Ben johnson

Will the Olympics ever be politics-free?

The modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896 in a genuflection to their Grecian predecessors, was the creation of Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat. As this septet of books shows from allusive angles, Coubertin’s best known quotation – ‘the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part’ – must rank as a paradigm example of a precept more honoured in the breach than the observance. It is rivalled only by his anticipation that the Games would be ‘a vehicle for increasing friendly understanding among nations’. In an elegant series of vignettes entitled Aux Armes! Sport and the French: An English Perspective (Fairfield Books,

War and plague have menaced theatres before, but rarely on this scale

It seems a long time ago now. I was meeting the artistic director of a pub theatre near Westminster on the afternoon of 16 March. Already it was clear that this was one of the worst days of his professional life. That evening’s performance of a John Osborne play had been cancelled because a cast member had caught a severe cold over the weekend. During the morning, four more shows had withdrawn their productions, and the theatre had nothing to present for the next eight weeks. As we spoke, his phone pinged. Another cancellation. The door swung open and the production manager came in with a look of doom on