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Sporting Heroes – What Lies Beneath

We have witnessed a remarkable summer of sport in unique circumstances and with many inspirational narratives, kicked off in many ways by that wonderful England football side who came so close but won the hearts of a nation.

The 2021 Olympians had to wait another year to fulfil their dreams after last year’s cancellation and endured the ensuing individual pressure – training in back gardens and many other sacrifices made.  I especially appreciated and respected the vulnerability of multiple medal winner Adam Peaty and his subsequent decisions, the reality of Simone Biles’ suffering and the humility of the Kenny’s as they broke record after record in British Olympic history.  It is always invidious to point out one group of athletes but weren’t the exploits in the swimming pool literally breathtaking.  We have had some wonderful winners of the past but this felt different and the brilliance seemed collective.

Oh, and how exciting and skilful was the BMX competition. I may be too old now but it will inspire a generation.

The GB team were truly representative of the Olympic values. Take a look at the formal descriptions and I picked out a few – a balance between body, will and mind alongside fair play and respect for others – oh and a pursuit of excellence! We were all proud.

As a reminder of the reality of the human spirit, Ben Stokes our best cricketer has taken some time out and who can blame him with all the pressures he has suffered and the crushing intensity of a top International Cricketer’s schedule. He will return stronger.

Meantime, it has taken a while to process the B&I Lions series against the Springboks. It is an old adage that if you play dull rugby, at least make sure you win. Finn Russell apart (and he only had 70 minutes on tour), you cannot say that this squad left everything out there on the field. Meantime the Boks knew they could win that way and incidentally their backline is world class when they choose to use it. No-one will persuade me that the implicit or explicit criticism of officials did anything other than diminish the individuals making it, whether they were playing mind games or not.  One of the problems was that everyone was sitting in a room or studio and had nothing better to do.

That said, the ARU has said that they will welcome 100,000 fans into the MCG for one of the Lions test matches in Australia 2025 and you bet, I want to be one of those fans! The future of the B&I Lions is secure but one of their issues, as in rugby more generally, is that of independence and managing conflicts of interest. The Lions committee must become independent, contemporary and relevant. That is non negotiable in my book.

I didn’t know what to make of The Hundred, as a keen ex-cricketer. The feedback has been universally positive. The finals were in effect uncompetitive, but no matter. The fans were there, newly converted, vibrant and excited. We are embracing a new breed of heroes, records are being broken for the women’s game and there is a wonderful sense of razzmatazz. Everyone wants a ticket, so far so good!

And as I finish this snapshot view into sporting heroism mixed with the fragility of humanity, no doubt exacerbated by the Pandemic, I look forward to more stories of sporting excellence from Tokyo. The Paralympics are underway with the help of commentator Ed Jackson who himself as a recovering tetraplegic has achieved his triumph over adversity with that Olympian balance of body, will and mind.

We would do well to realise that the beauty and elation of sporting success can come at a heavy price. We must learn to see the cup half full, and also that the margins between winning or losing that cup or that medal are wafer thin. I know.

It is after all only a game!? Keep smiling everyone.


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