As the Olympic Games begin, I thought you’d welcome a short briefing as politicians seem to have scant knowledge of anything dating before yesterday, including anything they may have said about sexy images. Mind you, I don’t expect you to recall the first Olympics held in so-called 776 BC. They were dedicated to Zeus and the gods but otherwise were very much a secular affair, as all sport is today – unlike culture where the ministry confuses the arts with often pale imitations of ancestral religious dances. The Games continued for nearly twelve centuries until 393 AD, when Emperor Theodosius, in pursuit of Christian hegemony, banned them as pagan. Zeus has never recovered from the affront.
The Olympia site gradually disappeared as a result of earthquakes and floods, until its rediscovery in 1766. However, it wasn’t until 1875 that archaeological digs were carried out by the Germans, with the approval of the Greek authorities, something they might have difficulty in obtaining nowadays even if bearing gifts of euros. Pierre de Coubertin was much inspired by the site when he invented the modern games. Do remember his name; you could drop it into a conversation or two to show you’ve been doing your homework.
All free male Greek citizens could participate in the ancient Games, regardless of their social status. Fortunately, there were no requests from Russian athletes to attend. Cheating was severely frowned on and there were fewer bent athletes in those days. Women were banned from attending except, bizarrely, the priestess of Demeter, goddess of fertility. Oh, dear! Mentioning that may upset publicity-seeking pseudo-Amazons. If they find beverage bottles sexy, what would they have made of naked athletes? They always trained or competed in the nude, displaying the ideal that training the body helps develop the mind. I can’t remember if the Ancient Games were a carnal hotbed but we certainly didn’t hand out thousands of contraceptives as they’re doing in Rio. Mind you, in the absence of women – and HIV – they weren’t so necessary, although it might be as well to gloss over what impact the sight of hundreds of magnificent athletes would have had.
There was a truce throughout the Games even between warring city states. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that IS understands such niceties. Of course, the idea that only amateurs should participate in the Olympics is a modern-day concept – the Greeks didn’t have a word for amateur. Athens showered its champions with enormous sums of money and other rewards, a rather better fate than that enjoyed so far by Bruno Julie, Mauritius’ only Olympic medallist.
The main sports were running, jumping, discuss throwing, wrestling, boxing and equestrian events. Quite what anyone would have made of synchronised swimming is anyone’s guess. Like many countries today, Greek states invested heavily in sporting facilities and hired trainers who assisted athletes with medicine, nutrition and physiotherapy. Despite some “interesting” budget measures, Mauritius is likely to remain some way behind, as ancestry and obscure interests seem to determine so many sporting decisions here. It’s a pity we have so few people with Greek origins. The gods are in despair at your inability to get sports administrators to cease nurturing their political or per-diem ambitions and concentrate instead on encouraging the best athletes regardless of their backgrounds. By the way, did you take your lovely new limousine with you to Rio or do they supply you with a Rolls there?