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Friday, 29 July 2016

Olympic blog 2: My precious

Olympic Blog 2. My Precious 

"We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious!"
Gollum, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Come games time there is a haze that wafts in and captures all involved in delivering an Olympic or Paralympic team. It is as if the BFG or a dastardly version of him, who only comes out to play with his special games time hazy contagion, is at play once every four years. No we’re not talking about the press whipping everyone into a ‘it wont be ready’ state, no we’re not talking about workers inability to snag an Olympic village - we’re talking about something unexpected, something that flies under the radar, but is more powerful, more intoxicating, more infatuating, that can bend behaviour with a mere mention of it...KIT!

Kit, precious kit, we wants it, we needs it! (well, you can keep those trunks, I think Tom is best wearing those bad boys)

At this time of the year, athletes are branded (not literally that would be harsh) winners or losers, but for support staff, there are those who have kit and those who don’t. Generally, it is a binary status. But for staff at games time they might actually fall into a few more categories - this is where the inner conflict can begin. 

It starts with selection. Any time between January and July of a games year you get an indication of whether you are;
  1. ‘GOING+’ (properly going, have a central role, in the village, full accreditation, full kit)
  2. ‘GOING’ (in the Olympic city, have an important role, can get day passes or have a job to do in the city, full kit)
  3. ‘NEARLY GOING’ (travel to the country/nearby for a holding camp, have important role in the preparation, probably wont go near the games, no/half/full kit)
  4. ‘GOING BUT NOT GOING’ (travelling with the team, have an important role, probably at the holding camp, might go to the games, will make their own way, no kit)
  5. ‘NOT GOING’ (not travelling, had an important role in preparing athletes, might take a call or two at most during the games, no kit)

At worst A, B and C will watch the official kit launch, their eyes widening with lust, “That’s mine. Mine. All mine, MWAHAHA” (strokes cat, swivels in chair, flairs nostrils). Oblivious of the pending wardrobe capacity issues, they will be summoned to a kitting out experience, where they will be indulged to their hearts content. They will get bags and bags of official Stella McCartney t-shirts, shorts and caps, sunglasses, napkins, stress balls - all sorts of paraphernalia. Generally, too much stuff than is needed, but hey it's the games so they are having it!

For E, they are not involved and whilst they might liked to have travelled they are not ‘in the mix’, they can put their feet up with the occasional studious glance at a textbook or interest in testing out a new bit of kit, to show they have something to show for their summer’s efforts. They have done their bit, time to be content in watching a lot of sport. They will probably have a pang when the athlete they work with performs, especially if they win.

D and sometimes C, will be on the periphery. Yes they got a ticket, yes they were part of the critical dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s phase. But in a weird way they are not fully included. There is a high risk that they will have a continuous knotted feeling in the stomach, a look of uncontrollable envy, a low level of permanent inferiority. Why? Because they haven’t got the kit! As much as it sounds gossamer superficial, it is a potent and vigorous miasma that all can succumb to. 

The famous experiments of Henri Tajfel exploring social identity theory shows that even when "complete strangers are formed into groups using the most trivial criteria imaginable”, for example flipping a coin to decide the group they are in, people were more positive about their (arbitrary) in-group members and more negative about the out-group.

This is what it feels like if you wear non-Olympic kit at the games!

I have been to four olympic games and at two I had kit and at the other two I didn’t. Arguably at the two I didn’t, I had a more influential and important role. I recall vividly, in one of my ‘no kit’ Olympic experiences, ’not getting the memo’ that tomorrow was going to be a white t-shirt day. I turned up to breakfast that morning wearing a red, non-official t-shirt, met by a sea of white, Olympic branded people. The rush of anxiety that flooded through my veins in that instance was palpable. I spun on a sixpence, went straight back to my room and put a white non-Olympic t-shirt and went back to breakfast, slightly happier that I was wearing the right colour but still in high-envy status from not having kit. At one holding camp, I recall finding a ‘no-kit’ (D-type, above) member of staff trying to hack into the kit cupboard, just to get one t-shirt, that they said they “wash every night”. This wasn’t a regular criminal, used to resorting to crooked ways*. This was someone subjected and falling foul of a powerful social identity exclusion, and they just couldn’t stop themselves from obsessing about it. They wants in, they needs it! 

Tajfel tells us that the in-group force raises self-esteem. Robert Cialdini found the number of university t-shirts worn on campus after a football game was higher after a loss - presumably to re-energise collective self esteem. So the effect of common apparel, clearly helps a team galvanise and prepare for the rarified exposure experienced by athletes and coaches in the Olympic cauldron.

Kit is like the RING in Lord of the Rings, slip it on and everything feels dreamy; spot that someone else has it, but not you, and you can feel persecuted. 

Whatever your kit, here’s what I suggest;

Ghana's simple possessions!

  • For those not included in-the-group remind yourself of the important role you play, you are part of the overall team effort. Be like Ghandi - eschewing these material obsessions*.
  • For those who are well and truly kitted out, enjoy it, you will undoubtedly earn it with 15+ hours of work per day. Though, I share with you a story of the GB boxing team pre-London. The team leader got all the staff and athletes to pool a portion of their kit (on the basis that you get more than you actually need anyway) and they gave a small but significant gift to the C, D, E type team members that had spent 3.99 years working towards the shared goal. Classy! Give a try, it’ll make you feel good.
  • For the powers that be - invest in enough kit for all staff in your system!! Why wouldn’t you exploit this infectiously unifying team effect and embrace everyone to feel part of the collective effort.
  • For athletes focussed on your performance - there’s nothing to see here - go about your business!

* though these days you can just buy it, if you're desperate enough, but bear in mind your precious will be pyjamas or gardening kit by the end of the year!


  1. Aa a 1st year student of sport and exercise science, hoping to work within team gb, what sort of experience or additional qualifications will assist me on the career path towards the Olympic Games?

  2. The surge of nervousness that overwhelmed through my veins in that occasion was obvious. I spun on a sixpence, went straight back to my room and put a white non-Olympic shirt and did a reversal to breakfast, somewhat more joyful than betting tips

  3. Whatever one called it but it’s great achievement and honor to be standing in Olympics. Well described article.

  4. Whatever one called it but it’s great achievement and honor to be standing in Olympics. Well described article.

  5. thank the good topic.
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