Wine, Sport and the Olympic Ideal

This weekend I was watching a great deal of the Olympics, as were around a billion other people. I wonder how many people were considering the link between the Olympics and Wine?

At first it seems a strange thing to compare, but on Saturday morning I turned on the television to watch the excellent BBC coverage with my daughter.

She is just over 3 and therefore this is her first Olympics. How exciting is that? Your first chance to see all these sports; these wonderful sights of humans achieving such heights of physical strength, skill and sportsmanship. What better education and model for an impressionable mind?

So what does it have to do with wine?

Well, after a bit of rowing, and her wonderment at the gymnastics, coverage turned to … boxing.

Who would want a 3 year old to watch boxing? Two men in a ring doing exactly what we tell kids not to do. “No fighting!” “No punching!” “Play nicely together!”

I almost turned the channel to watch one of the dozen channels dedicated to MORE cartoons. Then I stopped. First, I wanted to watch it (there are a couple of very good British boxers). Secondly, it is an Olympic sport too, so why should I shield my daughter from it more than any other?

It occurred to me that allowing her to watch boxing is similar to be being prepared to allow her to see me drink wine (I should point out that I am only talking of AMATEUR boxing).

Both alcohol and violence are “wrong” in a general sense, but we are talking here about a controlled, ritualised performance. Amateur boxing is not ABOUT the violence, and wine is not ABOUT the alcohol, but they are part of the package.

The boxers have spent years developing themselves physically and their skills, and the judges are not there to decide how much they hurt the other contestant, but how skillful they were at landing a punch. Of course, people do get hurt, and it does still involve pain and physical damage (no question about that), but all those involved are aware of this and have chosen to take part.

Alcohol is a damaging substance, and winemakers are “alcohol pushers” – but they are not doing this to hurt drinkers. Wine is an expression of the skill of grape growers and wine makers, and a way of experiencing this personally for those of us not directly involved in the production process.

My daughter didn’t like the boxing (naturally) and after I explained why they were doing what they were doing, she was still worried about them, but at least understood that this was friendly competition. However, so far it is one of the few sports she has seen that she doesn’t want to grow up to do (she does want to row, become a gymnast, dive, lift weights and sail).

There are those who would ban boxing just as there are those who would ban wine, or at least tax it out of existence.

Banning or hiding wine is not going to stop some people abusing much stronger and damaging alcohol any more than banning or hiding boxing will halt street violence (or worse, the horrible kinds of atrocities in Georgia/Russia/South Ossetia that I also had to explain to my daughter).

In fact, I believe that a certain amount of escapism or “letting off steam” is important to humans everywhere. Cultures that manage to find positive ways to do this through responsible consumption of alcohol, or responsible attitudes to sports are more at ease with themselves. This is one of the best things we can learn from the Olympics, as the ultimate expression of this in sport.

On that note, I was very affected by seeing two competitors sharing a hug and a kiss on the podium. One was Russian, another a Georgian. There was something very symbolic about the fact that they had been competing in a shooting discipline. There was also something symbolic about the fact that those who could take this positive, conciliatory attitude were women.

I’m glad my daughter is learning valuable lessons like that!