Alan White's Olympics Diary: Beautiful Bradley, and the IOC's billion-pound edifice of immorality

Jacques Rogge's committee does nothing but look out for its own interests.

I’m so sorry. I wanted to wax lyrical about the beauty of Bradley. Of course I did. But duty calls. So.

On Tuesday, the women’s badminton took an unexpected turn when the Danes pulled off a shock win over a strong Chinese pair and took the top of Group D. The Chinese were due to meet the winners of Group A. Another Chinese pair was playing South Korea for that position.

Neither of them wanted to meet the first Chinese pair, so, to mounting boos and intervention from the referees, they tried to out-underperform each other, deliberately hitting the shuttlecock into the net and so on. The same thing happened in the next match, between South Korea and Indonesia.

Now, as I said yesterday, this isn’t particularly redolent of the Olympic spirit. The eight players were referred to the Badminton World Federation, found to be in breach of the code, and were thrown out of the Olympics.

It all seems pretty cut and dry. They were bad sports, so they were kicked out. Except it isn’t, at all. This morning Matthew Syed, the former table tennis competitor for Team GB, has admitted his team once deliberately lost a game in much the same manner. Gail Emms, whom you’ll remember as a 2004 silver medallist in badminton for Great Britain, has also backed the players.

Far more disturbingly, Emms has told the Guardian: “Yesterday, after the Danish players beat the Chinese in the morning session, the team managers went to the organisers and said: "We're a bit worried about these evening matches." Nothing was done. Straight away they should have got all the players and coaches together and said: 'If there is any single sign of someone trying not to win you will all be disqualified.'”

Emms and Syed both blame the officials. And you can see their point: you enter the Olympics to win. Regardless of whether you agree with the players’ actions, the officials shouldn’t put them in a position where that aim is at odds with the sport’s code. And make no mistake, as German singles player Mark Zweiber has pointed out, this had been coming for some time.

But this all leads me to a far bigger issue. Those officials. There is not a hope in hell of them being pulled up for failing to spot this potential row. Instead the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, talks only of further action - presumably formally expelling the athletes from the Games.

You could be forgiven for thinking the IOC couldn’t give a monkey’s about the athletes without whom there would be no games. You might think it is simply a train of pampered bureaucrats that floats from one city to the next, detached from anything other than the rarefied scenes it sees in Park Lane, let alone the competitors it purports to represent.

You might wonder how far an organisation with revenues of £3.9bn in the last four years would prioritise the needs of the athletes over other concerns when its two main sources of funding are television rights and sponsorship. Perhaps you’d raise an eyebrow at its banning athletes mentioning their sponsors on social networks, unless they’re the same ones that pay the IOC.

Maybe you think that money doesn’t line the pockets of Rogge’s cronies, and finds its way to the athletes. Perhaps the words of track runner Nick Simmonds, talking to the Guardian this week, will strike a chord: “"The [IOC’s] sponsors have done absolutely nothing to help me be the athlete I am today ... For years my sponsors … have helped me train and compete and now they are made to feel unwelcome. This is not right."”

Maybe you’ll wonder, then, where that money does go, given that the IOC pays no tax. Perhaps you’ll think that, given it has a total monopoly over a global event worth billions, there’s an outside chance of corruption. In which case you might not be shocked to hear a member of the IOC’s executive board only resigned this March, citing a “lack of ethics and principles”. Two months later, the IOC began an investigation (and how rigorous it’s sure to be) into claims that officials were selling tickets to the 2012 Olympics on the black market.

And when you hear that, while their country burns, Greek Olympic officials have paid £150,000 to hire the Carlton Club in Central London to house sponsors, politicians and officials, you might start to think that this is a neat correlative; that this whole “Olympic Family” – the IOC and its shady web of federations and governing bodies – is little more than a shambling, immoral edifice that should be torn asunder, that it has never done anything more than look out for itself right back to the day it felt Berlin would be a suitable venue in 1936. How happy are you about those empty seats we continue to see in stadia right now?

Like I said, I wish I’d talked about Bradley. He was good, wasn’t he?

Odds and Ends

UK gold medal winners when young: Bradley Wiggins pays tribute to his PE teacher, and here’s Heather Stanning’s eery school yearbook, for those who missed it.

Stunning pic of Gabby Douglas at the gymnastics. Speaking of which, a fabulous GIF retelling of how the USA beat Russia. I particularly like MyKayla Maroney's vault – mesmerising.

Spare a thought for the Olympians embracing Ramadan.

As many a wag pointed out, yesterday an enthusiastic BJ was stopped by an unfortunate zip incident. Here’s a load of photoshops – they’re good, but this here video edit is a thing of genius.

How’s the Olympics been for disabled spectators? Pretty good, apparently.

Can’t believe I forgot to mention yesterday’s interview with Bert le Clos. Give this man a medal of his own.

My assertion yesterday with reference to the Tom Daley Twitter troll case that it's better to "walk on by" was poorly-worded: I was trying to emphasise my belief that no good can come of a mob retaliation towards an online abuser. There's nothing wrong with intervening, but as anywhere else, it's better done through the appropriate channels: Twitter being the obvious place to start.

 

Bradley! Gold! Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Is "successful" sperm really the measure of a man's masculinity?

An advertising campaign challenging men to "prove your worth" is being proposed to increase dwindling numbers of sperm donors – will the myth that only "real" men have potent sperm ever die?

Are you a superman? By which I mean, do you have the kind of sperm that would be accepted by the UK Sperm Bank, currently stuck with only nine donors on the books? Laura Witjens, chief executive, is currently launching a drive to recruit more donors. Her secret weapon? An appeal to male vanity.

Speaking to the Guardian, Witjens claims that if she advertised saying, “Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are”, it would be a route to gaining “hundreds of donors”. The implication is that beta males need not apply; this is for “real” men only. And what better way to demonstrate one’s manly credentials than through the spreading of one’s super-strength, 100 per cent proof, ultra-potent seed?

The proposed campaign approach serves to remind us of two things: first, the male ego is ridiculous, and second, reproductive ability is still treated as an indicator of whether or not one is a “successful” representative of one’s sex. However much we claim that biology is no longer destiny, certain expectations linger. “Real men” have high-quality sperm and want to see it distributed as widely as possible. “Real women,” on the other hand, only end up unable to reproduce if they have “left it too late” (that is, spent too much time in what is still seen as the world of men).

That fertility is primarily linked to luck rather than sexist morality tales is something we’d rather not admit. After all, far too many cultural edifices have been built around the idea that the opposite is true.

For something that resembles runny PVA glue, sperm has done well for itself. Throughout history, men have been obsessed with their precious seed and what it means for their status as the dominant sex. Since it is women who get pregnant – women who perform the actual task of gestating and birthing new human beings – there has always been a need to inflate the importance of semen, lest men should be sidelined completely. Whereas for women reproduction is a continuous process, for men it is more disjointed and conceptual. Hence it is important to have something to rely on. In sperm we trust.  

Otherwise can a man ever be sure – really, really sure – that a baby is his? For biological mothers, maternity is never in question. For biological fathers, paternity needs to be established. There are various ways of achieving this: heterosexual marriage, compulsory monogamy, the policing of women’s sexual choices, the withholding of material resources from women in return for sexual exclusivity, the threat of an appearance on Jeremy Kyle.

And then there are the various myths regarding how magical and special your own sperm is. It had to be you, didn’t it? He shoots, he scores. How else would the phrase “Who’s the Daddy?” have come into its current usage? The “skill” of impregnation is linked to manliness. If you’re a real man, the implication is, then you’ve nothing to fear.

The “superman” theme proposed by Witjens harks back to the various ways in which men have sought to position themselves and their sperm right at the centre of human reproduction, believing, for instance, that it already contained human beings in miniature, or that women merely provided the passive matter that would bring their active principle to life.

The biology I learned at school still played on the narrative of the hardy, valiant sperm battling against all odds to reach the passive, if somewhat capricious, egg. Sex education met gender indoctrination; it even seemed to be implied that the egg, in closing off entry to all other sperm once the “victor” had penetrated her boundaries, was being a bit of a tease (she’d already set off down the fallopian tube, what did she expect?). Pregnancy itself, we were led to believe, could never match the creativity, risk and drama of that one initial shag.

To respond to such myth-making with “but it’s only sperm and actually it could be anyone’s” seems positively mean. Women are supposed to worship it. Our effluvia – vaginal discharge, menstrual blood, breast milk – might be seen as disgusting, but when it comes to a man’s cum, it’s considered rude not to want to swallow it. People who respond with outrage when a woman suckles her baby in a crowded café think nothing of the idea that a real woman should want to gulp down semen with gusto. Patriarchal semiotics tell us that what comes out of men is life-giving and hygienic; women, on the other hand – popping out babies and sustenance – merely leak. It takes a brave woman to say, “hang on, is semen really all that?”

In the UK at least, it would seem that it isn’t. According to Witjens, getting one’s sperm approved for the UK Sperm Bank is exceptionally difficult because of how strong the product needs to be to survive the freezing and thawing process: “If 100 guys enquire, ten will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys.” Meaning most men don’t actually measure up to “superman” standards (without even considering what this approach says to men with a low sperm count, of whom it is suggested that the manhood test has been well and truly failed).

Her advertising strategy may be one that works. But it would be nice if, in a society that increasingly favours a politics of acquisition over one of care, we could be a little less focused on the potency of the mighty seed, looking instead at this particular form of donation as part of a broader process of creating and caring for others. Perhaps appeals to male vanity just work better than appeals to altruism. Even so, it’s a pity that it has to be so.

The aftermath of sperm donation can be complicated. Once one gets beyond the cash and the ego trips, the process can lead to real children with a real need to know the identity of the donor. Whereas in the past social convention allowed men to define ownership of children on their terms, nowadays globalisation and reproductive technology have led to a splintering of roles. Is it care or biology that makes a parent? What is it that shapes an identity and makes a person?

For most of us, the humane position is that nurture – the act of being there – must trump any biological contribution. To think otherwise is unfair on those who devote years of their lives to the raising of children. But for many donor-conceived adults, the donor is still needed to complete the picture of who one really is. And he will not be a superman. He will be a person who gave something small that nevertheless contributed to the creation of something miraculous: a life. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.