April 12, 2012

When Trenton Oldfield, weird and wrongheaded, jumped into the River Thames last Saturday to protest the Cambridge-Oxford Boat Race specifically and elitism in sports generally, he did us all a favor. Not only did he cement his blazing idiocy in sports history, but he re-energized the debate over elitism in sports. And while doing so, gave us hard proof that it’s needed and necessary.

Oldfield, a 35-year-old Australian who lives in London and works for a non-profit, is sort of late to the debate over elitism in sports. And it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the sport of crew is steeped in elitism, or rather rowing’s best and brightest. 

Since 1829, Great Britain’s most famous college-crew race has been gliding along the Thames, luring loads of spectators and, in more recent years, protesters. Usually, protesters are happy fanning their cause with banners, hoping to reach out to a televised network audience and maybe a few spectators. But nobody has yet to make a physical protest that actually halted the race as Oldfield did this Saturday.  

Before the race Oldfield, who loftily compares himself to Emily Davison, the suffragette who died after throwing herself before King George V’s horses in 1913, whipped up a rambling 2,100-word manifesto on his blog, ELITISM LEADS TO TYRANNY. Elitism, he argued, has no place in sports.  He announced plans to disrupt the boat race and Olympics with “€œguerrilla tactics.”€

“€œElitism leads to tyranny? Nonsense. Elitism leads to better boat races.”€

He complained in the posting that the banks of the Thames between the more well-heeled districts of Kew and Chiswick, where the race is held, is “€œa site where elitists and those with elitist sympathies have come together”€ and “€œreboot their shared culture together in the public realm.”€ 

As luck would have it, Oldfield himself is a product of an elite British university: the London School of Economics. He also attended Australia’s most exclusive private schools.

Oldfield then goes on to suggest ways his fellow protesters can take down the elitist establishment. He encourages building janitors to set off fire alarms and cut power, urges office workers to “misplace” paperwork and clog email accounts, and for taxi drivers to take passengers the slowest and most expensive routes. He also directs restaurant staff to serve food cold, plumbers to sabotage conservative businesses”€™ toilets, and exterminators to plant infestations in the homes of “elitist sympathizers.”

I’m honestly surprised he has not suggested public flatulence. 

Elitism leads to tyranny? Nonsense. Elitism leads to better boat races. Would we rather have a lazy, mediocre, and unmotivated crew? We want the best. We want dedication. We want a good show. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, long hours to be the best. There is, however, something wrong with marring the culmination of years of hard training to prove a pointless point.

Competition in sports has always been about seeking the absolute best”€”in other words, the elite. But fools such as Oldfield are trying to turn the Greek Olympics into the Special Olympics.

Oldfield stole the competition from the oarsmen on Saturday when, according to one report, he told some spectators, “I just want a bit of quiet today.” Then he proceeded to take off and fold his clothes, hang his jacket on a tree, place his book and cell phone on his clothes, and plunge into the chilly Thames.


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