Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Olympics: Top people dominate in sport too

Interesting analysis by Matthew Syed -- a British table tennis champion -- below. He has Labour party sympathies but it is amusing that he himself is an example of that which he describes. He got a First in PPE from Balliol. His explanation for the high sporting achievements of rich people is reasonable but probably incomplete. There does seem to be a syndrome of general biological fitness such that intelligence and good health go together and usually lead to material success -- much of which is hereditary and thus leads to an upper class of broad accomplishments overall. Shockingly "incorrect" of course

I am often asked what it is like to be a part of Team GB at the Olympic Games. My answer is always the same. Look beyond the obvious stuff — the rivers of testosterone, the insane ambition and the lust for glory. Look beyond the postcompetition fraternising, so widespread and competitive that it could be a medal event all on its own. Look beyond that and what are you left with? Well, in a word, Posh. With a capital P.

How can I describe it? Imagine a strawberry and Pimm’s garden party with lots of oversized pectorals and gluteals bustling for space and you get a sense of the ambience in the Great Britain section of the athletes’ village. I played at my first Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 and the pre-competition reception hosted by the Princess Royal was more formal than a Bullingdon Club bash. This may sound a little strange if you accept the notion that sport has nothing to do with social class; that the Olympics is a meritocracy in which individuals succeed on the basis of hard work and talent rather than cash and privilege.

But look at the statistics and you will see instantly the connection between Posh and podium. According to a report leaked last week, more than a third of British competitors at the London Olympics in 2012 will hail from private schools — a staggering number when you consider that only 7 per cent of children are educated in the independent sector. But consider this, too: a full 58 per cent of athletes who won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens were educated at private schools, including a good few from the super-elite public schools such as Eton.

I’m sure we are all terribly proud of our medal-winners wherever they hail from, but isn’t it extraordinary that state schools are so chronically underrepresented? Isn’t it disquieting that, after hundreds of millions of pounds have been splurged in an attempt to get kids from inner-city comprehensivess on the podium in 2012, the whole thing is still dominated by the fee-paying minority? Isn’t it curious that an arena as seemingly transparent and objective as sport is as class-ridden as the judiciary?

Although the figures for the Winter Olympics this month have not been published, one imagines that things are not so terribly different in Vancouver, where the Games start at the weekend — at least in the blue-riband event of Alpine skiing.

It is estimated that the hotel, travel and coaching costs of Chemmy Alcott, Britain’s best-known skier and a medal prospect, are about £300,000 a year — not a figure easily affordable for most Brits (Alcott, incidentally, went to a private school, Surbiton High). Of the top under-16 skiers, one is a relative of the former England cricket captain David Gower and another is the son of an hereditary peer. If the Olympic slopes are not quite Méribel, perhaps they are not far off.

Even the bureaucrats at the British Olympic Association are super-posh. The chairman is Colin Moynihan, a decent cove otherwise known as the 4th Baron Moynihan. Simon Clegg, the long-serving chef de mission who left the organisation a year or so ago, is a public school-educated former military man. And its president is the ultimate blue-blood: the Princess Royal, winner of the European Eventing Championships in 1971 and mother of Zara Phillips, who is one of the leading contenders for gold in 2012 (Zara was educated at Gordonstoun, the Scottish boarding school, since you ask).

I remember arriving at the Team GB block of the Olympic village in Barcelona in 1992 and having the impression that I had walked into an Oxford or Cambridge college (in fact, the Oxbridge intake is more socially balanced than Team GB’s Athens gold medal-winners, with about 60 per cent of students coming from the state sector). It was all very pleasant and polite, with lots of joshing and laughter — but, as a product of the comprehensive education system, I couldn’t suppress the feeling that this fine group of athletes was unrepresentative of our nation. And to be honest, despite my respect for them all, I couldn’t help feeling just a little sad about that.

So, the question is: why are those who went to state schools failing to punch their weight in Team GB? Is there an inherent bias in the selection policy? Has some super-sporty genetic mutation spread among the private schools without touching the comps?

In fact, the answer is both simple and depressing: the Olympic Games is chock-full of rich men’s sports — the kind that are difficult to play and all but impossible to excel in without oodles of cash.

More here

Low intelligence among top heart health risks

Wow! I never thought I would have a report from Reuters agreeing with me. I seem to remember reading good stuff from David Batty before, though. He's not so batty. The idea of programs to increase IQ is a big laugh, though. It would have been done ages ago if it were possible. There have been attempts, but any improvements have been transitory. See HERE

Intelligence comes second only to smoking as a predictor of heart disease, scientists said on Wednesday, suggesting public health campaigns may need to be designed for people with lower IQs if they are to work. Research by Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC) found that lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores were associated with higher rates of heart disease and death, and were more important indicators than any other risk factors except smoking.

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women Europe, the United States and most industrialised countries. According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes accounted for 32 percent of all deaths around the world in 2005.

It is well known that people with poorer education and lower incomes often face higher risks of ill health and a range of diseases. Studies have pointed to many likely reasons, including limited access to healthcare and other resources, poorer living conditions, chronic stress and higher rates of lifestyle risk factors like smoking.

The MRC study, which analysed data from 1,145 men and women aged around 55 and followed up for 20 years, rated the top five heart disease risk factors as cigarette smoking, IQ, low income, high blood pressure, and low physical activity.

The researchers, led by David Batty of the MRC and Social and Public Health Science Unit in Glasgow, Scotland, said there were "a number of plausible mechanisms" which might explain why lower IQ scores could raise the risk of heart disease -- in particular a person's approach to "healthy behaviour." Those who ignored or failed to understand advice about the risks of smoking or benefits of good diet and exercise for heart health would be more likely to be at higher risk, they wrote in a study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention.

Batty said it was important to recognise the public health implications of the findings -- that skills reflected in a person's IQ may be important for managing heart disease risk. "From a public health perspective, there is the possibility that IQ can be increased, with some mixed results from trials of early learning and school readiness programmes," he said.

Ioanna Tzoulaki, a lecturer in epidemiology from Imperial College London, agreed the public health impact was important. "Public health campaigns should focus on early life factors that have been shown to influence IQ levels and tackle social inequalities," she said in a comment on the study. "At the same time, the public health messages for known risk factors such as diet may need to be simplified."


No comments: