I'm rather keen on a nice bit of sport and the Olympic games provide a nice bit of sport. Yesterday afternoon it was a real pleasure to follow the gentlemen's artistic gymnastics team event final and see our boys win bronze then silver then bronze.
Gymnastics is rather like athletics in that it can be understood by anyone. We all have experience of running and jumping and are able to look at these events from a perspective of personal knowledge (for those unfortunate few not in this boat the raspberry games will follow the real sport in a couple of weeks). That Louis Smith performing on the pommel horse bears no comparison to a short chubby schoolboy failing to do anything more than sit on one decades ago does not diminish my admiration for his efforts, indeed it is precisely why I admire them.
I hate swimming. It's the water. Gets up your nose. Very nasty and uncomfortable. But a smile crosses the full width of my flabby jowls when I see magnificent athletes splashing through the pool faster than I can drive to Morrisons, especially when they are like that lovely girl Rebecca Adlington who reacted to being third (rather than first as she was four years ago) with the broadest possible grin and recognition that she had achieved something very rare by winning an Olympic medal.
Unfortunately, exposure of the British public to the Olympic games is in the hands of the BBC so there is always an agenda lurking behind the coverage. Commenting on the sports while they are taking place gives little leeway for even the BBC to promote its editorial policy so gaps in and between events have to be utilised and they have done extraordinarily well in their "empty seats" campaign. It was evident in the first couple of days that a chunk of seats in prime locations were not occupied by spectators, this was most apparent during the qualifying competitions in gymnastics. It really looked very shabby and disrespectful both to the competitors and to those who had applied for tickets and been unsuccessful.
The BBC's editorial line was apparent from the off, big business had bought the seats for fat cats who were too busy eating babies to attend thereby depriving lesbian unpartnered mothers of what was rightly theirs. An enquiry was demanded. Of course when the enquiry took place it was discovered that the gaps were caused not by drunken indolence on the part of rich corporate sponsors but by members of the so-called "Olympic Family" not taking-up free tickets that had been made available for them. It's their official title, not a piss-take by me, certain people involved in Olympic sports are categorised by the International Olympic Committee as members of the "Olympic Family". Quite sickening.
That seats are kept aside for those the organisers consider worthy of a free ticket does not rankle with me at all, it would be extraordinary and irrational if that didn't happen. A long-deceased comic drunk and wife-beater is reputed to have once asked the Queen whether she likes football. On her replying that she didn't he asked if he could have her tickets to the FA Cup Final. As far as I can recall the Queen hasn't attended the Cup Final for a very long time but there would be a seat available if she wanted to, just as seats were found for Princes William and Harry at the gymnastics yesterday afternoon. It is a relatively small extension of the same principle for seats to be left for those of importance in various national Olympic Committees. If they don't take the seats there will be gaps. It's not a tragedy, it's just a few empty seats.
Having gaps where big-wigs could be sitting has been a common feature of major sporting events for as long as I can remember. I've seen it in person at Wembley stadium, Wembley arena (the Empire Pool as it was known the first time I encountered the phenomenon), the Docklands Arena (which, I believe, no longer exists - it used to be opposite Asda on the Isle of Dogs) and even the Royal Albert Hall. This time a big mistake was made. Having those seats placed immediately in front of the main television cameras covering an event is novel. Usually they are spread around the arena in little clumps or placed en masse behind the main cameras in order to avoid exactly the fuss over nothing that has so excited the BBC. Placing the non-existent big-wigs immediately in front of the cameras gives the impression of a stadium half-empty because only 15% of the crowd is accommodated within the main shot, when they switch to a camera showing the whole arena you see it packed to the gills and can hardly notice a little bald patch.
I am really enjoying watching supreme athletes competing at the very highest level and also enjoying those trail-blazers who have no hope of finishing their race before the winners have had time for a shower and a three course meal. Over the weekend the rowing events included a gentleman from Niger and a lady from Iran who trailed in long after their opponents and received justified rapturous applause for having the guts to turn up and do their best. They are a much better story for the BBC than a few empty seats.