Learning from London 2012: Olympics and football


Questions have been asked about the ethics of the Olympic movement: the courting of corporate sponsors at the forefront of debate. Such issues pale in significance when day after day, we have been provided with intense competition littered with brilliance by individual and team performances. This is not to brush real issues under the carpet but the Games have demonstrated and reinforced how sport can be played in a certain ‘spirit’. Contrast that with the money fuelled, TV rights controlled obscenity that has become the Premier League, rife with cheating and gamesmanship. Multi-millionaire players have become detached from reality: refusal to shake hands, racism and ego’s have scarred football, contributing to the tarnishing of its reputation. There is a vast chasm of difference between footballing incidences that generate positive debate, such as goal line technology compared to players fundamentally assaulting fellow professionals, a la Joey Barton versus Manchester City.

To dream that the Premier League elite may one day conduct themselves in a manner similar to that of their Olympic counterparts may be hoping against hope. Asking John Terry to behave in the spirit demonstrated by the likes of Ennis, Bolt, Hoy and Farah may well be a lost cause. Football players have become far too detached from reality to hope that they care how they are perceived by ordinary people.

But with national pride at an all time high, would it not be a missed opportunity for football not to take a lead from the impact of the Olympics? The outpouring of excitement and emotion on nights like ‘Super Saturday’ gave us scenes never before witnessed in this country. Countless stories of adversity before eventual triumph gave fans the opportunities to empathise with athletes and realise the true sacrifice of competitors giving their heart, body and mind to their discipline for years. Tom Daley and Gemma Gibbons are names that spring to mind.

There will be those who claim the Olympics is a circus, an expensive distraction from daily life. It is expensive. It is even a distraction. But it is a welcome distraction. A distraction that has genuinely inspired young people. I personally witnessed local kids drawing their own velodrome in chalk on a circular path just outside my front door, emulating their hero Chris Hoy. Whether the government can capitalise on the national enthusiasm will only be answered in years to come.

To restore its reputation, the Premier League must act to stamp out the disgraceful behaviour of players deemed ‘role models’ to the youngsters playing at grass route level. Victoria Pendleton ended her cycling career in tears of bitter disappointment but still had the wherewithal to thank her supporters. She even touched gloves with her fierce rival Anna Meares. Take note Joey Barton. You can lose with grace.

The success of the Games will be measured in a number of ways. Medal tables. Gold medals. Bums on seats. But perhaps most significantly, it has provided a platform for sport to touch all of us. Football has the platform to reach all of us not on a four year cycle, but week on week. It needs to go a long way to replicate the ‘spirit’ of the Olympic Games but should strive to do so where possible. It is vital to the future of football that the powers that be act to protect the integrity of the game. And the Olympics provides a shining torch like example to follow.

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