Wednesday Jul 30, 2014 Search
Weather | Athens
32o C
25o C
News
Business
Comment
Life
Sports
Community
Survival Guide
Greek Edition
What is the value of Olympic Gold?

By David Pritchard*

Do we provide enough support for our Olympians? As the debate intensifies about Australia’s performance at the London Olympics, the stock answers to this question are being rehearsed. The leaders of the AOC insist that we will just have to spend more to secure the “obvious” benefits of Olympic gold. Others argue just as earnestly that such benefits are “spurious”. They hold that our splurging of public funding on elite sportsmen comes at the expense of our scientists, artists, doctors and physical-education teachers.

Is it possible to advance this perennial debate? What is needed is analysis of the benefits which Olympic medals bring. By studying why the ancient Greeks idolised their Olympic victors we might get fresh insights into how we benefit from the Games.

The Greeks would have shaken their heads in disbelief at our support of Olympians. They did not spend scarce public funding on getting athletes to the Games. Individuals were ready to compete at the highest level, because their families had paid out of their own pockets for the private classes of an athletics-teacher. Olympians paid their own way to Olympia and their own expenses during the Games, and the compulsory month of training before they took place.

In spite of this, the Greeks valued Olympic success even more highly than we do. Each polis or city-state gave its Olympic victors, for life, free meals in its town hall and free front-row tickets for its own local games. These were the highest honours which the Greeks could give. They were otherwise only rewarded to victorious generals and other public benefactors of the highest order. That they were given to victorious Olympians puts beyond doubt that the Greeks believed that such victors benefitted their city-states significantly.

The managers of our Olympics team may not be good at explaining the nature of this benefit. But the Greeks were. A good example is a speech about the victory of an Athenian in the chariot contest at the Olympics of 416 BC. In it the son of Alcibiades explained that his father had entered seven teams, more than any other before him, because he had understood the political advantage which victory would bring his polis. He knew that “the city-states of victors” became renowned. Alcibiades believed that Olympians were representatives of their polis. Their victorious were “in the name of their city before all of Greece”.

What made an Olympic victory so politically valuable for a polis was publicity. The Games were the most popular festival in the Greek world. They attracted thousands of people. The stadium at Olympia seated no less than forty five thousand. The result was that whatever took place at the Games became known to almost the entire Greek world, as ambassadors, athletes and spectators returned home and reported what they had seen.

The Greeks exploited this opportunity. At the Games city-states set up dedications of arms, which advertised their military victories over each other. Some of these war memorials were even placed in the Olympic stadium. There was, then, the potential for all of Greece to learn of the victory which a polis had gained by the success of one of its Olympians. Such a victory gave states of otherwise no importance rare international prominence and those which were regional powers uncontested proof of the worth which they claimed in relation to their neighbours and competitors.

That the Greek city-states did view Olympic success as important for their international standing is apparent in their adverse reactions, when, they believed, one of their Olympians was deprived of his victory unjustly. In 322 BC, for example, Callipus of Athens, who had been proclaimed the winner of the Olympic pentathlon, was judged to have bribed his opponents. He was fined and stripped of his victory. Athens sent its foremost political leader to Olympia to try to have the judgement appealed. But Hyperides failed in this bid and so his city boycotted the Games for the next twenty years.

The only other way which a polis had to raise its international ranking was to defeat a rival polis in battle. The outcome of such a contest was uncertain and could cost the lives of many citizens. Thus a Greek city-state judged a citizen who had been victorious at the Olympics worthy of the highest public honours, as he had, at his own expense, raised its standing and done so without the need of his fellow citizens to take the field.

We still view Olympians as our representatives and are part of a system of competing states. Thus a lesson for us from the ancient Olympians is that international sporting success improves our international standing. The ancient Olympics do provide some justification for the increasingly large sums which we spend on our Olympic teams.

But we must not push these parallels too far. We are not ancient Greeks. International competition is no longer confined to sport and war. New bodies, such as the G20, OECD and the UN, increasingly rank states in terms of education, prosperity, physical health and level of democratisation. In this new order we will hold our own only when we invest just as heavily in our scientists, artists, doctors and physical-education teachers.

*Dr David M. Pritchard is Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland and author of Sport, Democracy and War in Classical Athens (Cambridge University Press). This article appeared in the Australian media last year.

The Austrialian Archaeological Institute in Athens has invited David Pritchard to speak on Wednesday, March 6 at 7 p.m. The topic of his presentation will be: Festivals, Democracy and War: The Spending Priorities of Democratic Athens.

The presentation will be at the Institute Hostel, Fourth Floor, Promachou 2, Makriyianni, Athens.

Telephone: +30 210 924 3256

Email: aaia@otenet.gr

www.aaia.chass.usyd.edu.au

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday February 27, 2013 (12:11)  
Through insecurity comes optimism
Futile policy
Weighing all the factors
Clear rules, for everyone
Troika review in Athens unaffected by Paris meeting
A meeting between troika and Greek government officials in Paris at the beginning of September does not mean that representatives of Greece’s lenders will not then travel to Athens to carry ...
Soldiers set to sue over wages
Members of the armed forces and emergency services look set to take legal action to have their wages restored to pre-2012 levels after the government suggested it would not raise their pay t...
Inside News
Deals reached for twin plot on Afandou, for 42 million
State sell-off fund TAIPED announced pn Tuesday that it has reached a deal for the utilization of two adjoined plots at Afandou on Rhodes, amounting to 42.1 million euros. The fund’s governi...
More delays and red tape for companies’ tax rebates
The General Secretariat for Public Revenues has added one more bureaucratic obstacle to the efforts of cash-starved enterprises to secure liquidity, as a new regulation stipulates that they ...
Inside Business
VOLLEYBALL
Volleyball national team second in European League
Much as the national volleyball team tried to repeat in the finals of the European League the feat it had achieved in the semifinals, it failed to overturn the advantage Montenegro had got f...
SOCCER
Ranieri says he has little to change in Greek national team
The Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) presented Claudio Ranieri as the new Greece coach for the next couple of years, after the Italian manager signed his contract in Athens on Friday. “I l...
Inside Sports
SPONSORED LINK: FinanzNachrichten.de
SPONSORED LINK: BestPrice.gr
 RECENT NEWS
1. Deals reached for twin plot on Afandou, for 42 million
2. More delays and red tape for companies’ tax rebates
3. Greek shipowners continue to invest in fleet renewal
4. Trainose sale is not on track
5. Industry asks for gov’t intervention
6. Troika review in Athens unaffected by Paris meeting
more news
Today
This Week
1. Greece names fifth privatization agency chief in four years
2. Archaeological council bans international climbers' gathering at Meteora
3. World’s largest solar boat on Greek mission
4. Venizelos to meet Nimetz in Athens
5. More than 120,000 households to receive special benefit
6. Tsipras discusses Cyprus with Anastasiades in Athens
Today
This Week
1. Unequal after death
2. Greek sovereign debt at 174.1 percent of GDP in first quarter
3. Hedge fund Dromeus turns Greek tragedy to triumph with 160 pct gain
4. Quadriplegic woman on life support 'dies due to unpaid power bills'
5. Front-line threats
6. Defense Minister Avramopoulos to represent Greece at European Commission
   Find us ...
  ... on
Twitter
     ... on Facebook   
About us  |  Subscriptions  |  Advertising  |  Contact us  |  Athens Plus  |  RSS  |   
Copyright © 2014, H KAΘHMEPINH All Rights Reserved.