Forget the Games, here come the gee-gees

With no nationalism, and sportsmen too tired to blab in interviews, horse-racing beats Beijing hands down.

Patrick West

Patrick West

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To say that the Beijing Olympics have been eventful would be an understatement. But it’s sad, in a way, that it has overshadowed the true summer sport for telly enthusiasts: the flat horse-racing season.

Yes, sure, the political overtones to the Beijing Games have been fascinating, enthralling yet at times revolting. It has seen China and the West engage in a rather ugly competition to prove which sphere of the world is the most humane, with the US, Britain and France pointing to China’s appalling human rights record, its polluted cities and empty seats at the Bird’s Nest stadium; craggy old souixante-huiters and idiotic Hollywood stars complaining about the plight of Tibet and the Dalai Lama (how curious that a large number of left-liberals champion a theocracy); and China correctly stating that it should be allowed to industrialise and its citizens should be allowed to enjoy the same lifestyle that we in the West enjoy.

And yes, sports-wise, it has been brilliant. Britain’s achievement speaks for itself. It’s also nice and ironically appropriate to see the Irish winning in the boxing, confirming the old stereotype that the people from the Emerald Isle are naturally belligerent pugilists. Without doubt the highlight has been Usain Bolt, Jamaica’s 100m and 200m winner and twice world-record breaker, who cantered to a win in the former event and stormed to a triumph in the latter.

But watching human beings race round in circles is no substitute for the gee-gees. First of all, horses don’t give you routine answers to routine questions in post-race interviews. As you watch the conclusion to the Olympics this weekend, I will guarantee that every interview will start with someone asking ‘So how does it feel to be an Olympic medalist?’, and the question will be met with the oxymoronic answer ‘I’m speechless’ – which of course they never are, proceeding to babble on about how disappointed they were at Manchester/Athens/Crystal Palace etc, thanking their parents, and generally behaving like teary film stars delivering those cringe-worthy speeches at the Oscars. Oh, and spare me one more rendition of God Save The Queen.

On the contrary, not only do horses not speak, but the jockeys usually are speechless after their wins. At the very least they are meek. Perhaps this is because they are small, and while small women are usually very loud, small men are the opposite. But it is also because jockeys appreciate that their effort is a combined one, which owes to breeding, ownership, training and most of all to the horse itself.

But what makes watching the horses so special is that it is a unifying event, whereas the Olympics have proved to be a dividing one. Seeing all the flag-waving at Beijing, and all the politicking that has preceded it and continued throughout, one can only conclude that this competition is not about bringing the world together but about promoting petty nationalism. Anyone who points an accusing finger at China should ponder whether it’s actually the Olympics themselves that are the problem.

Go to your local bookmakers and you will see the opposite. Everyone is equal inside. Everyone shares tips. And in some cases, it is a microcosm of a true melting pot. For instance, I live in a rather provincial town in Kent, which is mainly white, but with a small Asian population. The two never seem to mix. You never see an Asian face in a pub, for instance. The only place the two communities freely associate and communicate is at Coral bookmakers on my high street. There are some pubs in Kent that I would never go into – reading a book and not wearing sports clothing makes you an instant target for suspicion or abuse – but I have never felt intimidated in a bookmakers. Anywhere.

This is because horse-racing is free from nationalism and ethnic prejudice. Sure, the Irish view the Cheltenham Festival as their own, but their fraternity was also deeply and outspokenly ashamed when an IRA bomb threat forced the 1997 Grand National at Aintree to be cancelled. And in the week that Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners has passed away, it is apposite to recall those fantastic words from the song ‘The Galway Races’: ‘There were half a million people there / Of all denominations / The Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew the Presbyterian / Yet there was no animosity / No matter what persuasion / But failte hospitality / Including fresh acquaintance.’ (See YouTube clip below.)

As the old Irish saying goes: ‘We are all equal at the turf, and underneath it.’

Politically correct opinion has it that we should be celebrating the 2012 Olympic Games in London and that we should all stop gambling, since it is apparently addictive and destructive. I recommend doing the very opposite.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV columnist. Visit his blog here.

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