Monday, August 25, 2008

And the point is?

"Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else."
- “Catch-22″, Joseph Heller

Wiser heads than me are wondering when medals became the primary reason for anyone to get involved in sport. The sight of the jumbo jet containing the "most successful Olympic team in 100 years" flying into Heathrow and filmed live in a mood of hysterical excitement by the BBC has left me feeling queasy. It's not too far a leap to the Nurembourg rally, as no less than Billy Connolly has pointed out.
Here's part of an excellent article from James Lawton in today's Indo:

By James Lawton

Tuesday August 26 2008

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger is not xenophobic -- he has proved that in his long years irrigating English football with the finest skill -- but he was maybe the most damning witness of all amid the fanfare which greeted Great Britain's medal haul in Beijing.

"I have been watching the Olympics. The British success is amazing because you have no structure here," he said.

"In France, every village has sports facilities provided for the public. Here there is hardly anything. Where do they all go to train? In Paris there are 50 competitive swimming pools and in London two, and yet you got the Olympics."

It is something that behind every British triumph shines like a beacon.

The wretched truth behind Britain's extraordinary showing at the 29th Olympics, bettered only by China, the United States and Russia, was that it said everything about the potential of a nation's sportsmen and women to compete against the best in the world when provided with proper support -- and absolutely nothing about the interest of successive governments in sport as anything other than an occasional boost to their fading popularity.

When London mayor Boris Johnson took the flag and promised the world's sport would be given an appropriately brilliant welcome when it came to the 30th Olympics in London in four years' time, he was participating in a lie. The lie is that Britain won the right to host the next Olympics because it was committed to investing in youth and not because of brilliant campaigning by Olympic icon Sebastian Coe and the clumsy, arrogant politics of the far superior candidate, Paris.

As well as athletic achievement, there was also the not inconsiderable matter of £265m prised out of UK Lottery profits to help the athletes -- but did that kind of largesse ever materialise before the juicy prestige of an Olympic hosting triumph came into sight -- or the national humiliation of 1996, when one gold was gleaned, which was two less than Kazakhstan?

London has the next Games and is promising a different kind of glory to that which came in Beijing -- something splendid in its own right -- but maybe they should still apply a little caution.

That certainly was the advice of the Olympic heavyweight champion Audley Harrison in Sydney eight years ago when the British team ran far ahead of expectations with 11 gold medals, 10 silver and seven bronze.

"It's all very well getting carried away with the fact that some investment in a few elite athletes has brought success," Harrison said, "but what people should remember is that there has to be a wider base for the development of young people in sport. The fact is we just don't have a sports infrastructure in Britain. We have improved here in Sydney but that is because the most talented have at last been given some real support.

However, there are so many other young people who could develop if they were given the right facilities."

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