Culturally Discombobulated

Category: Sport

Five Reasons Why Watching The Olympics In America Is So Irritating

“Lists are a form of cultural hysteria.” —Don DeLillo

Five reasons why watching the Olympics in America is so irritating

1. NBC treating the Olympics as lifestyle programming and not sport

If you suffered through NBC’s primetime coverage you could be forgiven for being confused as to whether the Olympics is a sporting event and not this summer’s new reality show format – I imagine the pitch was “think Splash mixed with The Amazing Race”.

Not that this sidelining of the actual sports and all their varying technicalities for a simperingly simple human interest angle is an accident on the part of NBC. Indeed, when they want to NBC can do sports well. Their acquisition of the US TV rights to the Premiership has for the most part been exemplary, and as any soccer fan in the US who had to suffer through Warren Barton and Piers Morgan on Fox Soccer Channel can attest to, it really has been a drastic upgrade on the coverage provided by the previous rights holder. NBC’s primetime Olympics show is a deliberate move on their part to make the world’s biggest sporting event as palatable as possible to a non-sport-watching audience. As one NBC executive put it to The Telegraph, “More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one.”

2. NBC’s on-air personalities

If further proof were required to demonstrate that NBC thinks of the Olympic’s foremost as light entertainment fare for a, let’s be honest, middle-aged, middle American female demographic, look at which of its on-air personalities it sent down to Rio to cover the games – it was basically the Today Show on vacation. The Opening Ceremony coverage consisted of Hoda struggling in the commentary box after one too many Caipirinhas, Meredith Vieira making the most inane comments, but saying them in such a way as to momentarily trick you into thinking that there might be the flickering of intelligence behind them (note: there isn’t), and then, last, but not least, there was Matt Lauer just being the most Matt Lauer-y he could be, thus giving Americans all across the nation the opportunity to simultaneously renew their love of the Olympics and their hatred of Matt Lauer.

Even poor Bob Costas – whose pink eye was the highlight of the Sochi games and who is a genuinely good sports broadcaster – had to spend every evening doing light, fluffy interviews with the athletes. People missing softball at the Olympics could get their fill with the questions Costas was forced to lob to competitors

And if all that wasn’t enough, the network gifted us not just Ryan Seacrest, but they threw in a Billy Bush in there, too. For the benefit of UK readers, this is like the BBC deciding what their Olympic coverage really needs is the addition of Dermot O’Leary and Rylan.

Although I am grateful for the NBC coverage that I, at least, finally discovered that Billy Bush is, in fact, the nephew of George H. W. and the cousin of George W. I have no idea how this titbit of information previously passed me by, but my life seemed poorer not knowing it. To be honest, this changes everything. All these years I’d thought the Bush family’s greatest crime against humanity was the geopolitical mess George W. left and it turns out the greater crime was actually Billy’s anodyne hosting of Access Hollywood. This really is like discovering Lionel Blair was Tony Blair’s uncle all along. I can only hope that funk-a-licious George Clinton was also Bill’s cousin.

3. Narrow focus on select sports

The Olympics is a sporting smorgasboard, yet it offers a selection so broad that one can’t be expected to eat it all without suffering acute indigestion. As such, broadcasters will naturally focus on a number sports that they know their audience will watch because either the sport is popular in that country or the country has a strong chance of medaling. For example, Danish television is going to cover Handball far more than New Zealand television who will likewise cover the Rugby Sevens more than Danish television will. The US is obsessed, in particular, with swimming and gymnastics. If all you had was the primetime coverage to go on, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Olympics only consisted of swimming, gymnastics and the occasional game of beach volleyball. On the one hand, that is fair enough. An American broadcaster should broadcast those sports that are popular with the largest number of Americans, but it is a shame when there’s so much sporting variety on offer that the primetime coverage is relatively myopic. It’s a bit like going to an amazing sushi restaurant that has exotic, incredible sushi – sea urchin, fugu, things you’ve never heard of but are intrigued by – and your dining partner insists you just get a Philadelphia roll.

4. Patriotism

NBC could have done us all a favor and simply renamed their coverage America’s Got Talent. While one of the joys of the Olympics is cheering on your own country, you could have been forgiven for thinking the games only consisted of Americans winning gold medals.

Repeatedly you only saw the American competitors. Non-American athletes with the obvious exception of Usain Bolt were rarely spoken about, even to give context to the challenge faced by an American athlete. And seeing a medal ceremony that didn’t feature the star-spangled banner and a triumphant, gold medal-wearing American was a rare sight indeed.

5. How NBC tabulates its medal table

Like insisting on using Fahrenheit or ordering dates month, day, year and not day, month, year like the rest of the world, the US uses its own Olympic medal table. Instead of arranging by gold medals won and then silver medal should gold medals be a tie, it just go with the total number of medals.

If, say, Germany won 9 golds and one silver, but France won just 11 bronzes, the US Olympic medal table would have France as doing better in the Olympics than Germany as they have won one more medal. Nonsensically it gives equal weight to a third place finish as actually winning the event.

Normally, I’m merely irritated by this, but this Olympics I was far more exasperated by the US table as it – shock, horror – put Great Britain in third rather than their actual, astonishing placing of second just above China. I assume it’ll take China beating the US by their own silly table formulation to get NBC to use the IOC’s table like the rest of the world.

Futbol Fever

With the US clasping soccer to its bosom like a nurturing mother, things are now getting pretty crazy here with the World Cup on. It’s certainly a lot different from back in 2010. I remember trying to watch Argentina – Germany in a coffee shop only for some guy to change the channel over to NASCAR (what was really galling is it was a NASCAR repeat).

Yes, things are very much changing over here (and for the better) as demonstrated when I went out to view Colombia – Uruguay.

Sure, you could go out and watch the game at a sports bar, but for the best sporting atmosphere, as well as that special camaraderie that comes when true fans are enjoying great sport together, nothing beats heading down to your local car dealership to watch the soccer (I may have also needed an oil change).

As you can see, everyone was pumped for the game.

Goooooooooooal!!!!!! Colombia!!!!!!!!!! It’s kicking off after that scorcher of a goal. Shit is getting real here. Crazy times, crazy people.


Slow down, Jasper. You’ve already had three lukewarm car dealership coffees. Not another one, surely? Stop writing checks that your bladder can’t cash. I know this is a futbol fiesta, but pace yourself, man. Typical Jasper – he’s always loco.


Can Uruguay find a way back into the game? They’re trailing by two. It’s all far too much for this fan of the Charruas. She could hardly bring herself to watch. Naturally we had some good natured ribbing at her expense. It’s what friends do.


What an exhilarating game! Ref calls for full time. Yes, I think we all need a breather after that. Vamos Colombia!! Best of luck against Brazil in the quarter-finals.


Partying hard.


Let England Shake

And breathe!

Finally a day without soccer. An entertaining World Cup (how has it been for you?) has, from my perspective, been sullied by being pitied or mocked for my nation’s early exit by some of the locals. It’s a disgusting feeling, truth be told, particularly when I’m being pitied or mocked, not by a fellow fan, a true believer, but a bandwagon jumper who doesn’t understand the basics of the game.

Still, I am sure that my misplaced optimism regarding England will return once the Euro 2016 qualifiers come around because following England is like a mother experiencing birth amnesia; the body releasing extra amounts of oxytocin during labor (or in this case, exit at the group stage) that we forget just how intense the pain was and so are willing at a later date to go through the whole thing again.

I am not, however, being a good guest and cheering on the United States. It is pure bitterness on my part. To misquote Morrissey, “we hate it when our friends become successful – and if they’re American that only makes it worse.” If there was an American version of the Tebbit Test I’d fail miserably (I think a point I made in this blog during the 2010 tournament).

Intellectually, I agree with the writer Teju Cole who tweeted “any occasion that situates the US as just one among many nations, and not necessarily the most gifted or interesting, is a wonderful thing,” but reason doesn’t stand much chance of competing with more bilious thoughts.

Ah, jealousy, it’s a terrible thing.

At least cricket is unlikely to ever really take-off here.

Baseball is demonstrably duller than cricket

That any sports lover could consider cricket dull after this week’s rip-roaring, pulsating Ashes test is beyond me, and yet disappointingly it is this unjust opinion that most of the locals have about the game. I will never be able to convince them of the merits of that final evening session at Durham. I’m sure Cracker Jack-munching baseball fans have to counter similar – although in their case it might actually be true.

At least, that’s what the World Service‘s (always exciting) stats show, More or Less, suggested. Following a page-filler study done by the Washington Post that found for every hour played during an average baseball game only six minutes of that involves actual sporting action takes place. Cricket, according to More or Less, averages a far more febrile ten minutes of action every hour, a full extra four minutes of excitement than you’d find watching baseball. So there we are, baseball is demonstrably duller than cricket. Although if we are being consistent with our logic (we’re not), that would makes kabaddi the world’s most exciting sport.

March Madness

“The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad — at least not so mad as it was in March.” Lewis Carroll

Just as May Week is in June so March Madness counterintuitively climaxes in April.

March Madness – it’s the informal name for the collegiate basketball championship* – is insanely popular here. As with college football, a large part of that popularity stems, not from brackets, but from the many convenient ways in which college sports allow people to name-drop their alma maters without seeming conceited. Want to remind someone you that you went to Harvard / Duke / Georgetown / UCLA? Well, March Madness gives you the perfect opportunity, the perfect conversational “in”, in which to do so. It shamelessly allows the passive-aggressive brag, a move in which people show off their own insecurity with a display of elitist fuckwittery by repeatedly emphasizing how good or bad their college team is doing during the tournament. Here’s the thing. Nobody cares. We all know you want us to know that you went to a top school, well, now we do know. Stop it. Continuing with this behavio(u)r is the hallmark of a git.

In other news, those Oxford bastards clearly cheated a plucky Cambridge team in today’s Boat Race. What a bunch of bastardy bastards.

*As well as also being the name for the main part of the European hare’s breeding season.