Sports for all – not just for champions.

After a wonderfully exciting Olympic Games here in Britain and, believe me, I have loved it, there was a disappointingly dull closing ceremony with a lot of old has-been rocksters dad-dancing and the reunited Spice Girls making me wonder how they ever made it in the first place. The politicians came out of the woodwork again and began to preach sport and the UK is alive with Olympic chatter. Sports are the thing of the moment. Our prime minister watches it on TV, well when there’s a camera around,  he plays tennis and goes to baseball games when there’s an American president around and last week he found billions of extra pounds for sports in schools promising to make it a compulsory part of the curriculum.  There’s always money in the exchequer in austerity Britain – David Cameron just needs a tabloid story to give him an idea and, hey, here’s a new policy.

One day, I suspect he dreams, we will all have tennis  courts in our gardens and we’ll all be possible candidates for some future Olympic Games. In my case it will be in the games announced just after Hell freezes over. David Cameron, as I’ve often noted on these pages, is undoubtedly a nice guy, naive, certainly, blinkered, without a doubt but undoubtedly nice and enthusiastic about things. I’m not knocking his enthusiasm about all those British gold medals or the euphoria the Games have created in the UK. Most of us, even the most cynical of Brits have been inspired over the last two weeks. It has been life enhancing seeing the amazing feats that the human body and spirit can achieve at the highest level of sport. I just worry that Mr Cameron, who lacks the Midas touch, will turn potential gold into lead.

Here are some of those super men and women who won gold and who achieved an excellence in these Games and thrilled us, well me anyway,  as I slumped on my sofa –  without any press cameras clicking away at my enthusiasm.

I still can’t quite believe than anyone can do some of these things….

….or why they don’t just keel over and die after all that exertion….

…I also wonder what it must feel like to be the first over the winning line….

….or breaking a world record….

…or some Olympic ones……

…how can some people be so good at so many different sports……

..or be so magnificent and yet stay cool…..

…or be so little and yet so, well, devastating….

…or mould themelves into one human-horse ballerina….

……and how anyone can even climb up to that high diving board, let alone jump off it doing all those twists and turns with such body control……

…I wondered too how anyone could be so brilliant and yet still be so surprized when they win…..

….it was great to watch the big guys box and win……

…but somehow even more amazing to see that small jubilant woman become the first woman Olympic boxing champion….

…the stories continued right to the end when that charming man from Uganda beat all the favourites to the winning line in the marathon run around a smiling cheering London.

So those empty gyms will start filling up this week as we all rush to find a bit of that adrenalin for ourselves – or will we? The schools will be going back soon too and the hope is that the new generation of kids, with the new money from the government, will all be instilled with the Olympic spirit. It would be wonderful if that were possible. Even looking at that empty gym, I remember all those days of misery spent in them when I was a child.

If our schools are to start compulsory football, netball or hockey, let’s hope that it is taught in the spirit  of fun and not as a form of torture for those who will never when an Olympic medal or, in sports terms, never win anything at all except injured pride and humiliation.

It would be wonderful to help winning kids win but what about the losers and the non-starters?

I hope that there won’t be a new generation of children who are just going to be taught that it is always other kids that are good at stuff.

I hated sport at school…hated it enough for it to become a political issue. I learnt to resist the bullying elitism of the gymnasium and the rugby field, the blind adulation of the team, the smugness of the champions, and the callously preferential treatment offered out to the most talented athletes. Because it was always compulsory, I learnt how to duck and dodge and how to keep my independence. I owe that to compulsory and badly-taught school sport but I don’t wish it on the new generations.

Neither do I wish them obesity. We all need to keep our bodies fit and we also need to learn that fitness can be not just fun but exhilarating and rewarding. I discovered how much I liked it when I left school and could choose what form of exercise I would like to try. Over the years I have surprized myself at a number of sports – squash and fencing at university, then weights training at the gym and  running and, yes, roller-blading and, finally, and maybe most rewardingly Kungfu. I was never going to be competing at the Olympics but I learnt to enjoy the “burn” and the satisfaction of mastering to a small extent my natural lack of co-ordination. Everyone, I believe, if not put off at school, can learn to love the sensation of their body pushing itself to its limits. I would never have chosen to play football, hockey or netball as I just never had the ability. I played these sports often enough – the bottom teams in football where everyone, even the teacher, was bored except for two or three kids who did all the running around. I got used coming last in all those races at school sports days, I endured  humiliation in the gym when I seldom managed to jump over the “horse.” At school I learnt how to be a loser – nowadays, sometimes, I even win. So, if the prime minister is going to throw a few billions into sports at school, let’s hope that every child gets a chance to learn the physical activity that they can do best. Maybe it’s dance and not football, or maybe kungfu and not hockey.

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