British glory guaranteed – as champion spectators

Murray's march to the final sets up an epic summer of sport but home success fails to boost participation, says Glenn Moore

There would seem something deranged about sitting in the pouring rain watching a sporting event whose participants' faces cannot be seen and which can be followed much more comprehensively, not to say comfortably, in your own home. But enough about Silverstone, where at least the drivers' cars at the BRitish Grand Prix can be seen by the naked eye. The Henman Hill phenomenon is odder still, thousands of people watching a giant TV screen showing an event which is tantalising near, but not actually visible. And paying for the privilege.

The £8 ground entry was, however, cheap at the price for the 3,500 packed on the Aorangi Terrace yesterday. This, they hoped, was to be one of those priceless once-in-a-lifetime "I was there" moments. You did not have to know your double-handed backhand from your topspin slice to enjoy the sense of occasion as Andy Murray aimed at one of most enduring quests of British sport.

So they had come in their macs and wellies, armed with picnic bags and umbrellas, Prosecco and cheese sarnies, to be part of it. They willed on the gauche Scotsman as he faced the master magician of the lawns as if by their very presence they could help him into history. The skies opened before, during and after the match and their cagoules were doused each time, but not their enthusiasm.

It was all to no avail. Murray lost, albeit bravely and gallantly, but those who have invested this Jubilympic year in Union Jack-themed hats, raincoats, umbrellas, flags and sunglasses will continue to get good value (except perhaps, from the sunglasses). Murray's defeat is just a stumble amid a marathon summer of British sport on these shores and beyond.

The day after Murray became the first Brit to reach the men's final since 1938 Bradley Wiggins became the first to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France since 2000, underlining his chances of becoming first cross-Channel winner of our neighbours' national obsession. His British-based team had already picked up stage success through Manxman world champion and Olympic favourite Mark Cavendish. Later on Saturday England's cricketers, already No 1 in the Test and T20 rankings, took a series-winning 3-0 lead in Durham against the ODI No 1s Australia.

Wiggins now heads for Paris, still in yellow, but next week the spotlight will divert to the Lancashire links. There Englishmen Luke Donald, Lee Westwood (groin injury permitting) and Justin Rose, all top-10 ranked, will seek to emulate last year's winner Darren Clarke and lift the Claret Jug thus becoming the first Open champion since Nick Faldo two decades ago. Should they fail, Clarke's compatriots, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, may find glory on the 18th.

These events, big as they are, are just a warm-up for the global jamboree taking place at Stratford at the end of the month. Boosted by significant lottery funding over the last decade Team GB are targeting fourth place in the Olympic medal table, but could well edge above Russia to finish third behind only the United States and China, the best performance since 1908.

Add the England football team, which will rise to No 3 in the world next month – implausible, but they have lost once in 16 matches, the respectable performances of UK rugby XVs on their southern hemisphere tours, the revival in British boxing with belts held by Carl Froch, Nathan Cleverly, Amir Khan, and Ricky Burns, two Formula One champions in four years, and several world champions in lesser known disciplines such as taekwondo's Olympic exile Aaron Cook, the sporting landscape is in excellent shape.

There should also be much more to celebrate this decade. Britain hosts the world cups of rugby league (2013), rugby union (2015) and cricket (2019), plus the Commonwealth Games (2014) and athletics world championship (2017).

But the big question is whether all this activity and success will translate into a fitter nation, or merely spawn a generation of couch potatoes and pub-viewers? The natural response to watching Murray or Wiggins ought to be a desire to grab a tennis racket or get on a bike. Increasingly it means either changing channels to see what else we are winning or, at best, camping out in the rain to watch the event.

Recent Sport England surveys reveal the percentage of 16-25-year-olds playing sport has declined since the Olympics were awarded to London in 2005. No Olympic host has produced an increase in sports participation and with government investment in school sports being cut that seems unlikely to change. The Lawn Tennis Association expects courts to get busier in the wake of Murray's run to the Wimbledon final, and points to an 11 per cent rise in adults playing weekly over the last six months, but it has had £500,000 of Sport England funding cut for losing 10 per cent of its participants since 2006.

The British (and Irish) are one of the great sports-watching peoples. Thousands travel to watch the islands' football, cricket and rugby teams. Nowhere else can sustain four professional football divisions while Sky TV's success has been driven by its sports channels. Increasingly it seems we are a nation of great individual sportspeople, and a mass of eager sports-watchers, but not actually a sporty nation. We have enough passion, perseverance and fortitude to watch Andy Murray, even in the rain, but not enough to emulate him, even in the park.

Rule Britannia: Oh well, there's always...


England have led the Test rankings for almost a year and face No 2 side South Africa this summer. They also lead the T20 rankings, ahead of defending their world title later this year. England secured the one-day series against Australia with a game to spare after an eight-wicket victory on Saturday – their ninth one-day win in row. England's women are also the current holders of the World Cup


Players from the British Isles occupy the top three spots in the world rankings – England's Luke Donald and Lee Westwood sandwiching Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.

Fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke defends his Open title at Lytham St Annes next week.


Great Britain is expected to dominate proceedings again at the Olympics, after their success in Beijing, and Bradley Wiggins became only the fifth Briton to lead the Tour de France at the weekend.


Rebecca Adlington, Hannah Miley and Keri-Anne Payne are tipped to do well at the Olympics.


Ben Ainslie is likely to win a fourth gold in London.


James Willstrop and Nick Matthew top the world rankings.


England are, amazingly, set to move into third in the world rankings, while Chelsea won the Champions League.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
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.

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering