The Last Word: The lie at the heart of the Olympics
Games will not boost participation, tackle obesity and inspire our children. They will make money
Sunday 03 June 2012
A garrulous man, with the hide of a hippopotamus and the dead eyes of a halibut, leaned back on his chair and effortlessly exposed the lie which underpins the London Olympics.
"You all know me as someone who speaks his mind" he began. "Everyone around this table knows that not one single kid will come through our doors and take up sport because of the Games."
His audience, the administrators, lobbyists, politicians and quangocrats who shape British sport, listened in silence. The occasional sly grin registered the irony of a moment which deserved a Bateman cartoon: The Man who Told the Truth about 2012 (in private, of course).
I was there as someone who had helped set up and run a lottery-funded organisation, the English Institute of Sport. Its work, in offering medical, scientific and strategic support to athletes in 35 Olympic sports, will be central to the success of Team GB this summer.
In the four years since that meeting, designed to divert Government health funding into sport on the pretext of an anti-obesity campaign, the speaker, a senior figure in an Olympic sport, has been a prominent proponent of the Games' largely imaginary legacy.
I confess I do not have his stomach for mediocrity and mendacity, or his flair for elegantly disguised cynicism. I went to four more such meetings before it became clear the funding – in excess of £100 million – would be commandeered by advertising gurus and PR executives. I gave up. It seemed pointless to challenge the imperfections of a dream, to stand for something more than deceit and self interest.
The Games will not produce leaner,fitter, children. They will not inspire the apathetic, or galvanise the indolent. Obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years. Participation in 19 sports has declined markedly, over the last two.
That should shame Sport England, the quango who have spent £450m in failing to sustain grassroots activity, but it won't. Their idea of Olympic legacy is to entice (some would say bribe) youngsters into so-called "Sportivate" sessions with free tickets for the Games.
It is a transitory experience, but twilight football in Ipswich, "inclusive dance" in Cumbria and a small rowing project in Buckinghamshire have been packaged to form a photo-opportunity for the Sports Minister. Eat your heart out, Alan Partridge.
There's nowhere to play, even if kids want to. The Olympic Park, which will revert to a building site after the Games, will be unable to cater for local sportsmen and women until the middle of 2014 at the earliest. The Olympic stadium is heading into the hands of grubby opportunists representing West Ham United.
The politics of sport are bitter and Byzantine. Vengeance is taken against athletes with a mind of their own. The scandalous omission of world No 1 Aaron Cook from the GB Taekwondo team is a case in point. Nearly £5m has been wasted on a dysfunctional sport.
Yet the advertising industry continues to believe the holy water of Olympic idealism will wash everything clean. Brands, banks and burger empires seek redemption in photogenic athletes like Jessica Ennis.
The bile is beginning to rise. The shrill orthodoxy of the cheerleaders is starting to grate. Opposition to brand gurus and corporate illusionists is growing. Privately, major Olympic sponsors are finding their voice. One complained to me: "It's a shambles. They take our money but don't understand our world."
Pietersen has no place for England
Kevin Pietersen was born to be a footballer. He is a house-trained Joey Barton, a fusion of David Beckham's brand awareness, John Terry's bluster and Didier Drogba's theatricality.
Loyalty is, inevitably, an alien concept. Pietersen is a South African exile with a "three Lions" tattoo, whose allegiance to England is placed into perspective by his determination to live the Indian dream.
He might insist he values the challenge over the chequebook, but he is a Delhi Daredevil because the price is right. He receives £700k for a few weeks of hit and giggle in the IPL and is treated like Bollywood royalty.
He is now available for anti-sport, lucrative tournaments with no relevance beyond TV. That is his prerogative but the wider issue, of players using representative cricket as a personal platform, deserves a response.
I love Pietersen's batting, which blends impudence and arrogance. It is free-form poetry with extreme violence. But the England coach, Andy Flower, and his equally admirable ally Hugh Morris should deny him the oxygen of Ashes publicity. English cricket has flourished because of a collective mentality, a commitment to marginal gains and consistent improvement. It doesn't need Pietersen, and the tiresome self-absorption he represents.
Where's the credit?
Another season, another sponsor for football's League Cup. Over the years it has failed to sell milk, electrical goods, shopping catalogues and homogenised beer.
How appropriate, in Austerity Britain, that a high-interest credit card should align itself to a competition in which there is zero interest.
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