthem is such a poor one! Somebody described the bit between the two parts as sounding as if it was played on kazoos - and they are not far out.
It is quite staggering to see Great Britain second in the medal table, ahead of both China and Russia - and with our medal tally almost exactly equal the combined figures for France and Germany. Of course, it is only to be expected that the countries with the largest populations and those rich enough to pour considerable funds into athletics training should win the greater number of medals. It has been reported that our national lottery has "invested" nearly £400 million, although whether that is in total or just for Rio 2016 or an annual figure, well, I have no idea. What I have become aware of is that many members of Team GB receive funding enabling them to do nothing but train in their chosen sports. That is what the lottery (and probably the Government) calls investment. Which, to my mind, begs two questions.
Firstly, are Olympic medals and world titles really a sufficient return on that investment? I suppose the winners will think so, and the general population does get a certain feel-good pay off as well.
And secondly, is it right that people should be funded by the population as a whole to pursue what most of us would describe as hobbies? And if can be done for sportsmen and women, why not artists or poets or actors? or train spotters or stamp collectors? But I suspect that most people who buy a lottery ticket are quite happy with the arrangement. As I have not bought a lottery ticket for many a year I have no grounds for complaint anyway.
Just one last thought. The USA has (at the last count) won 26 gold medals, which works out at 1 for every 12.2 million of the population. If we were to use that as the measure of success, the Bahamas would be at the top of the table - they have just one gold medal - but their population is just 377,000 - followed by Fiji with one gold for a population of 881,000.