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Can the Premiership Learn From Olympians' Humility?

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The XXXth Olympiad is drawing to a close and already the conclusion is that these games have been an unequivocal success.  

The headlines were not about public transport collapses, or over-zealous protection of sponsors 'statutory rights' by the Branding Stasi, or drugs cheats handing back ill-gotten medals, or heavy-handed counter-terrorism measures, or austerity or any of the other negative stories which dominated the media in the run up.

In fact the only naysayer of any note was Morrissey who, commenting from his LA base, said that he found the images from London 2012 chillingly reminiscent of the "spirit of 1939 Germany".

To be fair, both the Olympics and the rallies of the Nazis do heavily feature large crowds of people cheering enthusiastically (a bit like, one imagines, a Morrissey gig). And although it is difficult to tell from the black and white footage, I think we can safely assume that some of those rallies did take place in the sunshine. Aside from that though, the only reasonable thing I can think to say to the former leader of The Smiths is 'Fuck off!"

In the end the stories that made the news were very much of the right kind. Despite the scale of the event, it was the people that moved us: a timely reminder that the main source of happiness remains human relationships. 

Conflict is normally what it takes to sell papers and only the most mean-spirited of individuals (see Morrissey) could fail to have been heartened by front pages splashed with stories of endeavour, personal achievement and team successes or of overcoming disappointment and adversity.

In those terms the Olympics delivered in spades. Where Morrissey witnessed "blustering jingoism" I saw, for my part, the greatest demonstration of the human capacity for empathy. 

The best role models were not always those who came first. One of the most refreshing aspects was the athletes' attitude to not winning. There was humility in Rebecca Adlington's reaction to coming third - "so, so pleased to come away with two bronze medals" - when the weight of expectation going into the finals from, let's face it, a nation of non-experts was that only a brace gold would suffice. She was not alone and being gracious in defeat soon became the norm. Victoria Pendleton offered a lesson in how to deal with disappointment. Twice. Rather than ask 'Why me?' her response to losing out on two technicalities was more along the lines of 'Oh well, why not me?'

The Olympics have also reminded us there is more to sport than just football. As a kid, I remember watching any sport that I could on TV largely due to the fact that there was no football on it. In those days a year's worth of televised live footy could be comfortably watched in a single afternoon. 

Be careful what you wish for.

Today, men's football is ubiquitous, so it was ironic that our representatives in The-Only-Sport-That-Matters-TM bowed out quietly, with yet another bathetic penalties defeat in the Quarter-Final, on what was arguably the greatest night for British Sport since 1966.

It would be great to think that the FA and the Premiership were capable of learning something from this. The Premiership has taken football a long way since its inception in 1992, but not always the right way. It has become so self-serving that it's laughable to think that the official reason given for its launch was that it would benefit the performance of national team. To that end, the ecstasy of the London 2012 was a stark contrast to the apathy of Euro 2012.

It's difficult to argue that we actually have a national league at all anymore. What we have instead is a set of brands owned by some of the world's richest men - always men - who compete each year to see who can spend the most money. Last years winners were Manchester City with £0.5 billion and they are strongly fancied to win it again this season.

To bemoan the number of foreign players and the influence of foreign owners is not 'blustering jingoism' either, but a genuine sadness that the gap between the clubs and their local support has never been wider.

We can but hope that the Olympic experience will lead the British public to expect more from their sporting heroes than egregious displays of wealth and ignominious excuses in defeat.

Sport is 99.9% about losing. There can only ever be one winner, so how good would it be to see a reaction from one of our football millionaires like that of US sprinter Tyson Gay?

Immediately after finishing fourth in the men's 100m final for the second Olympics running, Gay had a microphone shoved in his face 'to get his reaction' - presumably because the athletes with the medals were unavailable for comment. Contrary to reports he did not appear to have any tears rolling by his face and caught at this most emotional moment, he resisted the temptation to lambast either the bronze winner Justin Gatlin, who back after a drug ban, or the selectors who chose him.

Instead, he said, "I tried, man. I tried my best. I just came up short."

If nothing else, I hope that Arsene Wenger and the rest saw that.


Steve McKevitt is author of Everything Now published by Route Publishing, priced £8.99.


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