Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford


With protesters gathered there in San Francisco this morning, commentator Frank Deford has this longer view of the torch relay.

FRANK DEFORD: There's something wonderfully ironic about the Olympic torch, which is making its journey about the world now rather as if it has a big "kick me" sign on it for China. Ah, what goes around.

The torch relay was conjured up by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics and then embedded in our dreamy Olympic consciousness by the magnificent gossamer photography of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite moviemaker. Now, three-quarters of a century later, it has come back as an unexpected curse to haunt another totalitarian government to which the International Olympic Committee has hitched its wagon.

The ignominy that China is enduring, with protests that are like moths to the torch where 'ere it goes, will far exceed whatever positive attention China might receive when the Olympics are in the world limelight for a fortnight in the dead of summer.

The reflected heat from the torch uproar will also help expose what a humbug the IOC can be. This is the organization which loves to call itself a movement. Come on. Would we accept it at face value if Commissioner Bud Selig stood up and crowed about the Major League Baseball Movement? Would we bow our heads if Mayor Oscar Goodman asked us to pay homage to the Las Vegas Strip Movement? Get serious. But there's no real difference with our sanctimonious Olympic friends.

Only the IOC still calls itself a movement and gets away with it. Hey, it's no more than an international cartel that puts on a big show every four years. It's just NASCAR with accents.

And tell you the truth, I think the Olympics are yesterday's party. Once upon a time, before globalism and jet airplanes and cyberspace, bringing athletes together quadrennially in one place might have made sense. Today, it's an unnecessary excess. And while insular Americans might not understand this, the World Cup of soccer has become much more important to many more people in the world.

The Olympics has really ended up as a festival for those sports that nobody much cares about for the other three years and 50 weeks. The showcase is track and field. How many of you can even name a single American track athlete? How many of you can name a single track athlete from any nation? The Olympics is a symphony orchestra without the violins and brass.

But hooray for the Olympic athletes. Please, please, everybody, just threaten boycott, but let the athletes all go to Beijing and have their day in the smog. It was so unfair when, in 1980, President Carter sacrificed our Olympians to make a point against the Soviet Union. But, as the torch wends its way, spreading the bad news, I really think we might be seeing more than a censure of China. We may also be witness to the start of the real decline of the Olympics.

I love London. I wish it hadn't got itself stuck with the 2012 Games. I love Chicago. I hope it gets lucky and doesn't get stuck with the 2016 Games. Every dog has its day. No movement is perpetual.

MONTAGNE: OK. The comments of Frank Deford. His latest novel, "The Entitled," is now in paperback. He joins us from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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