Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Olympics and their legacy

I am not and never have been all that interested in sport so haven't taken much notice of the Olympics.  That doesn't mean that I don't admire the skill and dedication of those who have taken part (not just those who have won medals), and especially the way the Paralympians have overcome handicaps far greater than anything most of us have to face.  But I don't find it all that interesting, just as I admire, say,  the dedication of those who collect an classify butterflies, or the courage of those who sky dive, but I don;t want to watch either of them.

Having passed through London on the eve of the games  I can vouch for the friendliness and helpfulness of the volunteers in purple and pink shirts,one of whom went to great lengths to get me to the right platform on a strange station.  It was also pleasant that, for a few weeks, the amount of "good" news in the media far outweighed the amount of bad, though the civil war in Syria, the world food crisis  and the economic recession didn't actually go away.  And I'm please that the nation as a whole seems to have had a great party, though I'm no sure that spending £9bn on it is the most sensible way of dispensing public money at the moment.

The crass failure of private sector G4s to fulfil its contract and the way that the public sector army stepped in to fill the gap so effectively should put an end to the monetarist mantra of "private sector good, public sector bad" but I don't suppose it will.

I am a little disturbed by the way  way the media drooled with such enthusiasm  over the British medal haul in both games.  This seemed to me rather rude for the host nation, and not appropriate to what my boyhood reading of low grade novels (W E Johns and Percy F Westerman) taught me should be the British character: quiet competence, modesty and self deprecation rather than triumphalism.

And I remain rather bemused by the assumption everyone seems to make that we all, and particularly the young, should be bullied into taking part in sport.  Why not music? After all, in the Proms we put on a "world class" music festival every year, not just twice in a lifetime, but no-one, as far as I know, is pouring lottery money into instrumental music teaching and insisting that every child should learn to play the trombone. Quite the reverse in fact. And science?  As a nation we've won more than  our share of Nobel prizes, but we seem to be cutting back rather than expanding our university science departments, not dishing out free chemistry sets for all.

Not that I believe that vast expenditure on the elite in sport is likely to generate a nation of participants.  The "trickle-down effect" doesn't work in economic and I doubt it will have much effect in sports participation either: just bring pleasure to a nation of watchers.

Although one of those whose poor eyesight, lack of hand-eye co-ordination and general slowness and clumsiness meant that I was always last to be picked by the athletic youth chosen as "captain" for one of the teams in my childhood, I cannot claim that compulsory sport and PE made my life a misery, but neither did it provide much enjoyment: just one of those things that had to be endured.  I suppose it may have been  character-building.

 I'd like to think that schools would devoted their energies to providing the means for and encouraging the young to discover creative ways of using their leisure, rather than bullying them into being reluctant participants in sports.

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