The Summer of 2016: Brexit and Rio

Sport and politics – an uncomfortable partnership: one has the ability to excite and inspire, the other the the ability to depress and confuse, but which?

This summer in the UK has been dominated by two major news items – the Brexit vote, which has left us all confused and frustrated, and in Rio, a remarkably successful performance by Team GB in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Brexit delivered an unexpected result, which we are trying to come to terms with. The outcome is generating all manner of speculation, doom-mongering and negativity. There’s a good few column inches devoted to analysing the result, and the emerging consensus suggests that the vote reflected an opportunity for the electorate to express an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction with our political leaders (UK and European) at their continued failure to address fundamental social and infrastructure issues. This rather beggars the question, did we really want to exit the European Union, or were we just so angry about the political agenda that we just didn’t care any more.

Here’s a lighter view of Brexit, from across the pond.

For a couple of decades we seem to have been at the mercy of ’career’ politicians, heavily engaged in self-promotion within the broader market-centric neoliberal framework. Like most political ideologies, neoliberalism sounds great in theory, but is ultimately doomed in practice. It’s strange the way all ideologies eventually fall at the mercy of the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Hmmm.. they seem to sum up the qualities of a good number of our recent political leaders. Would it not be great if our government contained a number of charismatic, eloquent leaders who exhibited qualities such as honesty, integrity and humility, and who endeavoured to lead a political programme based on addressing the social and infrastructure issues that riddle the country.

Dream on? Or not? It’s not so long ago that sending a British team to an Olympic Games had the same sorry feel to it that our politics are currently in. We would struggle valiantly to scrape together a few medals. This year we needed a jumbo jet to bring home all of the medal winners. How did that happen? It’s well documented. and John Major (OMG – a politician!) seems to get most of the credit for initiating controlled investment in Olympic sports with the prime intention of increasing Team GB’s medal haul, and by golly, it worked!

Of course, those who don’t see the point of sport will dismiss the whole thing. There’s been a mild outbreak of sour grapes in some quarters, and a few others who seem to think that Team GB have found a dodgy way to succeed. However, the bottom line is very simple: if you invest in the sport, engage high quality coaches and leaders, and plan for success, it will deliver results. The secondary benefit is when your team is performing well, we get excited, inspired and feel good.

So if we can do it in sport, can we do it in politics? A big question with no easy answer. I can’t help feeling that a lot of it is to do with this basic values of honesty, integrity and humility amongst our leaders. Getting the basic building blocks in place first of all, and then ensuring that we have a sustainable infrastructure would seem to make an awful lot of sense. The Brexit vote could just give us the opportunity, but only if we choose the right path forward, invest sensibly in the infrastructure, and have high quality and inspirational leaders to take control.

In Rio we’ve experienced something quite remarkable. Team GB set out an agenda for success based on a carefully controlled investment in Olympic sports, and boy did they deliver. Earlier this summer, the England football team played in Euro 2016. Of course, the English Premier League is considered the ‘greatest’ national tournament in the football world. Yesterday’s newspapers were reporting a total spend of over one billion pounds at the end of the transfer window. Yes, over one billion pounds. Wow, England must have the greatest football team on the planet. Hang on, let’s just check the results from Euro 2016. Oops….

England 1-1 Russia
England 2-1 Wales
England 0-0 Slovakia
England 1-2 Iceland

With the amount of money sloshing around the Premier League, you might have thought we could pull together a team that could compete at the highest level in international football, but when you set out to buy success, not to invest in the sport, this is what happens – another case of coming out of Europe!  The players get rich; the administrators get rich; the TV companies get rich; and supporters pay through the nose, and the team is rubbish.  Perhaps there’s something really important to learn fromTeam GB’s success in Rio2016.

Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money. Oh really, Richard?

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio are just days away - the perfect opportunity for the Olympic doom-mongers and nay-sayers to start the bandwagon up again.  Just a few days ago Richard Williams let fly in the Guardian with an item entitled "Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money".  It's worth a read, if you have the time, and there are some real issues highlighted in the article, but if you think in terms of cause and effect, then most of those issues cannot be attributed to the Olympics. There are some fundamental issues with the Olympic Games, largely to do with finance, sponsorship and brand protectionism.  But Richard Williams' argument pinpoints trends in obesity, diabetes, lack of physical fitness and general unhappiness as attributable to a failure of the London 2012 legacy.  Somehow, I fail to see that these failures can be directly related to the fact that London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.  In each case, the root cause is much deeper that the Olympic Games. The various political and societal failures in addressing the requirement for a healthy lifestyle are deeply rooted, and although London 2012 set out to 'Inspire a Generation' placing these failures on its doorstep smacks of a cheap way of finding scapegoat.

Perhaps it is pure coincidence that British athletes and teams are enjoying a particularly successful period since 2012.  In a Daily Telegraph article just a day or two after the Williams article, the success of British Athletes was being celebrated. But let's not forget that trying to quantify the benefits of a major sporting event is almost impossible.  Here's a few thoughts on the London 2012 legacy that don't seem to have been overlooked in the Williams article.

The Gamesmakers and Ambassadors who were the face of London 2012 set a precedent that is being adopted for almost every major sporting event in the UK.  They raised the profile of volunteering, in all shapes and forms, to a new level.  Anybody with the available time and inclination can now find countless opportunities to contribute to a vast array of activities.  Nor surprisingly, it's retired people who have the most time, and there are countless lives being enhanced by giving some of their time to volunteer, make new friends and to continue to contribute their skills, knowledge and expertise for as long as they want - the antidote to inactivity and loneliness.

The re-gereation of Stratford  
The Olympic site was built on a virtual wasteland.  Anyone who has visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park recently will have seen how this entire area has evolved and matured into an extensive and attractive city park, housing several major sporting venues, as well as providing extensive opportunities for pursuing individual activities such as walking, jogging, cycling within the park.

Broadening the scope of physical activities for children  
The successes of British athletes and teams in the Olympic sports has driven a growing number of non-profit organisations to promote healthy and active lifestyles for children by engaging in sport.  I've had the privilege of participating directly with a number of these organisations such as London Youth Rowing, the London Youth Games, Community Golf and the Saracens Sport Foundation, and have seen the impact that participation in sport has on people's lives.  Additionally, the opportunities for the disabled, disadvantaged and elderly to engage in sport and physical activity is reaching new levels.

The final point, as so many people are aware, is the sheer pleasure and enjoyment that sport can bring to so many.  Over the period of the 2012 Olympics, London rocked! If you meet anyone who attended any of the events, be prepared for a lengthy account of their 'I was there' experiences.  And if they were there on 'Super Saturday', you'll need to pull up a chair!  How do you put a price on that?

London 2012 set out to 'inspire a generation' - a impossible mission, but it still managed to inspire a vast number of people.  The closing paragraph in the article states: "It’s all wonderful [British success]. Just don’t try to tell me that spending £9bn on hosting the Olympics had anything to do with it. Thanks to Boyle and the British winners of 65 medals, we were left with memories of a golden summer. But that was as far as it went."  Well, I'm sorry Richard, but I think you're missing a few things there.


Random acts of connectivity

The neural pathways through our brains seem to be able to throw random thoughts together in ways that defy any logical assumptions, unless of course you are seriously into seriously weird stuff.  So, on the one hand, and like a significant proportion of the UK, my brain is trying to come to terms with the outcome of last week’s ‘Brexit’ vote, and on the other hand, I’m indulging in a ‘let’s pretend it didn’t happen’ daydream, and seeking solace in music.  So all around us is a political train wreck, as everyone who engineered this crisis chooses to walk away and leave someone else to clear up the mess.  In an attempt to escape ‘resignation bingo’, I listen to music.  My musical tastes are my own, and are rooted in history, but I kid myself I’m open to new genres and new sounds, so long as it’s not boybands, rap or weird stuff.

These random acts of connectivity came about via two different routes.  Firstly, some while ago, in a fit of gross envy, I learned from a very good friend, that the guests at the wedding of a family friend were entertained by John Illsley, previously the bass player with Dire Straits.  My endless worship of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing activates my music radar when I hear of anyone associated with MK.  Subsequent investigations uncovered the work of John Illsley, and Amazon kindly delivered a digital download of his album ‘Long Shadows’.  We will return to this shortly.

The second random act came about from hearing a track on the car radio.  I tend to listen to BBC Radio 6M, partly because it is not a commercial station, and partly because it plays a lot of non-mainstream music.  Out in the car a few days ago, a particular, totally unidentifiable track caught my ear to such an extent that when I got home I trawled through the BBC website in the hope of uncovering the playlist and identifying the song.  It worked!  I found the song, found the album, bought it, and absolutely love it.  The band is exmagician, and the album is ’Scan the Blue’.

So what’s the connectivity?  My word, this is cheesy, but one of John Illsley’s tracks is ‘Ship of Fools’ (not the only song with that title, as any fan of The Doors will tell you).  Here’s some of the lyric:

 A land of fear and dirty tricks

Will take much more than words to fix

Those monkeys walk away scot free

Well it never made much sense to me

Well the ship of fools goes round again

Ship of fools without a plan

All are lost , they’re all at sea

There’s no place to hide, no sanctuary.

He wrote this before Brexit… premonition?

The opening track on ‘’Scan the Blue’ is called ‘Kiss That Wealth Goodbye’:

Fire your blame

Round here they all fear

So i’m seizing the day

Hotheads can just guess and whisper away

But I make a fistful daily

I came to bless

I came to heal it all

And swindle the best

On my call they all fall

Then spring to confess

Round here is all for the taking

Light up my face

Straighten my tie

Jump of the page

See your hope whizzing by

But they all like

That I fed a lie

they all just

let go of their high hopes

And kiss it goodbye

But I’m here to sell, is it sinking in?

It’s all empty air, but they keep tuning in

Now they all like, I fed a lie

They sell just sit there without a care

And kiss that wealth goodbye

Get it? Brexit: Ship of Fools: Kiss that Wealth Goodbye.

Random connectivity, or is it?

Independence Day?

I awoke this morning confidently expecting to find that the result of the UK referendum had been to ‘remain’ in Europe.  I was wrong; I was shocked, and left wondering just what the future held, not just for the UK, but also for Europe.  It’s been a long, long day.

There has been an understandable outpouring of emotions throughout the day, compounded by fear of the unknown, but one thing is certain and that is that it will take some while to sort out the wreckage. But putting the emotive issues and blame-mongering aside, we have to accept that the referendum has taught us something.  The underlying issues that influenced the outcome of the vote to are not new – but a succession of governments have failed to address these fundamental problems.  The referendum provided the perfect opportunity for the nation to express its level of frustration. It’s no good blaming the voters for expressing their opinion: for a significant number of years, our politicians have failed us.

I have no allegiance to any political party or ideology, so when successive governments ignore deep social problems, reduce or privatise the provision of basic infrastructure and health services, constantly mess with our education systems, but  openly support wealth creation for the few, I find my respect for the political classes to be heading severely downward.  When you add in some of their scandalous financial and immoral behaviours, it amazes me how these people retain office.  The entire in/out campaign was a sordid example of fear-mongering, negativity and mud-slinging, aided and abetted by the usual hysteria and sensationalism of the media.  With people clamouring for sensible and rational input, we had to dig very, very deep to find anything worthwhile.

So if our political leadership got us into this mess, who is going to get us out of it?  Sadly, when we talk about leadership, we’re left wondering just who has the relevant skills, moral values and charisma to lead us.  Is there anyone who can take the reins and re-unify the UK, and make our future look somewhat brighter than it does today?  If that person exists, the challenge is to take a very careful look at the issues that caused the exit vote, and address them as a priority.  As much as I disagree with the outcome of the vote, I respect the fact that the nation has spoken and declared it’s position on Europe, and we should now turn our collective intentions to building a credible future for our country and all of its inhabitants.  My biggest fear is whether we have the leaders to take us there.

Robbie’s Marathon

At the time of writing, we’re just a few days away from this year’s running of the London Marathon.  In amongst the runners this year will be a young man taking on the 26.2 mile challenge from a different perspective.  His name is Robbie, and Robbie is autistic.  The severity of his autism means that his day to day life is not without challenge, he requires 1 to 1 support to engage in everyday activity. A simple change in stimuli or a slight change in routine can lead to Robbie lashing out at those closest to him. He may become very angry and upset with a situation and his family and friends are vital in helping him to overcome these episodes and in helping Robbie to move forward from this.

For the past couple of years Robbie has attended Saracens Sport Foundation’s Autism sports club (Sarries Skills Club) where he has been able to find and pursue a new hobby in running. Robbie’s passion for running has had a hugely positive impact on his life and it has allowed him not only to make new friends and develop within himself, but it has also given him a medium with which to help control his outbreaks.

Whilst at Sarries Skills Club Robbie has become the running team captain and with the help and support of the staff at Saracens Sport Foundation, Robbie was able to train for, and along with his father David, complete the Silverstone half marathon in an incredible time of 1:47 – a time which is hugely impressive for anyone, let alone someone who has autism to contend with also.

So on Sunday, Robbie, David and 2 members of Saracens Sport Foundation staff, Harry and Owain will be running the iconic LONDON MARATHON. The team will support Robbie around the gruelling 26 miles as he and they, take on this great personal challenge, raising awareness of autism and the positives that can be achieved with the right support.

In my capacity of volunteer photographer for the Saracens Sport Foundation, I’ve had the pleasure of filming Robbie during his training.  And as an ex-marathon runner myself, I know exactly what lies ahead for Robbie and his team, but it is impossible not to be totally in awe of the way Robbie has developed as a distance runner. His natural, economical and relaxed style of running will serve him well, and I suspect that his supporting team will find the day a lot tougher than Robbie will.  Every year there are numerous inspiring stories associated with the London Marathon, and Robbie’s story is very special.   My marathon days are history, but having had the privilege of following and filming Robbie’s preparations, I’ll be with him every step of the way.