Friday, 8 August 2008

The Olympics: why I care

I have never really got into the Olympics before now. I am not sure why, because I love sport. It's possibly because I've never played any of the sports except hockey, and I suppose running. Though my running can hardly be described as running running.

But now I've changed, and I'm excited about these Olympics. I think this is a natural result of several factors, not least that as you get older your circle of interest expands, from self, to community to world. Though there's also possibly a London effect happening - I can't wait for the world's attention to focus on London.

I am also more of an observer of sport now, rather than a participant. I have finally realised that I am no longer going to be a world class sportsman, which is something that crept up on me only gradually. (Is it too late? Even for shooting?) So, I am free to enjoy sport for the story it tells about the world, rather than the story it tells about me.

Next, I believe in the power of sport. It certainly saved and enhanced my life. I think it's essential for human development to experience sport, or at least exercise, and I see it as key to unlocking the broken lives of some of our young men, in particular.

And I also believe in sport as a great unifier. I doubt there is anything that has done more to combat racism in the world than sport. Certainly, in Britain football's contribution to tackling racism can't be underestimated. We've come a long way since John Barnes was pelted with bananas. And it was Barnes' reaction to the pelting that started the journey. The experience of South Africa adds to the argument. And so, yes, I suppose I am arguing there is something about the Olympic spirit and that sport can be used to mend lives, societies and even international relations.

But perhaps above all, the Olympics is interesting because of the stories that it produces. At the last Olympics, there was 0.545 seconds worth of difference between five Gold and Silver medals for Britain. Half a second between 5! That's a lifetime of effort and 4 years of dreaming, boiled down to about a tenth of a second each. Inevitably, this leads to astonishing stories and if anyone doubts the power of these stories they should read The Meaning of Sport by Simon Barnes, the greatest of all sporting storytellers, or follow his blog.

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