Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE Winter Olympics is being greeted with predictable yawns of boredom round the world and the usual accusations of scandals - cheating, corruption in high places, and so on.

Cheating is a standard feature of all games (Greeks tripped and bumped their way through the sprints). But the other problems - boredom and corruption in high places - would disappear if people only followed ancient Greek precedent in three vital respects.

First, the original Games were (theoretically) restricted to Greeks, who came from all over the Mediterranean during the period of the games to watch their own countrymen compete against each other.

Second, the Games lasted five days. They were over so quickly because the number of events was strictly limited. Between the Games' foundation in 776 Bc and 520 Bc, the basic canon was established - 13 events. A few more were added in subsequent years, but that essentially was that till the Games were ended by official action against pagan cults in AD 393.

Finally, the Olympics were always held in the same place - at Olympia (in honour of Olympian Zeus) near Elis, a tinpot little town in the northwest corner of the Peloponnese, miles from anywhere and with this as its sole claim to fame. …

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