And the gold for cynicism goes to…
With the Games over, British bigwigs can return to other sports, like moaning about 2012 and sneering about football.
Now that the Olympic flame has been extinguished and Team GB medal mania is abating, we can stop pretending that we like cycling, rowing and sailing and return instead to our traditional albeit non-IOC recognised sports.
In case you’re wondering, those classic British sports are:
1) Moaning about the 2012 Games
This sport used to consist of two disciplines: firstly, complaining that the London Games were too expensive, and secondly, complaining that the Games were in London (as opposed to a godforsaken provincial dump which is geographically more central). We can now add a third variant: complaining that the government isn’t investing enough in sports development. Last week, The Times reported an £80million shortfall in UK Sport’s funding plan for 2012 and revealed that top athletics coaches could quit as a consequence. The Tories have now upped the ante by pledging an extra £58million a year for sports funding. Damned if you spend more, damned if you don’t. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Tessa Jowell. Almost.
2) Premature decoration
Gordon Brown has already promised gongs for Team GB’s medallists. ‘I think the whole country will want to see our athletes honoured and I think the country will want to celebrate their successes and give them the permanent recognition’, said the PM. Rebecca Adlington is being tipped for a CBE or OBE – as well as having various pubs and swimming pools named after her – while Chris Hoy is reportedly in line for a knighthood.
Now I’m no gong fan (the honours system, not the 1970s prog rock band). But if we must honour our sports stars, would it do any harm to wait until they’re at the end of their careers? Premature decoration simply encourages the kind of self-satisfaction we saw from the Ashes-winning cricket team who, as Martin Samuel put it, ‘went on a year-long lap of honour, resulting in complacency and ultimately panic when the real Australia turned up in Brisbane looking for revenge’ (1). Celebrate success, yes, but keep the gongs under wraps for now. ‘Treat them mean, keep them keen’ – that’s my motto.
3) Sneering at football
The English cricket and rugby teams have enjoyed only fitful success in recent years. But on each occasion, their sports have been used as a stick with which to beat uncouth, money-grabbing football. Invariably, Team GB’s Olympic success has been contrasted with the underachievement of the England football team. The Olympians are not only winners, they have far more humility than our footballers, who, as one contributor to The Times letters page memorably put it, are ‘pampered, obscenely overpaid, overindulged and poorly disciplined “superstars”, who seem to care only for themselves and their overinflated bank balances at the expense of love of country’ (2). The Olympic stars are also articulate, whereas our footballers speak in ‘syntax-mangling, grammarless, cliché-ridden Neanderthal grunts’, according to Jeff Randall in the Daily Telegraph (3).
Having a pop at China, as spiked documented in the run-up to the Beijing Games, has become the Western liberal’s favourite parlour game. If it’s not China’s human rights record, its occupation of Tibet, or its investment in Sudan, then it’s the pollution or the inhuman training programmes designed to churn out robotic medal winners. Although the achievements of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and, above all, Our Glorious Team GB Medallists did briefly take centre stage, we still found time to attack the Chinese during the tournament.
Firstly, China bought its medals through a Stalinist mobilisation of state resources (whereas our Lottery funding was ‘targeted’). Secondly, they were cheats who fielded underage girls in the gymnastics. Thirdly, the Chinese, bless them, simply didn’t know how to party. The facilities and choreographed ceremonies were awesome but, as Martin Samuel claimed: ‘Give anyone total, terrifying control over a population, with force, and they will make them march in unison, drum, smile, dance, mime, jump through hoops if necessary.’ (4)
Apparently the security was too tight, there were no giant TV screens, and squads of clapping, stick-wielding cheerleaders were dispatched to fill empty seats and generate atmosphere. The Chinese have much to learn from Our Glorious Barclays Premier League in which there is no need to manufacture atmosphere through the use of rabble-rousing djs, piped music and, er…what? Oh!
5) Playing political football with the GB football team idea
Gordon Brown wants a GB football team – as opposed to the England team – to compete in the 2012 Games. It’s been 96 years of hurt since Great Britain won the Olympic football tournament in 1912. Surely football fans support the idea? Well, actually no.
There is little public appetite for a British football team. The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Football Associations all want to boot the plans into Row Z. They fear the loss of their independent status, not to mention their permanent seats on the elite rule-making International Football Association Board. And, although I have no truck with blazer self-preservation wrapped up in patriotic garb, the idea of a British football team really does stink.
Why? Well, for starters, does anyone seriously think that wearing the Team GB jersey is going to stop our footballers shanking penalties, breaking metatarsals and choking at the quarter-finals? ‘Like many fans I’ve wondered just how many World Cups a Team GB would have won’, wrote sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe on Guardian Unlimited (5). Is that so? Do you imagine Fabio Capello saying to himself: ‘If only we had Darren Fletcher in the squad. Hell, we could win this thing.’ No, didn’t think so.
Secondly, and more importantly, who gives a monkey’s chuff about Olympic football? Gordon Brown, Gerry Sutcliffe, the British Olympic Association and, er, that’s about it. Ask most football fans and they’d struggle to name the men’s gold medallists in recent Olympiads. Read my lips: WE JUST DON’T CARE. In 2012 ping pong might be coming home, to quote Boris Johnson, but football should stay away.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.
(1) Let us pray for an Ashes whitewash, for 3 o’clock kick-offs…and for West Ham, The Times (London), 3 January 2007
(2) Letters Page, The Times (London), 21 August 2008
(3) Our Olympians are pure gold… unlike England’s rich poseurs, Telegraph, 22 August 2008
(4) China’s apologists are wide-eyed and clueless, The Times (London), 27 August 2008
(5) Big debate: should Great Britain enter a football team at London 2012?, Guardian Unlimited, 27 August 2008