The London Olympics have so far been a wonderful event for Britain, with so many medals and a chance to demonstrate how beautiful our country is, with incredible heritage and culture to excite visitors. The creativity of the opening ceremony left the world thinking about our world differently, as we brought together the copper kettles in a unity perhaps never before seen. Britain was shown to be multicultural – distinctive and egalitarian, with its treatment of ethnic minorities and fully embracing people from every country equally. Women’s equality has come further to the fore, as some countries are for the first time allowing women to compete. At the same time, a woman, Jessica Ennis, was the face of the games and the moment that she took her gold medal on the podium was as perfect as anything Britain could have imagined. On a day, where we achieved six gold medals, Britain should justifiably be proud of what it has achieved and the country we have built.
Lord Coe’s message was that we wanted this Olympics to inspire a generation and that he wanted a legacy for London 2012, so that people could remember these three weeks in the limelight for decades to come. In addition to this, the recent Diamond Jubilee in Britain has brought together a new foundation to help those in need across the Commonwealth, which is chaired by Sir John Major and it is here that I believe our Olympics has needed more work. Excepting Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the Commonwealth has lacked much overall presence in the Olympics. Agreed we have the Jamaican sprinters and some African long distance runners, who have been lucky enough to attract international sponsorship – these stars show us the potential if youngsters are nurtured in these developing countries. Quite often, though, we Britons have found ourselves cheering for Niger rowing in one minute behind the rest and suggesting it is enough to let these people compete, expecting some non-existent international sports body to come in and pay for the multiple years’ training required for Niger to compete on an even basis.
Britain’s cycling medals owe much to technology and facilities investment, which effectively excludes most of the countries around the world from competing. Add in sailing, rowing (apparently £20,000 per boat) and equestrian and we must be careful not to be spending excessive amounts of money supporting sports, which are actually widening the gap between Olympic rich and Olympic poor. We in Britain are quite blase about the money being invested in sport, as we (wrongly) accept the money paid out to our Premier Division footballers. If we are spending money in support of gold medals, then should we be exploiting an uneven playing field? Instead, in our capacity as a leader in world sport, we could be developing sport in general around the world. Why not have a development strategy to see some African countries benefit economically through their sports potential? Why not develop an Olympic fund for the development of sports facilities in developing countries, which would ensure much greater representation at the elite levels of sport?
This is not to detract from some of the excellent work done by sports charities, but sports investment goes mainly to home countries and rarely to the developing countries, which bubble with potential sports stars. Sport can be a unifying presence, yet so often it is about winning at all costs, not the excitement of the sports spectacle. Often the most memorable moments have nothing to do with winning – picture Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics being carried across the line by his father – more powerful than most gold medals.
When I saw Mo Farah’s fantastic win last night in the 10,000m, I was proud that Britain had cared enough to allow Mo’s father to bring his family in, away from the dangers of Somalia. I am now very proud to see that Mo has started a foundation to help support East Africa, as we can see that he himself is acutely aware of this economic imbalance. I hope this Foundation goes from strength to strength and there are many others of our elite athletes who have done and are doing similar amazing work – Kris Akabusi, Dame Kelly Holmes and many others.
However, this is not enough. In a small corner of East Africa, Uganda, Kampala, a 17-year old boy has for the last three years tirelessly supported the development of young athletes in his tiny Athletics Club of 20 boys living in the nearby slum district. He has trained these kids to run low 2 minutes for 800m and encouraged them to come to his club because they receive a biscuit after their run and access to a water tap. Francis Ssuuna does this because he is part of a new generation of young Africans, who don’t want to be left behind by the rest of the world. They follow the Olympics in the Ugandan news, because the actual events are covered on the expensive DSTV, which they cannot afford.
So can we rely on Jeremy Hunt and Lord Coe to care enough about these young people, who on August 12th, will run a sponsored 10,000m, just to pay for their school fees? Are these youngsters the generation that London 2012 was intended to inspire, or do we as Britons expect others to step in, because we care only for people living here?
Sport is not about measuring gold medals; it is about developing a better world for all of us, full of stories, memories and inspiration and thank you (so far) to the 2012 Olympics for this.
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