Five things you definitely shouldn’t say out loud if you hate the Olympics

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Mallory Franklin - Adam Pretty/Getty Images
Mallory Franklin - Adam Pretty/Getty Images

There’s an excellent video on YouTube in which the comedian Tom Little adds words to the BBC’s Grandstand theme tune.

“Jump with a stick, swing a golf stick, swim in a pool – or whatever,” he sings, overlaying the familiar music with his gloriously literal description of the images. “Fall off a horse, punch someone’s face, that’s what sport is.”

These lyrics spring to mind whenever I think about the Olympic Games, which is as rarely as possible. But at times such as now, even for those of us who don’t really find it interesting to watch people we’ve never heard of paddling a canoe or swimming up and down a pool – or whatever – it becomes hard to avoid.

Yes, yes, I know, it’s a terribly unpopular opinion. Having ill-advisedly voiced it during the 2012 Olympics – which for me went downhill the second Danny Boyle’s bit was over – I went back into the closet for fear of causing upset.

Because while we are allowed to say for the rest of the four years between each Games “actually the modern pentathlon isn’t really my cup of tea”, this is a view that cannot be expressed when the event is in full swing.

Trust me, it’s like telling people you don’t find puppies adorable and don’t want one anywhere near you (I should know, because I also don’t like puppies).

The problem is the Olympics aren’t going away and so we have to learn to live with them. Cowering in our houses lest we encounter someone with infectious enthusiasm isn’t a sustainable solution. Nor can we live in fear of the new sports variants (Skateboarding? Really? And you still want me to take this seriously?).

Carping, I’ve realised, will get me nowhere, though it’s all but guaranteed to become an Olympic sport one day. While I wait for that day, here are the things you think but don’t say if you secretly hate the Olympics:

1. Imagine if they’d spent all those hours of training doing something genuinely useful

I don’t wish to denigrate the efforts and achievements of any individual athlete. Each to their incomprehensible own and all that. On the other hand, think what they could have achieved if, instead of getting up at 4am for eight years to practise jumping with a stick or making a horse dance, they had used that time to solve climate change or a deadly disease or work out how to make vegetarian sausages taste better.

2. Since when was table tennis an Olympic sport?

Since 1988, is the answer to that. But you meant it rhetorically, of course, because how can it simultaneously be an Olympic sport and something you find in the games room at a holiday rental and can do while drinking a gin and tonic?

3. Does anyone even understand the rules of this?

Silly question. Of course they don’t, but that’s not the point. If Team GB has won a gold medal, who cares what the rules of the sport were? Shiny things trump reason, always.

4. Has anyone ever heard of this guy?

Again, no. But again, if he’s won something and he’s one of our countrymen, then he’s our instant hero. Who cares if we can’t even remember his name by next week?

5. Shall we switch over to Channel 4 and watch Countdown?

This is the problem with massive sporting events. They take over everything. You don’t even like Countdown, it would never occur to you to watch it for the rest of the four years between the Games, but now that you can’t watch it you really badly want to. Ditto Celebrity Antiques Road Trip on BBC Two and yes, dammit, even Supermarket Sweep on ITV2. Anything really.

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