Ashling O'Connor: At the World Cup, Winter Olympics and Wimbledon we can all make 2014 a more enjoyable sporting year

Can we get through an entire tournament without mentioning 1966?

As we prepare to ring in 2014, we can take a moment to savour the next 12 months of sport which will include a World Cup and a Winter Olympics as well as the annual fare. On paper, it looks better than 2013 but let’s not take anything for granted. So here are some New Year resolutions for sport that might help:

Get behind the England team without prejudice or pressure

It’s World Cup year again but let’s not do what we always do, which is raise the team up to unrealistic standards and aspirations above our population grade and then tear them down when they inevitably fall short. Let’s not write them off before the tournament has even started either.

A steady build-up without hyperbole or snide remarks would be most welcome. Not referencing Group D with fatality would be even better. Watching at home, as most fans will be, given the cost and logistical challenges of Brazil, can we resolve just to enjoy it or is that too much to ask? And can we get through the entire tournament without mentioning 1966?

Appreciate our Winter Olympians

We are not a naturally snow-bound nation but, still, we have sent a team to every Winter Games since the inaugural event in Chamonix in 1924. The only other countries to have done so are France and Switzerland (note they have the Alps and the Pyrenees). About 50 athletes will travel to Sochi in February on the back of a £13.7m public investment in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, which is probably less than the Russian organisers will spend on snow to add the necessary finishing touch to their $51bn (£31bn) extravaganza.

Despite the local difficulties, Great Britain could go one better than their best performance in 1924, when the team won four medals. We have some genuine hopes, including James Woods, who this year became Britain’s first freestyle skiing medallist for 20 years and won the World Cup slopestyle title. Other contenders are Elise Christie, the 1000m and 1500m European champion and the first British woman to win a World Championship short-track medal, and Shelley Rudman, the world champion skeleton rider. Eddie the Eagle is a distant memory.

Let Andy Murray enjoy Wimbledon

The only British man to win the singles championship at the All England Club since Fred Perry 77 years previously has more than done his bit to restore national pride. By breaking one of the longest hexes in British sport, the pressure should be off him in 2014 so he can enjoy the world’s most famous tennis tournament and take in the memories.

He doesn’t need the media and public piling on the angst at every dropped service game or missed passing shot. Shouts of “C’mon, Andy!” should be replaced with “Whatever, Andy!” as he attempts to become the first British man since Perry in 1936 to defend his Wimbledon title successfully (see how easy it is to get all down on him about it?) It would be nice in the winner’s interview in 2014 to hear him say “I loved it out there” rather than “I was panicking and unbelievably nervous”. We could all do without the stress, frankly.

Get girls more active (a more serious one to end on)

Finally we have the role models setting an example of how to play sport to the highest level, enjoy it while winning, as well as maintaining a strong sense of femininity. Too many girls in the past were put off sport by female athletes with rippling muscles and androgynous features.

Jessica Ennis-Hill does have a six-pack most of us could never attain but she also looks normal (all right, amazing) in a cocktail dress and appears to have a social life, including the fairy-tale wedding this year to her childhood sweetheart. These are the things that most little girls dream of, not chucking a javelin and doing the long jump. We have to make them understand that they can have both by making sport less intimidating and, most importantly, more accessible and flexible. It is not either/or. Either you are popular and pretty or you are sporty and the boys don’t fancy you. Not many boys would say no to Victoria Pendleton or Becky James. Despite all the advances made in women’s sport in the past year (see last week’s column), the statistics still show that twice as many girls as boys play no sport at all at school. Only 12 per cent of 14-year-old girls are as physically active as they should be. This must change.

There are many more I could flag up but stick to these and I predict a happier and healthier sporting year ahead.


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