With the Olympics starting this week it is interesting to see how our attitudes to physical activity varies. In last weekends paper was a full-page ad from the State Government. The headline was” When our kids play sport, our whole community wins”. The ad was in the form of a letter supporting those going to the Olympics and thanking those who helped them get there. The Premier signed it.

Eight pages earlier was a story of how a council was going to force a tree house to be taken down. According to the newspaper report the children had been “hassling” their father to erect a tree house and so he finally put one up. Three weeks after completion he was told by council rangers to take it down.

The Town’s Mayor has sympathy but he only has one vote on council, which voted 6-3 to tear it down.

The tree house has been popular with children and the father told the paper “the kids love it. In the afternoon there’ll often be six to eight kids playing out on the tree. It’s just good, clean adventure”.

The council and its rangers apparently would prefer the children to be inside on a play station or watching TV and not playing outside where, shock, horror, they may sustain a minor injury.

And that is the issue! A child could fall over. A child could end up with a cut or graze. It is actually possible that if a child falls over they can in certain circumstances break a bone.

The fact that governments allow people to sue for the fact that someone falls over is the key problem here. It is not the “fault” of a tree, if someone falls out of it. This applies even if that someone is a child.

Meanwhile the damage done by having children inside in front of screens is not considered. By doing this children are more likely to become obese and be unfit. They are more likely to develop behavioral problems. Their health will be far more adversely affected by this; than by a graze, or even a broken bone which will heal up.

The stupidity of governments knows no bounds.

And yes I appreciate that we are talking about different levels of government here but that does not alter the problem. We have one level of government spending thousands of taxpayer dollars congratulating itself on athletes going to the Olympics whilst at the same time we are stopping children playing outside.

Remembering that outside play in a young age group is the logical precursor to sport played outside which in turn may lead some to the Olympics.

The icing on this cake is that the ad features selected Olympians with pictures of them in their sport and as…children.

The absolutely appalling aspect in this is that it is within the power of government to alter statutes to prevent the nonsense, which stops children enjoying a tree house. All that is required is a will to act.

But why bother when you can appear to be doing something by running full-page ads at taxpayer expense.

To be honest the Olympics do not excite me that much. Yes it is the elite sportspeople of the world and yes it happens only once every four years but I do not normally watch the sports involved so I really struggle to get worked up.

There is a disconnect between the effort Australia puts in to “win” gold medals compared to the lack of effort made in supporting people in regular exercise. It has been estimated that each gold medal won in Beijing cost Australian taxpayers $17 million. The cost of gold medals won between 1980 and 1996 has been estimated at $40 million each! Interestingly the US government does not provide funding for Olympic athletes.

But local councils, apart from wanting to stop children being active outside, want to charge people to exercise in the park with personal trainers.  Children are wrapped in cotton wool especially in government schools and not allowed to do outdoor education, which benefits their physical and mental health.

Here are two things to think about. Firstly, aside from team sports like basketball or hockey, Olympic events are individual pursuits. This is why you can get a final with athletes from the same country competing with each other. They are not winning for a country but for themselves. In turn any money they earn from endorsements goes into their bank account and not to the taxpayers. And unlike University students they do not even have to repay coaching (‘tuition”) fees.

Secondly, and more importantly is what goes on with the athletes. Former swimmer Grant Hackett has confessed to being reliant on sleeping tablets, which he claims were first administered to him by Olympic officials! How many others may be in the same boat?

Others scream blue murder if not selected. And there are enough question marks over some of those processes too. One woman said she would boycott the opening ceremony if a woman didn’t carry the flag. Others object to having to fly at the back of the plane rather than in business class. This is completely upside down. Nobody should be flying business class at taxpayer expense!

We have seen swimmers criticized and indeed punished for having a photo taken brandishing guns (in a gun shop!) and a swimmer criticized for posting photos of herself in … bathers! And a shooter has appeared in bathers!

It is not just Australians either. So far 107 athletes have been banned fro the games due to testing positive to assorted drugs. A Greek athlete has been sent home to due posts on twitter (she wont be the last I suspect).

There is an inherent tension in the attempts to portray Olympic athletes as “family friendly” golden kids whilst at the same time they are driven relentlessly to succeed at pretty much all costs!

In 2009 an independent review suggested that taxpayer dollars could be better spent on supporting mass participation in sport and exercise rather than chasing gold medals. This caused a furor. It seems that there is a gravy train and lots of people on it, most of who are not athletes.

The arrogance of the athletes is matched by that of the officials.

The Chairman of the AOC “disapproved” of the Prime Minister not going to the Olympics. Who does he think he is? The sports minister will jet in and is capable of representing the government, which has paid all this money out.

It is human nature to strive and it is also part of human nature to want to watch others do exactly that. This is the appeal of events like the Olympics.

Whether spending $1.2 billion over the four years from 2010, so that some individuals can win medals, is good use of dollars can be questioned. Especially when there are government made barriers to people being able to do a bit of regular exercise.