I love the Olympics. I freely admit that I don’t watch sport a lot of the time, but there’s something about the Olympics that gets me hooked, especially on some of the sports that don’t get as much coverage as some of those that I do pick up on from time to time. I do find that watching all that physical endeavour usually does tempt me to try something for myself. If there were no limitations on me at all, such as age, ability or physique (all mere trivialities, eh?) then there are quite a range that I can imagine would be fun to do. I have to be honest, though, and say that I just cannot understand the appeal of being a professional swimmer. I don’t like running, but at least you can do it in different locations, on a variety of terrains, with company, with music to listen to. Swimming? Well, a pool is a pool is a pool. I don’t know how they don’t go mad with the repetition.
It’s been said in plenty of places, but it’s sufficiently amusing to repeat – Britain does best when it’s sitting down. All the sports in which we seem to consistently get Olympic medals these days – cycling, rowing, sailing, equestrian – don’t exactly require the participants to be totally vertical. So perhaps my sense of inspiration doesn’t even require me to get off my backside.
I’ve got totally hooked on the track cycling. It’s been really exciting to watch (well, maybe not the Points race, which was a trifle unfathomable). I now understand the pursuit and the Keirin, and they are really quite gripping. Plus an event is always more interesting if your team is doing well.
So, today I’ve watched us get three medals in the rowing, four in the cycling, seen footage of a British women’s world record in the swimming and Michael Phelps getting his seventh gold, and then witnessed a man so bloody fast that he won the 100m sprint with 30m to go.
All of the above makes the football Premiership (resuming action today) look rather bloated and self-absorbed. Here are some things to ponder. The GB Baseball team qualified for the Olympics but had to withdraw as they couldn’t afford to participate. Rebecca Adlington, achiever of so many great things (first British woman to win swimming gold for 48 years, one of only four British competitors to win two golds at a single Olympics, 800m freestyle world record holder) was paid the grand sum of £8-10,000 a year by UK Sport prior to her trip to Bejing. British Cycling received a fillip in the form of Lottery funding about 10 years ago which helped develop the infrastructure in which to develop the talent that sees us guaranteed 6 track medals and likely to get several more; UK Sport earmarked nearly £8 million to fund up to 44 cyclists from 2005-09, which is impressive. But back in London, Frank Lampard has signed a new deal with Chelsea that will see him earn an average of £6.8million per year for five years. Meanwhile, Premiership cleaning staff can’t even hope for a London Living wage.
Yes, I do realise that the mega football salaries derive from very commercially marketable clubs, rather than national sources, but still… you’ve got to ask whether they’re worth it. And I don’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer. It’s 42 years since England won the football World Cup, and we’ve never even made it to the European Championship finals. Feel free to polish any club trophies and medals, Mr Lampard, but it'll take something pretty special before I'm as proud of you and the rest of the England squad as I am of those who achieve so much more for so much less. And that includes the cleaners.