High Ground edition 14; dateline 31 August 2012
Events, dear boy, events...
2012, 2014, 1314 – what’s in a number? Well the Greatest Show on Earth is nearly over in Old London Town and all eyes (well, OK, some eyes) turn to the Greatest City on Earth – or “Glesca” as its known to resident “Weegies” – for the Commonwealth Games in two years time. Of course, the year of the Games is also the same year as the referendum on restoration of Scottish independence – tasty!
Sport and politics never mix, eh? Just ask Seb, Boris and Call me Dave on that score, never mind ex-PM Gordon “The Broon” Brown. Big Gordy was strutting his stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (as opposed to the comedy one) and he was waxing lyrical about why Scotland should remain devolved within the UK. It was all because of Team GB don’t you know. Obviously he meant, “and Northern Ireland” but let’s not get focused on details.
For The Broon Team GB clearly demonstrated that when you pool your resources you are more successful; nothing could be simpler, just ask Sir Chris. Big Gordy implied that he had asked the Knight Rider, although I’m not sure he had but that’s politics. Look at the facts, the ex-PM said. Sir Chris, rubbish on a bike without Team GB (he didn’t say that but bear with me anyway), a world beater when he pulled on the Union Jack skinsuit.
Look at the medals that, athletic combos from around the Union won, all succeeding due to the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, or something like that. That’s the winning formula for everything, says Gordy, and as it worked for the Olympics then it clearly works for macro-economic theory, world peace and nuclear physics – sorted!
In the interests of balance perhaps we should take a wee look at what the theory might reveal from an alternative perspective. Were athletes, combos and teams at the five-ring circus, backed by the mighty Team GB infrastructure, always successful? How about men’s and women’s football? Men’s hockey? Volleyball, basketball, handball? Interesting.
Was every individual athlete more successful because they were part of a GB performance structure? Euan Burton in the judo and Josh Taylor in the boxing must not have got the email; unfortunately for them. So maybe, Gordy, it’s a bit more complex than you think after all.
By the way, I enjoyed the Olympics and will enjoy the Paralympics too. I enjoyed the many great performances of athletes from around the world, including those from Team GB’s Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish contingents. I would have added the Isle of Man if wee Mark had got on better on his bike.
Highlights for me were David Rudisha’s 800m master-class; Oor Andy Murray winning at Wimbers over Roger the big F; Don’t-make-me-angry Ainslie; Luke Patience’s and Stuart Bithell’s “we’re happy, happy boys” silver medal interview: the aforesaid wee Mark Cavendish’s post-race interview when he was asked, “Are you a bit tired after the Tour?” and he replied “Why don’t you stop asking stupid questions, do you know anything about cycling?”; and the Lithuanian but Plymouth-trained swimming sensation Ruta Meilutyte. (I understand The Broon is calling for the country of Lithuania to merge with the UK because that’s what gets results. No response, so far, from Lithuania.)
I also loved Greg Rutherford, a geezer from Milton Keynes, mate, becoming an Olympic Champion without recourse to media-savvy hand gestures or a makeover team – brilliant. My other best bit was listening to Stewart Harris, CEO of Sport Scotland, doing his “I’m really just a punter, me” impressions in media interviews. The big chap went a bit overboard trying to show his street credentials by saying things like, “I just happened to be at the aquatics centre when Michael Jamieson won his silver medal”, and, “I was lucky to have popped into the equestrian arena when a Scottish rider struck gold”, and so on. I was hoping we might have a Scot in the long jump so I could hear him say, “I was just topping up my tan by the sand when you’ll never guess what happened?”
The topper was when he popped up on Newsnight wearing a team GB trackie – how down with the punters is that? The thing is, Big Stew (as he is known up here) is actually one national agency CEO who turns up to the opening of small local sports clubs’ new whatevers and doesn’t send a middle manager. He actually didn’t have to prove anything. I would expect my national sports agency CEO to be at events supporting our elite athletes at a Games, and I’d want to know if he wasn’t there.
So they were the best bits. What about the bits I could have done without? Well, only a few really. All the crying from too many folk who had won stuff. What’s happening, man? Is it the X-Factor? Jess, the rowers, even Sir Chris was at it big time!
Next? BBC airtime for Jess after she won her gold. Surely someone must have worked out that when she said, “It’s amazing, I can’t describe how I feel” for maybe the fifth time, that she was actually telling the truth. I sat up waiting to see David Rudisha’s performance on the late-night show days later and had to endure thirty-five minutes, I kid you not, of pundits asking Jess again how she felt, while re-running her race and the tears in the background.
And my final “Oh please!” experience was seeing how a teenage swimmer from China smashing records was held to be a bit iffy but when a Plymouth-based Lithuanian did the same then it was assumed to be down to good old British hard work. All in all though, a good Games for all concerned unless you expected a medal and didn’t get one, or the one you got was the wrong colour.
So now the next major event in the British Isles is the Commonwealth Games in 2014. There was an interesting poll of all the politicians after the Olympics for, I think, The Sunday Times. First Minister Alex Salmond was pretty low-key around the Olympics as an event and clanged a bit when he forged the term ‘Scolympians’ to describe Scots in Team GB – ouch. That’s what happens when political spin doctors get involved in sport discussions.
Anyway, the poll results were fascinating. You would have thought that there might be a ‘Union bounce’, as it were. After all there were a lot of references during the Games to “didn’t we do well”, not just from the BBC, and success always brings with it an amount of reflected glory. In fact, the poll did indicate that 8% of Scots felt “more British” post-Olympics and, yes, this did make them more likely to vote “No” in the referendum. However, 12% said the Games made them feel more Scottish and more likely to vote “Yes”. The rest of the people polled said it made no difference in any way. As I said, fascinating.
So I wonder what effect the Commonwealth Games might have. Will it depend on whether Team Scotland does well or not so well and what doing well means? Will it depend on how they do in relation to how England does? Remember the 2012 effect will mean something different if you were heartily cheering on a cyclist or a swimmer in a GB vest or swim cap at the Olympics who two years later is beating your guy to a medal at your ‘home games’.
Or perhaps we’ll find that sport simply isn’t as important as many of us think and winners and losers are just playing games. MacSideliner will be returning to this theme over the next two years I’m sure.
Meanwhile much more important stuff. Every best wish to Joe Ansbro of Scotland and London Irish for a speedy recovery to health and hopefully to playing rugby again in the future.
The High Ground
An alternative view of the Scottish sport, leisure and culture landscape