Chris Hewett: Boris's 'conservative lesson' is confounded by Wiggins and Co

These Games have been, are being and will be politicised to within an inch of their lives

Can there be a more exquisite pleasure on a summer's morning than waking to the sound of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson orating on the "correlation between what you put in and what you get out" and the "alchemisation of the forward momentum" while celebrating Team GB's success at these Olympics as a triumphant affirmation of "the conservative lesson of life"? We must surely hope so, for if listening to a political interview on the radio at the crack of dawn is really as good as it gets, we are beyond help.

Fresh from his baiting of the American presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a subsequent aerial adventure above a London park, the mayor of our capital city was in full Bullingdon voice, plum stones flying left and right. "The Olympics, with its very clear message about effort and achievement and what it takes to connect the two, could not come at a better time for a country making a difficult psychological adjustment to a new world without easy credit – one in which life is, I'm afraid, considerably tougher than it was before the crunch," he said on the BBC's flagship Today programme. This from a devotee of "wiff waff", an archaic name for table tennis resonant of a time when the game was played with a wine cork for a ball and cigar box lids for bats.

These Games have been, are being and will be politicised to within an inch of their lives: there was, is and can be no escaping it, for sport and politics are inseparable and have been for decades. Many of the cricketers and rugby players who, during the years of apartheid, travelled to South Africa on rebel tours – ill-starred adventures organised by the desperate on behalf of the grasping – tried to persuade us otherwise, but they knew the truth of it even if they didn't much care. Talk about being on the wrong side of history.

Unlike the Olympics in Beijing four years ago, which creaked under the weight of human rights concerns, events here are loaded with domestic issues: legacy, regeneration, Londoncentricism and all the rest of it – fertile territory, you would imagine, for those who do not see the world in quite the way Mayor Boris sees it. Yet it was one of Johnson's fellow tribesmen who ruffled right-wing feathers by highlighting an inherent inequality of opportunity in school sport that means the next generation of gold-medal rowers are infinitely more likely to emerge from Eton College (with its privileged river access) than from Bash Street Comprehensive (which doesn't even have its own puddle).

When Colin Moynihan – the 4th Baron Moynihan, no less; Tory peer and chairman of the British Olympic Association – said it was "wholly unacceptable" that the fee-paying school minority won as many medals as the state school majority in Beijing and condemned it as "one of the worst statistics" relating to our sporting life, you could hear the spluttering in the front quad from one end of the country to the other. One after another, supporters of the independent sector took to the barricades in defence of a status quo that in essence offers further protection to those who have already avoided crashing in the accident of birth.

They need not worry unduly: the rich and influential have mastered the art of tweaking the system just enough to ensure it stays the same, so private education will continue to thrive. However, Britain's sporting future need not necessarily depend on what happens in our schools.

Cycling, patently the key driver of improvement at Olympic level since the Sydney Games of 2000, is in no way linked to the great seats of learning: of the 15 or so best-known riders in the wildly successful current squad, the vast majority were taught at comprehensive schools (as was Dave Brailsford, the man directly responsible for the most advanced sporting operation ever developed in these islands). New talent is identified primarily through a mushrooming network of local clubs, all of which offer basic coaching and, more importantly still, a first chance to race.

Two of our major sports, rugby union and cricket, have yet to free themselves from the grip of the school system and, by extension, its politics. Even though only a third of the 2003 World Cup-winning England rugby team were educated at fee-paying establishments – a statistic that will come as a considerable surprise to those who despise the game for long-entrenched class reasons – selection policy at age-group level is still loaded towards, and manipulated by, the private school sector. And while cricket's outreach programme has strengthened the hand of local clubs, there are well-placed fears that in a time of recession, it will once again become the exclusive preserve of the "haves" at the expense of the "have-nots".

Moynihan was correct in singling out football as the team sport that reflects most accurately the make-up of society: it is indeed the most egalitarian of games, largely because it is club-based, not school-based. Cycling has followed the same road, so to speak. Ask Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish or Victoria Pendleton. None of these great riders would dispute for a second that elitism is at the heart of Olympic performance, but at the same time, they would acknowledge that an elite drawn from the base of the pyramid is more potent than an elite drawn only from its apex.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little