UK Sport should award itself a gold medal for Soft Power by Derek Wyatt
Last year was pretty good: both the Olympics and Paralympics rocked the world and our volunteers showed such warmth and energy that they were truly our real gold medalists. Still 43 golds in both events showed the nation and the world what can be done if you set your mind to it. Ditto the whole Olympic thing from the BBC's outstanding coverage to the opening and closing ceremonies, to having the site ready early, to bringing it in under budget and to rejuvenating Lee Valley which had won successive medals for being such an eyesore. We walked tall for a month or so. And that was after Bradley Wiggins' brilliant victory in the Tour de France and before that magical Ryder Cup match which saw Europe take the event by one point.
Fast forward to this year and already sport has again led the news. Justin Rose set the ball rolling winning the US Open. Our cricketers beat New Zealand 2-0 in the Investec test series and then reached the final of the ICC Champions Trophy. The Ashes series is just underway but we would be foolish to write off these Aussies. There is not a more competitive sporting nation.
However, if we need an omen, we need look no further than The Lions tour Down Under where we finally roared and dismantled a young Wallaby XV by a record score of 41-16 to take the series 2-1. At the three Tests there were almost as many British and Irish supporters than there were locals which was a huge testament to the place the Lions now have in our hearts.
Congratulations too to Peter Winterbottom (a former Lion), James Hibbert(Owner of Dress 2 Kill), Mike Gore (RoadRags) and Richard Gorman (Organiser, Cosaveli) for arranging the Ride of the Lions from Melbourne to Sydney. Over 100 cyclists, made up of ex Lions and Wallabies and their supporters, covered the 650km ride and help raise almost £200k for Walking with The Wounded. Good on them.
Sport reaches those parts that other elements of our cultural world have never been able to access and so it was a great disappointment to read recently Influence and Attraction: culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century produced by Demos for the British Council. Why? Because sport was almost totally overlooked and yet there are more members of both the International Olympic Committee and the FIFA – the world body for soccer - than there are of the UNO! Dear me what an oversight.
Of course, I realise I haven’t yet mentioned the Boy Done Good Murray. When the first four games of the first set of that extraordinary final at Wimbledon lasted nearly half an hour most of us thought it couldn’t, given the heat, go five sets though that is what all the experts predicted. The key was to win the first set, then the second and then the third. If only it was that easy for Djokovic is as hard as nails. He has great poise and was exceptionally graceful in defeat. Pity there aren’t more of his sort in sport per se.
And finally Perry’s boil was lanced. Amazing really, Perry won three Wimbledons in a row from 1934-36 and eight Grand Slams in all but no knighthood for him: shame on Wimbledon and shame on the government of the day. Let us hope it will soon be Sir Andy for no athlete has improved so much in such a short space of time. And he’s still only 26…….He is an exemplar of that great Gary Player quote “The harder I work the luckier I get”. Three cheers.
No sooner had we recovered from Murray’s sensational performance than another athlete rode into the sunset. Not many of us might had heard of him a year ago but we do now as Chris Froome, born in Kenya and raised in South Africa but riding for the Sky team, currently (as we go to press) has the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he became the new head spokesman for cycling?
I wouldn’t want to finish on a sour note…..but at every level every sport has improved over the past decade except in the round ball game. Soccer is so far the biggest sport in the world you would be hard put to name the second. And yet, weekly throughout the professional game, supporters chant the most appalling abuse at one another and at black players which can be heard on television but the commentators and editors turn a deaf ear.
Extraordinarily the FA, the Premier League, the owners of the clubs, the local police and the PFA do nothing. How about instead of just “Kick racism out of football” we also had another campaign to “Kick abusive language out of the game?” Clubs would be warned by the police and be given a yellow card and then a red card where they would have to play their home games in empty stadiums.
I know what a crackpot I am but it demeans the beautiful game.
Sport still has much to look forward to including world cups in rugby league and rugby union, a Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the world championships in track and field and more. Could the Foreign Office move the goalposts from just sending orchestras, artists, film stars and writers to the Venice Biennale and their ilk and create a London Sports equivalent and invite the world to come see just how great our sports coaches, sportsmen and women are. Currently, I doubt if there is a nation in the world with such stunning sporting success.