Learning from London 2012: Olympics and football


(First things first, I love football). With a euphoric sense of national pride flowing from all corners of the Isle it is with a weary sigh that we welcome back the return of the Premier League. Weary? Yes, weary.

The conclusion of the Olympic Games threatened to overshadow the football seasons’ annual curtain raiser, the Community Shield; visible empty seats and a confirmed half full attendance figure proved as much. The game could not have been more effective in its stark contrast to the Olympic Games and its competing athletes. To say athletes have competed in the ‘Olympic spirit’ verges on cringe-inducing but it most accurately describes the compelling drama we have witnessed on our televisions over the past fortnight.

From the swimming pool, to the velodrome to the streets of London, British competitors have exceeded all expectations and created sporting moments we will be talking about in decades to come. The same can not be said for the Community Shield and its participants.

Two of the Premier League’s highest spending teams of the last decade lined up against each other on Sunday. The combined ‘value’ of the talent on show exceeded £400 million. Supposed ‘stars’ were on show: an accused racist, a cheat and a guy who refused to play for his team. All earn well in excess of £100k a week. The surnames of these individuals adorn the replica shirts of youngsters and no doubt feature in posters on young boys and girls walls. And we deem these individuals role models?

The Olympics have not only been a welcome distraction from the monotony of the summer transfer window but they have provided the platform for a new generation of genuine role models to emerge. From the velodrome to the canoe rapids, British athletes have excelled. Not only have they excelled, but they have demonstrated how to compete with the right attitude; shaking hands with fellow athletes after running through the finishing line, thanking the public for support during interviews and applauding others when well beaten.

Even Usain Bolt, who exudes confidence verging on arrogance, carries an air of grace in all he does, quick to thank Birmingham University in his post race interviews for their help and the facilities they made available to him. British competitors have demonstrated admirable behaviour and sporting competitiveness, never straying into the realms of gamesmanship.

The same can not be said of their footballing counterparts in the Premier League. The Community Shield today advertised all that is wrong with football, with the issue magnificently summarised by the Independent,

“It is to anticipate an unending pursuit of advantage, however dubiously achieved. It is to expect examples of greed and cheating and malign attitudes in an unending flow. It is to think of racism trials and Twitter rows and an overwhelming sense that if the game has a dominant motivation, it is the pursuit of unbridled wealth and the barest understanding of the responsibilities it might bring”

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