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...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, August 25, 2008

We Got Next

Now that the Beijing Olympics of 2008 are over, the allegorical baton has been handed to my hometown, London.

And all I have to say is:

This is going to be a disaster, isn't it? I mean, who are we kidding??

Sure, we British put sport on the map in the 1800s, and practically dragged human beings into shorts, plus-fours, and those lithsome swimsuits, but we looked awful doing it.

Simply content to get the ball rolling, where our more athletic cousins, the Americans, pioneered the cut-throat competitive culture, we have bungled along, cheerfully spectating at events our forebears founded, rather than participating in them.

That the 2008 Olympics were the most successful Olympics EVER for Team GB, says a lot. One had to go back to 1908, a full century before, to find anything as remotely golden in terms of medals.

Just checking the daily standings, was enough to make a Briton boggle. We finished a vertiginous fourth behind those Olympic juggernauts, China, the USA, and Russia. Fourth!


As a child, I remember our country limping back from this or that Olympics with a solitary gold in our coffer. Ex-Olympian Princess Anne could barely hold her head up, on her return.

But instead of pelting past Team GBs with tomatoes as they arrived at Heathrow, we hunkered down and allowed mousey John Major to set up a lottery, which allowed the bettering of British sport.

(It is said that Title IX in the US had a similar effect on female sport, the fruits of which are several Women Soccer World Cups, and Olympic Golds. How ironic that the more socialist country was the one which relied on lottery, and the more capitalist one, on government)

Are we thus seeing cause-and-effect in the 2008 Olympics? Perhaps.

So how is Great Britain going to approach the 2012 version? With heads held high, and a Usain Bolt taunting gesture? "Catch us if you can!", is it?


I take my cue from Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London who, for a descendant of Turkish diplomats, is an exponent of all that it means to be British.

Did you see him wave around the Olympic flag? Gordon Brown was caught laughing in his seat, undone with hysterics.

It was awkward. And silly. And self-effacing. And proud-making. And so absolutely sweet.

Watching BoJo wave around the Olympic flag with that ill-fitting suit showing a decidedly unathletic physique, you could almost forget the perfectionism that was the Beijing Olympics. Not a hair out of place, not a false step, or indeed, false teeth was allowed.

That's not going to be the London Olympics, my friends.

Boris Johnson is how it will look like. At once charming, and bumbling. It's what we do best.

However, some people use this self-effacing incompetence for their own ends. The Left of every country takes a needling pride in bringing down their fellow countrymen, and sadly, our temperament provides no buffer against self-ridicule.

That same intelligentsia today must be squirming to see our athletes having done so well in Beijing, and the rest of us so happy about it.

Will we jingoistic vulgarians never learn? Apparently not. For no matter how often we are told that we're finished, that we're yesterday's colonialist oppressors and today's deadbeats, the British people will keep bouncing back. It must drive the contemptuous anti-patriots crackers.

Of course, national pride doesn't mean we should lose sight of our many failings. The 2008 Olympics have been terrific for Britain, yes, but our filthy hospitals, failing schools, binge-drinking and spiralling street crime should certainly save us from any odious complacency.

The Left's toxic self-loathing, however, is quite different from honest self- criticism, and it permeates our national life.

You can hear it in Margaret Hodge's lofty sneering at the Proms, you can see it in the Royal Mint's removal of Britannia from our coins, you can discern it in the countless anecdotes of local councils demanding the removal of Union or St George's flags.

But in the Beijing Olympics, this pernicious habit has met its match, and worse is yet to come, in 2012.

Sure, for every shot of the self-same Princess Anne having the fortune of handing out medals to well-endowed Aussie rowers, that you will see...

...you will see some strapping, delightful British athlete proudly waving that Union Jack behind him or her, having secured Gold for Britain.

Now that we're freed to be proud of being athletic AND British again, we're going to be as self-effacing as ever, 4 years hence.

Only this time, there will be a childlike sense of wonder at it all. Oh, and a fair bit of moaning, obviously.

Some habits will never change.

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