Inspire a generation…
by Phil Baker
Published : 31 December 2014
“While u guys around the world are out celebrating New Year spare a thought for me please… I’ll be in the team hotel sleeping!! #LoveTheGame”
Rio Ferdinand’s tweet (and the response to it) illustrated the problem many people have with the sport’s men and women they are most familiar with. Highly paid (apparently £125,000 a week) they seem often without the common sense that might be expected to go with such remuneration. To be complaining about having to be asleep in a hotel (not even working as doctors, nurses, waiters have to) on New Year’s Eve seemed a trifle insensitive in the present climate. As some of the replies were keen to point out in no uncertain terms. Football supporters are not known for their tact.
Perhaps this feeling earlier in the year contributed to the huge wave of apathy and antagonism towards the impending Olympics. To quote a Matt cartoon at the time ‘I thought I didn’t care about the Games but it’s hard not to get swept up in the wave of cynicism.’ Like the character I have to admit to being quite happy to be kayaking in Austria for the first week of the Olympics. It seemed to be an inordinate amount of money for what was likely to be a drug fuelled competition at some level or another. It wasn’t helped by the publication of ‘The Dirtiest Race in History’ which highlighted the fact that of the eight finalists in the final of the 100m in Seoul by the end of their careers just two had no history of drug use. At the time this was the race that was being hailed as the greatest race in history until, 52 hours later, Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal.
But something happened! It didn’t just inspire a generation it inspired the generations of the nation. How did that happen? Well it certainly helped that we won a lot of medals. But it was more than that (I’m reminded of the huge cheer, the biggest of the last night of the Paralympics, when Oscar Pistorius (a South African) came out). For me it was that the athletes seemed such ‘nice’, unassuming people. Committed, focused, driven certainly but ‘nice.’ Is there anyone who wasn’t won over by Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Laura Trott, the Brownlees, et al.? When these and others less successful were interviewed they were magnanimous, complimentary… They didn’t complain about referees, the pitch, the crowd or the fact they had to sleep in a team hotel the night before. And I bet every one of their training programmes is more sustained than any footballers. I remember Steve Redgrave once saying that he trained every single day of the year.
However, my worry about the legacy is that will there be one? Peoples’ memories, especially those it was aimed at, are short. And quoting a later Matt cartoon “I’ve been inspired by the Games I’ve sold my bike and bought a bigger TV.” What is really needed perhaps is more coverage, a higher profile or something for the myriad of smaller events that take place every day in Britain.
Events like the Fellsman! If I hadn’t happened to go to Leeds University and met Don Robinson I’m sure I would never heard of it. But this is the type of small scale, when compared with the Olympic Park, sporting event that can inspire a generation. Because it has all the attributes of the spirit of the Games witnessed this summer. A great atmosphere, a buzz when entering the ‘stadium.’ World class athletes competing with those from lesser nations (like Essex – only in fell running terms). A field of committed, focused, driven people with a gruelling training programme behind them. But most important of all – Everyone is so… so ‘nice.’
P.S. For aggrieved footie fans Messi is pretty nice!