This summer, we’ve had some little competition type things called an Olympics and a Paralympics. You may have heard of them. It’s fair to say that the Games had a somewhat downbeat preamble, with plenty of discussion about the costs of putting on such a huge, expensive event against the backdrop of a significant wealth divide in Brazil.
On a sporting front however, ambitious targets were set by Team GB following London and it’s fair to say that most people (certainly most fans) were not expecting the medal haul to come close to four years ago. Many assumed that ‘playing at home’ was a big factor and that an overseas competition would mean a drop in metallurgic returns.
But no, this wasn’t the case. Both Olympic and Paralympic athletes scoffed in the face of such foolish notions and went on to bring home a beauteous bounty of podium places and broken records, both personal and for sports as a whole.
At the end of August I attended one of several ‘I Am Team GB’ events and it was a big success, with a real buzz of excitement. There were far more visitors than expected and loads of kids, which was really positive. For me, the day was an opportunity for people to do three things:
- Celebrate the achievement of the athletes (from Wales in particular) who contributed to an astonishing number of medals in Rio and maybe actually meet an Olympian
- Try out a sport or two that they haven’t before
- For the older among us, to be a little nostalgic about sports day, a stalwart fixture in the school calendar that many remember fondly (I think I did the long jump, but not due to ability but a teacherly desire to offer every child something to take part in)
The day was a joyous celebration for Team GB. A lot has been made of the medals won in Rio and attention directed toward the athletes and support teams responsible, as it was in London and before that. The improvement in GB team’s performance has exceeded expectations and people are quite rightly very proud. Success in the games ignites passion and has again caused an increase in interest in grassroots sport participation.
But although Team GB certainly excelled in performance terms, I do find myself wondering whether there was/is sufficient focus on the ‘Olympic spirit’. There are many that are inspired by medals, but what will stay with me as much, if not more, are the examples we saw of camaraderie and breaking down of barriers. The power of sport to unite people and build relationships without boundaries is key, after all –
“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
First we had the bridge over the Korean divide. Lee Eun-ju and Hong Un-Jong, from South and North Korea respectively, sent the world a selfie taken together during pre-Games training. Many athletes take pictures together, but given that the two countries are technically at war, and both could easily face repercussions for this politically sensitive gesture, it was a brave and positive move.
Then there was the marriage proposal. Well, actually there were five Olympic marriage proposals in all, but the one most will remember was Marjorie Enya, proposing to Brazilian rugby player Isadora Cerullo. The proposal was televised as Marjorie took advantage of her role managing the venue to commandeer the PA system and pop the question. And of course, the fact that the pair are women wouldn’t raise eyebrows to many these days, but the Olympics are watched by every nation on earth and sadly there are still many for whom such freedoms are impossible to imagine, so a positive affirmation of LGB&T relationships on the world stage is another reason to celebrate.
Last up is what for me, had the most lasting impact. Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino collided during the 5000m final and both fell in a tangle of limbs. They struggled on, but when Abbey fell again injured, Nikki stopped to help her fellow athlete to complete the race. There was no thought of personal achievement, just a selfless gesture that was instinctive and sportsmanlike. They may have finished last, but they both finished and finished together, and this act of kindness was reported more widely than the race result itself.
So, I’ll be enjoying the athletes’ success as they parade through Manchester and London today, as the Welsh competitors did in Cardiff recently to a rapturous reception, but I think it’s important as well to take time to remember – there’s more than one way to win.
Playing the game right is, I believe, more important than playing the game well.