The legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics some have hoped aloud is that more of us, still all geed up and whooping, will take part in sport. When I say ‘us’ imagine instead the unspoken target: some pre-teen lazybones hunched over her smartphone. Suddenly she’s shot-putting her pillowcase of junk food out the window and joining squadrons of her kind in the streets, hurdling bins, moonwalking like dressage horses, going all Beth Tweddle on lamp-posts. Healthiness being the age’s religion, this is seen as a good thing. Sport is good for you. It makes you a fitter biomechanical machine, and a fitter body is happier, lives longer and, though I have gone too far already, contributes more to society. Here I am at a sports publisher, and such a groundswell of interest in sport should have me licking my chops – moo-ha-ha! Allow me instead to pooh-pooh.
But why? Why emit a sales-sapping grump of a blog? Am I so cynical, so sour of puss, so easily prepared to kill joy and rain on the parade of something community-spirited and optimistic, something right-headed and good. I would hope so, yes.
And now I hold up exhibit A, my left ring finger in a splint. This is what sport has done to me. A detached tendon suffered while keeping goal in five-a-side football. Do not, I suggest, try to block a cannonball using your ring finger like a pool cue, tip first. The digit has contracted the deformity known as mallet finger and is now permanently bent at the top joint. It may never fully heal, and in the meanwhile I am forced to wear my plastic finger hat of shame – for weeks.
My question is this: In the light of such a catastrophe, how can anyone of passing sanity suggest that sport is good for you?
Like most people involved in such things I have an atlas of injury remnants across my body: from bone bruises and dicky joints to multiply shucked toenails. We are not alone. Sport leads to a continuous barrage of impacts, crunches, wrenches and body damage. They don’t call them tennis elbows nor swimmer’s shoulders for nothing. One of the Olympic equestrian team was discussing how commonly they break fingers after being thrown. A recent crash in the Tour de France was called the Massacre at Metz for the mangled piles of bodies and bikes it left behind, all their skimpy little bike vests in tatters, with gravel-rash oozing horribly through the holes. None of this is strictly speaking good for you, is it. And I suspect it is only the very luckiest of sportspersons who will not wear the brunt of some injury or other to the grave.
Sport is bad for you. So should we wish it upon pubescent slobs and those less disposed towards physical movement? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine, and probably the real impetus behind our participation anyway, is – no not self-esteem, goal-orientation, team-cooperative-learning-enhancement or some other policy-speak codswallop – fun. Sport is fun. Play it if you want. Unfortunately I will continue to.
Guest post by Jonathan Eyers
There are only so many guest posts you can write for a sports blog before you have to finally confess you’re just not that into the whole thing. It’s not that I’m apathetic about sport. In fact, since Euro 96, when my disinterest was punished with dead arms, I have actively loathed everything to do with it. The nadir of Gareth Southgate’s career was the zenith of my interest in sport. I imagine I enjoyed that penalty as much as the Germans did.
I could start ranting about how sport brings out the imperialistic tendencies of otherwise sensible people, but it’s not just the desire to avoid sounding like a tuft-bearded lentil-eating nineteen-year-old economics student from West London that stays my typing hand. Because the truth is, I’ve been just as enthusiastic about the Olympics as anyone. And all the naysayers and doom merchants just made me more so (except when they castigated the logo; they were right about that).
The only big national events we tend to do in this country are royal weddings, royal funerals and royal jubilees. Celebrating anything else is just a bit too American for us. Perhaps that’s why the Olympic opening ceremony has ensured Danny Boyle will be Sir Danny by January. We could all get behind this barnstorming vision of Britain and pretend the show was just for the rest of the world’s benefit. Because, of course, the rest of the world understands the shipping forecast…
Yes, the spirit of national unity and bonhomie didn’t last long, with partisan oiks from the Daily Mail to the Guardian claiming the next day that the ceremony represented only their worldview, and that it must have infuriated their political enemies, and that this was a good thing. But for the rest of us, the ceremony set the tone for not just a national event but an international one, and one which transcended sport.
I applied for about £1,000 worth of tickets, which was apparently pretty typical (though perhaps not for someone with my professed level of interest in sport). All I got was the fencing (men’s sabre final), which I ultimately enjoyed, but it was at ExCeL, out in the Docklands. I was disappointed not to get anything at the Olympic Stadium. It somehow didn’t feel like I was going to the real Olympics when I got off at Stratford and then went in the opposite direction to the Stadium.
So when I heard in early August that there were still tens of thousands of tickets for the Paralympics left, I made a beeline to get online, and looked only for events at the Stadium. I was in luck. Not only were there still tickets for athletics left, but some of them were in the £10 category too. (I do work in publishing, after all.)
One of the benefits of not being particularly interested in sport before the Olympics is that I was immune to any ideas of sporting celebrity. Most of the sportsmen I could name I had only heard of for their extracurricular activities (with or without their wives and girlfriends). The only Olympians I was really aware of before the end of July were Usain Bolt and Tom Daley. Even when I was seeing famous British competitors, I had no idea who they were. It didn’t really matter to me.
As soon as I started expressing enthusiasm for having got tickets to Stadium events at the Paralympics I picked up on this sense from some people that the Paralympics weren’t the real Olympics, and not in the same way that events at ExCeL hadn’t felt like the real Olympics to me. I definitely got the impression there was more to it, that the Paralympics are considered inferior because most Paralympians (Oscar Pistorius notwithstanding) are less famous (and for reasons few would openly admit, I’m sure).
Of course that wasn’t an impression borne out by the reaction of the crowd in the packed Stadium when 80,000 of us watched Mickey Bushell win his heat in the 100m. Decibels reached unsafe levels, I’m sure. (I can only imagine the sound level when he won the gold medal in the following day’s final.) It certainly all felt real at that moment, and any distinction between Olympic and Paralympic less so.
I could end with a slightly sourpuss suggestion that Mo Farah, Ellie Simmonds or Bradley Wiggins would be better role models than our much-idolised footballers, but instead I’ll finish in the same way my Paralympic experience ended, with tens of thousands of people singing our national anthem following David Weir’s gold medal ceremony. Listen carefully and you might even hear the American next to me swept up by the nation’s mood and joining in.