Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Too much perspective

It's the morning after the morning after and the newspapers, blogs and various other media outlets are still in the process of congratulating everybody associated with the successful 2012 Olympic Games, which basically means every athlete, volunteer and anybody who has purchased a lottery ticket since 1994 and contributed towards the cost. Of course those on lower incomes contribute more to the lottery than other social groups and so they should take a bigger bow than most.

The Olympics aren't, just, about cost though. Although you can find studies which can be equally persuasive about cities making a profit, breaking even or making a loss from staging the games and the division between those who believe any of the possible outcomes isn't as politically obvious as you would think. Of course politicians will want to be seen joining in the success and there's nothing wrong with success by association but once the Paralympics have finished there will be the realisation that we are still deep in a recession, that the Chancellor is having problems convincing anybody that he can do his job and that 'sport for all' has been a failure in the past and will be a failure in the future, however you want to present it.

As I wrote before the games began Britain would 'do a Spain', win a shed full of medals in its home games and then slowly come to the realisation that only those who enjoy sport will ever be any good at them. And you have to smile at the David Cameron conceit about removing the idea that sport can be uncompetitive, sport will always be uncompetitive for those who don't like sport, the viewing figures for the Olympics themselves confirming that whilst 20 million might have tuned in for 'super Saturday' that means that over 40 million didn't, have little or no interest in the sports featured in the games and whatever political capital is made from these games will have no interest going forward.

By all means put the facilities in place, train the coaches, encourage people to be more active but please don't think that a return to the way, some, school sports were organised before 1997 is suddenly going to turn the tap on and produce more medals - after all a glance at any table of Great British Olympic achievement before these games will show that there never was a 'golden age' of athletic achievement brought about because of sports in schools. Seb Coe was trained by his Dad until Uni, Steve Cram was trained by a local athletics club until just before the 1984 Olympics, Steve Ovett is the exception, among our previous era of great middle distance runners - but even he went to a local comp rather than a private school , and Daley Thompson's (like Ovett) first love was football but his interest in athletics was fostered not through school but like Cram through the local athletics club.

People who thrive on the competitiveness of sport believe that simply competing leaves you with something that will guide you through life, but it will only do that for those who succeed, it will do nothing for those who repeatedly lose. To be a successful athlete in any indvidual sport you have to be selfish, you have to want to win on your terms not anybody else's - that's why the likes of Ovett, Thompson and Nick Faldo gave up football, they hated the idea of being reliant on (as Faldo put it), 'ten other guys getting it right everytime so that you could be a winner'.

We've been her before when we (as a competing nation) have been either moderately successful or, as has been the case many times, hopelessly inept. The best way to encourage children to take part in sport is to provide facilities and then let nature take its course. As somebody remarked on TV at the weekend every sporting success has a knock on effect, when Steve Redgrave (as he was then) won his final gold medal it was immediately followed by an upsurge in membership numbers of rowing clubs, within a few weeks the numbers were back down to what they had been before the games simply because young people realised they didn't fancy being shouted at at 6 a.m in the morning when it was pouring down with rain and a wind buffetting them on the river.

Ken Clarke once said, of the NHS, that simply throwing money at something doesn't make it more efficient. He was right then and it's a thought that should be applied to everything in life. John Major may have left only two worthy legacies from his time as PM: Maastricht and the National Lottery but that 28% of income that was set aside for 'good causes' back in 1994 has finally borne fruit.    

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