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.