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Don't Compare Olympians and Footballers

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It's that time of the four year cycle that Olympic athletes get compared to our more regular, familiar, stars. As comparisons go, it's hugely unfair. Predominantly it's footballers, but the prima donna attitude of other stars such as Kevin Pietersen has seen sportsmen in a whole variety of disciplines compared too.

The belief, held particularly by part-time sporting enthusiasts, is that the Olympians are 'better' people than the year-round stars. Olympians are courageous, hard-working, motivated by gold but not the monetary type, humble, emotional, honest... and according to one Tweeter, they show "self-sacrifice and humility".

Whilst the commitment and normality of most British Olympic athletes cannot be questioned, this seems to miss the point. With the exception of a few, most of the GB athletes will not be heard of by the majority of the public until the next major international tournament. Their sports are, on the whole, not mainstream.

The knock-on effect of this means that these athletes do not get wide coverage, their sponsorship deals are smaller and therefore their faces aren't seen on billboards nationwide all the time. There isn't a thirst to be hearing about them all year round - we admire them because they generally compete in sports that we've never attempted. They do something we can't do.

These people are, after all, special. They're special precisely because we tend not to know much about them. The stories they have that get uncovered around the time of the Olympics draw us in and grab our attention. We would be less enthused about them if we saw them on the back pages of the papers every day - we'd know all about them already, there'd be no surprises.

For these reasons, it's wrong to compare them to footballers. Football is the national sport - it commands back-page, prime-time coverage. Whether you're a fan of it or not, it'll enter into your section of the news: finances, showbiz, fashion; you cannot avoid it. Don't think for one minute though that the Olympic athletes don't go and party. Similarly, don't think that footballers don't work hard.

Footballers may get extortionate wages and multi-million pound sponsorship deals, but they still have to train and put the in the practice. After all, we don't even consider that these guys are in training every single day, we just accept it as the norm - nothing special. Yet because an athlete has been working so hard towards an event (oh, and the Olympics isn't the only event they compete in!) it's deemed a remarkable praise-worthy feat.

Like anything in life, the more familiar you become with something, the more you see its flaws. If more Olympic sports were shown weekly on national television; and if the individuals who compete were to get the kind of money that comes with increased coverage; I'm sure they'd also become slightly more dislikeable with larger egos. Fortune and fame easily changes people, our Olympians in general are lucky that they can lead rather normal lives.

I made a suggestion on Twitter that given all the various legacies people talk about from the games, the one that many have overlooked is the media legacy. Given the surge of public interest in so many of these fringe sports, might the broadcasters consider showing them and might the media consider covering them more often? In many ways, I hope that many of the periphery sports don't become mainstream. It's nice to be able to enjoy watching unblemished sporting stars whom we know very little about. Whilst many of the sports could do with more funding the fact that they and the individuals who compete are so mysterious adds to the fun of it.

The Premier League superstars would be completely incapable of acting more like the average Olympian even if they tried - the paparazzi are forever following them around and the papers are always looking for any hint of a slip-up. Not to mention that we actually know who they all are because of this. There are of course issues with football and footballers with regards to money and lifestyle but our own interest drives that - we want to watch them every game and so the media groups put more and more money into the sport leading to disproportionate wages. But we treat them very differently too. We make them into year-round stars and celebrities and we put them on a pedestal.

It's therefore wrong for the likes of Gilles Peterson to say: "I hope footballers learn to be as humble and appreciative as all the athletes in these olympics...."; and it's wrong for Nick Knowles to suggest: "You've got to admit the silly tantrums and rolling around feigning injury of footballers seems even less manly after the Olympics!" (FYI, Nick, bet you weren't complaining when the GB men's rowing pair made sure their boat was broken). We don't treat the Olympics sports and the individuals involved like we do with football and so comparing them, and trashing the footballers is pointless.