Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Medal tallies, Great Power Politics, and Angry White Men!

One of the most amusing things about the 2016 Olympic Games was that the medal tally bore an astonishing resemblance to a table of post World War Two 'great power' nations.

Consider this 2016 medal tally list in terms of World War Two and the 1945 peace settlements, and where the various economic and colonial powers stood at the time.

1. US
2. Britain
3. China
4. Russia
5. Germany
6. Japan
7. France

Notice anything familiar about the pattern so far?

Below that, the tally becomes a little more interesting, with a surprise entrance by South Korea at number 8, but only in the last few days of the competition. Up until then the last spots switched a bit between 3 or 4 countries who eventually finished:

9. Italy
10. Australia
11. Netherlands

As Australians, we can be amused that we sneak in over the once great colonial power The Netherlands. Sometimes during the competition, we led France and Italy as well! We can also boast that we come in above Canada, which had, and still has, considerably greater population and GDP. (I suppose Canada has never taken sport as seriously as Australia... Do they even have a cricket team?)

Still, thinking about Canada brings up another interesting comparison.

Consider the Anglosphere.

The United States with way more than twice the population and close to three times the combined GDP, of the rest of the 'old' Anglosphere nations*  - Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland - still gets less medals (121) than the others (144).

Would it be fair to say that the US clearly isn't trying as hard as the rest of us?

Should we also note that the Anglosphere alone, despite consisting of only 6% of the worlds population, accounts for more than 26% of the world's medal tally?

Does this tell us anything useful about 'great powers' in general? Does it help explain why the Anglosphere has pretty much ordered the world for the last three centuries? Does it contribute to the global dominance of the English language? Or does it suggest that sports dominance equals 'soft' cultural power?

No idea, really. But someone should be able to get a research grant, even if only on the injustice of the Olympics being clearly a repressive representation of WASP culture. (After all, Catholic Ireland only counts for 8 of the Anglosphere's 265 medals... sort of proves the point really!).

What it does suggest, is that all those who claim the West in general, and the Anglosphere in particular, are in relative decline, had better check their numbers. On these figures, the Anglosphere will remain at the top of the podium for another century at least.

* (321 million US population vs a combined 130 million for the rest; and 17, 348,000 million US$ vs a combined $6,626,152 million according to Wikipedia''s Anglosphere article sourced 22.8.2016)