Sunday, 22 July 2012


I have a confession…’s a biggie I’m afraid….I am, and have for 40 years, been an Olympicoholic.

Ever since the Munich games of 1972 I’ve been hooked. Can’t get enough of it. Haven’t missed a Games since then. Can’t help myself.

The Commonwealth Games, World Athletic Games, European Athletics all plug a gap in the four barren years between games, but it’s only the Olympics itself that can truly satisfy the need.

The Olympics are something special for it’s not just Track and Field that works so well in the 16 days every 4 years, but also swimming, cycling, diving, archery, in fact pretty much every sport at the Olympics becomes utterly, totally, compellingly addictive. …all except the football that is.

Never liked football, not even at School. I guess part of the reason was that, during the dark days of school, it was track and field (and mostly track) that was the only sport that I ever really got the hang of. Running fast is something that, as a sport, makes perfect sense: no silly rules, skills or time limits; just belting as quickly as possible to the line. I loved running, especially the 100 and 200 metres. I was, truth be told, never going to be an Olympic contender, though I did (briefly) compete for my school, town and county back in the day. Up until the age of 15 running was (almost) everything, until, that is, archaeology got in the way (and I discovered that you could have as much, if not more, fun all year round without the need for endless training). 

As the years have gone on, my interest in running / jumping / throwing sports has remained, whilst interest in football has deteriorated even further. I don’t know why footie is still proclaimed as the National sport and, bizarrely, the ‘Beautiful Game’. In the cold, hard light of day, there’s nothing beautiful at all about football. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be in a city centre (or on a train / bus, any form of public transport) when there’s a football match on, you’ll know what I mean: hoards of shaven-headed, chanting, drinking, fighting, brawling thugs smashing their way through shopping arcades towards their own personalised form of Valhalla.

You never get this with Athletics. 

A crowd watching track and field events cheer and celebrate, but they applaud performance, irrespective of nationality; they congratulate sportsmanship and achievement, they do not (and never have in my experience) berate competitors for their skills, nationality, appearance or skin colour. I’ve never heard athletics (or cycling or swimming or gymnastics or archery or any other Olympic-related sport, other than football of course) yelling abuse, booing, racially abusing, questioning the sexual orientation of sporting competitors of other nationalities. Do British Athletics fans boo American long jumpers, Jamaican sprinters, Russian pole volters? No.

Same really goes for football players themselves, as all the recent furore in the British press confirms. The ‘industrial language’, aggression and casual violence that occurs on the football pitch seems to be perfectly ‘acceptable’, at least in a court of law; a common and natural aspect of the sport. Well, it shouldn’t be. Are football players (and why is it just ‘football’ when it’s clear that we’re talking about the male game…why is there ‘Football’ and ‘Women’s Football'? Why the distinction? That implies that ‘Women’s Football' is somehow different, less important…surely, to be fair, it should be the ‘Men’s World Cup’ or ‘Men’s Euro 2012’ etc so that the female game isn’t somehow considered in anyway second rate….anyway, I digress) really that special? 11 overpaid, racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobes spending 90 minutes trying (and, more often than not failing) to kick a ball into a net and cheered on by thousands of violent ultra-nationalists? Is this really something to celebrate? Is this really the ‘beautiful game’? 

I’m digressing again…

I didn’t manage to get any tickets for the London 2012 Olympics though, in order to see the games close up (though that’s probably good news for my bank manager as I did apply for over £4,700 worth of tickets….even saying that makes me come out in a cold sweat) but I will have a grandstand view thanks to the BBC. Only trouble is, now that the games are in the UK, there will be full coverage from 6am to 9pm every day for over two weeks…….then, of course, the Paralympics follows straight after……

……it’s going to be a long month…

Last week I witnessed the Olympic flame as it dashed past my house (ok, near my house) as part of the relay and suddenly I was a five year old boy again. The Olympics will be here in less than a week and I will be utterly transfixed. Forget about football and all of its violent, racist, nationalist associations, and focus on real sporting achievement. As one commentator said as the torch was carried past, “it’s better to carry the torch than a sword”. Yes indeed and they could well have added “it’s better to hurl a discus than racial abuse; it’s better to kick to the finish line than kick a police line; it’s better to run 100m than run for cover”.

Didn’t manage to get any tickets of though, did I mention that?