Football Needs Olympic Spirit

With the London 2012 Olympics labeled as a rip-roaring success, following an unforgettable fortnight of pure passion and physical poetry, we have been left with serious withdrawal symptoms. Despite the commencing of the new Premier League campaign, it is the Paralympics that everyone is now talking about.

At this year’s Olympic Games in London, Team GB accumulated a staggering total of 65 medals, 29 of which were gold, in what was undoubtedly their best Olympic performance ever. Sure, Britain boasted more medals at the 1908 Olympics, but they also accounted for a third of all athletes during the 6 month contest, including events such as tug-of-war and motorboating.

Following a fruitless first five days, once Helen Glover and Heather Stanning had secured Team GB’s premier gold medal of London 2012, heroes were born by the day, with the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Ben Ainslie, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and even Mr. So Close But So Far himself, Andy Murray amongst the faces of fortune in the British camp.

Preceding the Olympics and aided by months of a typically self-destructive media, Great Britain had plummeted so far into a cesspit of self-loathing that calling the whole event off at the last minute seemed the only option to prevent falling even further from grace, if at all possible.

Over the previous 12 months, scandals surrounding MP’s expenses, banking, the Leveson Inquiry and of course rioting had left a nation, known for its stiff upper lip, with a quivering lower lip and numerous scars. An indication of severe self-harming.

However, against all odds, London 2012 managed to capture all that typifies the perfect Olympic Games. It was the unison of competitor and spectator. The relentless and unconditional support from each and every onlooker for those wonderfully brave enough to attempt to conquer their personal goals in front of a worldwide audience. The country each athlete represented faded into insignificance as the most incredible display of sportsmanship and mutual respect inspired all involved.

Indeed, the slogan for London 2012 was ‘Inspire a Generation’ and that it did on the grandest of scales.

During the delightful opening ceremony, the first event to immediately reinstall British pride, the IOC president, Jacques Rogge gave a timely reminder of how highly we, as a nation, should regard ourselves.

He clarified, ‘In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight. This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations.”

This was illustrated quite beautifully on numerous occasions, but, for me, three incidents defined this magical showing of benevolence.

Sarah Attar took a huge step for women’s rights in Saudia Arabia by becoming the first female track and field athlete to ever represent her country. In the 800m heat, Attar came in last, a whole 44 seconds behind the winner, but this was not about gold, silver and bronze.

This was an incredible, historic moment recognised by a capacity crowd who gave Attar a standing ovation for the entire remaining 150m of her race. Taking part in this event was a delightful demonstration to those in authority of how women in sports do not conflict with Saudi society and Islamic tradition.

Liu Xiang, the first ever Asian man to win gold in track and field history, in Athens in 2004, missed the Beijing Olympics due to an Achilles injury. In the London 2012 110m men’s hurdles final, Liu fell at the first hurdle, re-aggravating his previous injury and appeared to be in great discomfort. Unable to jump his remaining hurdles, Liu dragged himself from the floor and proceeded to hop the remaining 100m, determined to cross the finish line.

Hungarian athlete Balazs Baji raised the Chinese competitor’s hand aloft, before Team GB’s Andrew Turner and Spaniard Jackson Quinonez carried Liu off the track to the dressing room to rapturous applause from the home crowd, appreciating this sublime showing of sportsmanship.

It is impossible to talk of London 2012 without mentioning the fastest man on the planet and triple gold medal winner Usain Bolt.

Granted, Bolt may appear to possess an unhealthy confidence, bordering on downright arrogance, but just one interview with the Jamaican was enough to prove to the world that his showmanship is just part of his entertainment act. Deep down Bolt is a humble man who was just as in awe of the spectators at the Olympic Stadium as they were of him.

Whilst being questioned trackside on live television, following his 100m victory, the champion heard the United States national anthem playing in honour of the women’s 400m winner Sanya Richard-Ross. Fan’s favourite, Bolt, halted proceedings to acknowledge the raising of the flags and stood silently until the anthem was over before recommencing the interview. True evidence that you can be the best and still display utmost respect to those around you.

The closing ceremony brought a fantastical London 2012 Olympics to a close in similarly spectacular fashion to that in which it started. We, the spectators, were left wondering what was next, harbouring that same emotion that every child experiences upon realising that Christmas is finally over, it won’t be back for what seems like an eternity and tomorrow morning it is back to school.

For us sports fanatics, we knew the Premier League was our leftover turkey sandwich to look forward to. Though, following the inevitable disappointment of England’s Euro 2012 campaign and an inconsequential Team GB footballing debut, fans across the country were already left less than enthralled at the prospect of the new season.

Optimists in the football industry were looking to the Olympics as a level of expectation to live up to. The sportsmanship and good nature exhibited had gone unnoticed by no one and the benchmark had been set for British sport to follow.

Even the biggest reprobate of them all, Joey Barton, took to Twitter to claim that footballers could learn a sense of humility from the athletes. One wonders whether this was a tongue-in-cheek gesture, although that would unjustifiably credit Barton with some form of intellect.

The football season kicked-off with the Community Shield, previously known as the Charity Shield, but there was nothing charitable about this fixture and it appeared neither the sportsmen nor the spectators had learned any lessons from the Olympic spirit.

With 8 yellow cards, 1 red card, an ill-tempered atmosphere and relentless abuse from fans towards players, it was far from what many had hoped for as a curtain raiser to the football season.

Just 3 days later, England played a ‘friendly’ football match against Italy, which despite a late comeback to secure victory, was most notable for the distasteful booing of the opposition’s national anthem before the game.

Last weekend’s opening Premier League fixtures were entertaining and provided some shock results to start the season almost where it left off back in May.

Swansea thrashed QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road, Everton defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Goodison Park, West Bromwich Albion destroyed Liverpool 3-0 at the Hawthorns and newly promoted Southampton lost narrowly 3-2 to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

All good viewing, or not, depending on your team of choice.

However, in contrast to the examples of Olympic excellence, there are three incidents which have already left a bitter taste in the mouth of the footballing world.

Having been placed on the substitutes bench during the Community Shield, Manchester City defender Kolo Toure proceeded to direct verbal abuse towards his manager Roberto Mancini, before throwing his winner’s medal away into the crowd at Villa Park, to show its worthlessness to him. An incredibly selfish act, placing an obvious lack of importance on the good of the team.

During Newcastle United’s victory over Tottenham, Magpies boss Alan Pardew decided to take the law into his own hands, quite literally. Incensed that assistant referee Stuart Burt had not awarded his team a throw-in, he decided to push the official in question. In an age where ‘professionals’ are forever reminded of their duties as role models, this act of ruthless aggression is entirely unwelcome.

At Goodison Park on Monday night, it was reported that a small section of Manchester United fans were heard chanting about the Hillsborough disaster – a human crush, which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. Sickening behavior, finding joy in the unfortunate deaths of others has no place in any sport, even the pitiful world of football.

Once in love with football, the national sport, many find it increasingly hard to follow with the same passion as days gone by. Constant mindless acts of stupidity, greed and selfishness from players and fans alike have driven many to withdraw their interests in football.

Who in their right mind would subject their child to the foul-mouthed, violent atmosphere that presents itself at every Premier League ground on a Saturday afternoon?

Who really wants to put more hard-earned money into the pockets of the millionaire playboys who show little appreciation of anyone but themselves?

Who, having witnessed an immaculate display of courage, enthusiasm and gratitude during London 2012 Olympics, is really looking forward to the next 9 months of predictably pathetic football antics?

Admittedly, it may not be as black and white as the picture portrayed. After all, the Olympics was not without suggestion of cheating and the weekend’s football matches provided plenty of handshakes and wholehearted encouragement from genuine fans.

For those unable to appreciate the gulf in class, I give you a date for your diary:

Wednesday 29th August 2012 20.30 BST.

The opening ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympics will, once again, give the nation the power to be ‘Great’ hosts and more importantly, the sacred opportunity to truly unite and feel proud to be British.

No other nation has ever hosted the Olympics on three separate occasions and the Paralympics is one last chance to illustrate why, which Great Britain will undoubtedly do.

As football continues to always shock, but never surprise, we shall at least be granted one final luxury of watching real sporting heroes who deserve all the credit they get and more.

While football’s flame of credibility flickers in the darkness, Great Britain has ensured the Olympic torch is burning brighter than ever and truly reignited some much-needed national pride.

Written by Dom Wallace

Sport 4 Thought